Engineering is the field that applies the concepts of science and mathematics to real-life problems. To earn a degree in this subject, students will take coursework in the theory and application of science and math as well as the tools and technologies used to develop solutions through engineering. Coursework includes traditional lectures in the classroom as well as laboratory science and research and fieldwork outside the classroom. Most engineering degrees are specialized, and the coursework required to graduate often varies from one engineering discipline to another.
Science and Math
You can’t be an engineer without taking quite a few classes in math and the life and physical sciences. Regardless of which engineering discipline you choose to pursue, you will need at least some foundational knowledge of math and science. Students majoring in engineering should be prepared to take courses in calculus, linear algebra and statistics. At least one semester of physics is typically required, if not more, as is a semester of chemistry. Because so many branches of engineering use computers for design and modeling, engineering students should consider taking computer science classes, even if their school or program does not require studies in computer science.
Engineering students must also meet any institutional course requirements, such as communication, foreign language, art and mandatory general education courses.
Core Engineering Courses
Students entering an engineering degree program likely have some sense of what an engineer does and the link between the field of engineering and science and mathematics. However, many students have never actually taken an engineering course before, since high schools typically don’t offer studies in engineering. Most engineering degree programs have at least one core introductory course that all students will take, regardless of which discipline they plan to study. Some such courses are simply lecture classes that cover the foundations of engineering. Others, like The Art of Engineering and Engineering 100 Design Projects, are hands-on design courses that introduce students to the challenges of solving real problems using engineering techniques.
Some colleges also offer science, math and communication courses that are tailored to meet the needs of engineering majors.
Specialized Engineering Coursework
A lot of your coursework will depend on what branch of engineering you are pursuing. For example, a student majoring in civil engineering will study fluid dynamics and engineering mechanics and systems, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Aspiring aerospace engineers, who design aircraft and spacecraft, study mechanics, propulsion, structures, aerodynamics and stability and control. Petroleum engineers need to learn about thermodynamics and geology. Students majoring in electrical engineering must study electromagnets and electric circuits, according to U.S. News & World Report. In a computer engineering program, courses in digital system design and microprocessor architecture are important. Mechanical engineering, the broad discipline of engineering that includes just about any item with moving parts, requires studies in materials science, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics.
If it seems like there is a good deal of overlap between engineering disciplines, that’s because there is. Even within an engineering discipline, some engineers use certain areas of knowledge more often than their colleagues. It’s not uncommon for an engineer to start out in one discipline, such as civil engineering, only to end up working in and going to graduate school for a different discipline, like mechanical engineering, according to the BLS.
While all branches of engineering include both theory and practical application, some disciplines, like mechanical engineering, may focus more on practice than others.
Internships and Cooperative Programs
Your engineering school might not require you to complete an internship or a co-op program, but there is a good chance you will be encouraged to do so. Hands-on experience is crucial to success in an engineering career. While you will have some opportunity to gain that experience through your work in the classroom, in laboratory science courses and through fieldwork components of your courses, you will need more experience to impress a future employer and develop your skills for your career. Work experiences designed to train students, like internships and co-op programs, are excellent ways to gain this experience.
There’s some overlap between the terms, but generally, internships and cooperative programs are different. An internship is typically a shorter period of training, usually lasting for just one term. While an internship may be full-time, it can also be part-time. Cooperative engineering programs, on the other hand, are full-time paid positions that typically occur over three terms, alternating with school terms. When you take part in a co-op program, you will take five years to graduate, but you will also gain valuable experience and a full-time salary during the time you are working.
There are many benefits to completing internships and co-op programs, including building out your network of professional connections, boosting your resumé, and developing new engineering skills.