Engineering Majors

In FIRST I’ve seen quite a few different types of engineers and looking at colleges I’ve seen several different engineering majors. I was just curious how people go about selecting one major to focus on.

Is there like a book that discussess all of the engineering majors or something?

Thanks :slight_smile:

I don’t know at what point you are in your education, but I have made my decision by speaking to my mentors and looking at websites of Universities.

To make the process simpler, you could try the following things:

  1. Decide what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what you like to do, and see if there is a field related it to it. Do you like to work with electronics? Electrical Engineering is probably your choice. Do you prefer more of the biological subject matter? You may consider Biological, Biomedical, or Chemical Engineering.

  2. Try asking people you know well, such as Engineering mentors, about what they do and see if you like that. Another helpful resource is current college students, who can tell you a bit about what they’re learning in their classes.

  3. You can always be undecided. Many Engineering firms have multidisciplinary opportunities, and if you choose to attend college and major in Engineering, you will probably be in a freshman seminar that covers this decision.

Remember, you know yourself better than anybody knows you (I’d imagine), so while advice is great, your intuition is your best guide. Good luck!

Talk to your math and science teachers. They really do care about your future, and are there to offer their advice. My math teacher is very kind and is helping me make college choices for when I graduete from high school, and his insight into engineering as a major is wonderful.

Sometimes you sort of just fall into it. My suggestion would be to go to a school that is technically oriented or has a good engineering school. You likely spend your entire freshman year taking core engineering courses that will give you an introduction to various disciplines. Approach each of those classes with the question, “would I enjoy doing this all the time?”

I started college, sometime in the late Cretaceous Period, as an undeclared freshman leaning toward computer science or chemistry. When it came time to declare, I picked Chemical Engineering. [Back when dinasaurs ruled the earth, there were no personal computers; we had these things called mainframes connected to unreliable clusters of time-sharing terminals, jam-prone card readers, and noisy line printers. Chemistry lab was much less frustrating.]

Then I fell in with bad company: gamers. We played chess, duplicate bridge, dungeons and dragons, three-rail billiards, anything to avoid sleep or study. And it turned out that many of my fellow slackers were Electrical Engineering majors. I had gotten bored with working at a chemical plant, and the easiest way to justify changing my co-op assignment was to change my major.

About the same time I realized that electromagnetism is more interesting than chemistry, and has the advantage of requiring far less memorization.

That’s how I became a sparky.

There is a set of books that discusses all of the jobs out there, including a general description of the work that each job does, the projected employment prospects for the next 5 or 10 years, the training involved, expected salaries based on degree, etc. The name of the books escapes me right now, though it is something like The Occupational Handbook. Head to any library and talk to the reference librarian about this and they’ll point you to the books.


**Warning: **This is kind of long, but it makes a good point, I promise!

First, make sure engineering is something you really want to go into. When I joined FIRST I had a blast building robots and I learned a ton of great stuff from my mentors. Junior year, when I had to start thinking about where I wanted to go to school and what I wanted to go for, I talked to my team mentors and they told me, “Well, you work on the pit crew - how about mechanical engineering? And MTU’s a great school for that - you should apply!” So I thought “Yeah! Engineering! This is what I want to do!”

My orchestra teacher had a different opinion. She thought I should go to school for music. I was seated second chair in my orchestra, so obviously I was talented. She talked about going to Lawrence University, in my hometown. It was a little more expensive but, “my kind of school” she said. So I thought, “Yeah! Music! This is what I want to do!”

I then talked to my English teacher. She told me not to bother with engineering because I was a skilled writer. I should use my talent and go into journalism. “By the way,” she said, “UW-Madison is great for that. And they’re in state but far enough away that you wouldn’t have to see your parents all the time.” So I thought, “Yeah! Journalism! This is what I want to do!”

Out of everything, I was most involved with FIRST. Thus, my team leaders had the most influence over me. I applied to Michigan Tech (as a mechanical engineering student) and was accepted. Unfortunately, my GPA wasn’t high enough to receive in-state tuition, so I went to a community college for a year to take some gen. ed. courses. After one semester of that, MTU contacted me and said I would receive in-state tuition if I pulled off a 3.00 GPA at the community college. I did. During my time at the CC, I realized that while I think engineering is really cool, and I love science, I’m just not good at math. I don’t understand it - it just doesn’t make sense. How could I be an engineer, if I couldn’t get through Calc I?

So before I even got to MTU, I changed my major to Scientific and Technical Communications. Kinda like journalism, but not really. I took some courses relevant to that my second college semester and realized, “Wow. The job I get in this field after college is going to land me at a desk, wearing business suits and nylons all the time. I don’t want to do this!”

During the summer, I volunteered at a placed called “Wildlife in Need Center”. It was great - I got to help rehabilitate wildlife that had been injured. It was the most inspired I’d felt in a long time, and MTU just picked up a new major called Wildlife Ecology & Management. It sounded like what I wanted to do so, I changed my major. Again.

After two semesters of these classes, I’ve again realized that this isn’t want I want to do. Frankly, I find Forestry boring and the majority of classes I’m taking are forestry-related - not wildlife related like I thought. I realized if I continued down this path I wasn’t going to be happy. I thought long and hard (and didn’t talk to anyone!) before I decided what I really wanted to do. Not what my mentors wanted me to do. Not what my boss wanted me to do. What I wanted to do. And I figured it out, about the 5th week of the build this year.

I want to teach. And FIRST (being a mentor on a team) has inspired me to do so. But I’m not going to teach math or science - it will be either English Education or Elementary Education (with a concentration in English). Isn’t that funny? FIRST has inspired me to teach English.

In the meantime, though, I’ve “wasted” about $30,000 in classes I mostly didn’t need to take. While this has been a great lesson, it was a costly one.

So (if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!) make sure you’re going to school for something you want to do, and for something you will want to do for the rest of your life.

Good luck! :slight_smile:

I’ll have to agree with Katie that you need to make sure that you really want to do engineering. It’s not for everyone. Some of my friends were “tinkerers”, but when they got into college, they decided that engineering wasn’t what they were looking for.

My advice for picking a major: think about what you did as a little kid. Chances are, it’s still what you like to do today.