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Breakdown of engineering college life

  1. Oct 20, 2008 #1
    Hey guys,
    I know that PF posters often say to search, so I did that. I found that like 99% of the forum listed engineering as a major that required ALOT of the students time. However, I was wondering if we could put some numbers to this idea, I dont think that will be much of a problem since engineerings love numbers right?

    So, we have 168 hours a week... Just say you sleep an average of 6 hours a day (prolly about what i get now), we're left with 126 hours. Now you got the 17 credit hours a week, so 109 left. Out of this 109, I was wondering if any current/past engineering students can say, around X hours are responsible for studying, this many hours are for homework, and then what small amoutn is left for free time...... like watching sports, working out, playing tennis... ya know, college stuff :wink:

    I am no where near one of them kids that are looking to go to college simply to get away from all adults and party 24/7, but at the same time, even though i greatly enjoy physics/math, I still would like to know if getting into engineering is saying goodbye entirely to a social life for 4 years.

    I don't want to brag, but i feel its necessary to give the readers a feel for my capabilities. I rarely study in high school, but when needed, i dont find it a problem to do so. I take AP courses and some credits at a local school as part of dual enrollment and still find a decent bit of time on my hand.

    The main reason i ask this is because with the classes/extra curriculars i take often teachers/advisors will say, warning, doing this is going to be like 10 hours a week extra..... It aint. Whether its because of me, or because they just want to build it up to weed out people not interested is beyond me.

    Anyway, Thanks alot for any info, can't wait to see what a day in the life of an engineering student is like!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2008 #2


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    I can't tell you exactly what engineering programs require in terms of time commitment, but in general, at most universities, each credit hour comes with an expectation of between 3 - 4 hours of work a week. So, if you have a 1 credit course, you might spend 1 hour in lecture, and another 2-3 hours studying or doing projects. However, the reality is that most students need a bit more time than that for completing their assignments or studying sufficiently, especially as exams get closer. And, there's no accounting for that one killer class with a professor who assigns far more work than they should.

    So, if we average that out and say it's 3.5 hours of work per credit hour, your 17 credits would be a 59.5 h week.

    Factor in your meal times to be about 20 hours a week (you'll inevitably get sucked into meal-time conversations on the days you don't have to run to class) and you're down to about 46 hours to spare. The engineers can now tell you how much of that additional time you'll need to spend studying (oh, don't forget things like time commuting or walking to class...this can vary greatly based on location of your school and living arrangements).

    I suspect that since I did have friends who were engineers in college who had time to party and work out at the gym or go home and visit their parents from time to time, you'll be able to fit in some activities beyond just studying.
  4. Oct 20, 2008 #3
    I'm currently a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at a small state university. It's ranked something like 12th in the US for its undergrad engineering program (probably a lot less prestigious that it sounds), so I'd imagine that higher level engineering universities may be more taxing.

    I spend about 8-10 hours a week working out of class on our group engineering project for the semester (this semester it's coding a program to simulate a wind turbine, then building it). I find myself using very little time studying for my classes compared to the time I spend doing fun things. College life is still college life. Plenty of time to do fun stuff (and hopefully the Punkin Chunkin contest next year!).

    Hope this helps, and feel free to PM me if you have any questions for a sophomore engineering student. :)
  5. Oct 20, 2008 #4
    I feel its better to break down my engineering college life by day, not really week. And also, I don't go to a big super high rated school but a small school that I don't even think is rated. It is ABET accredited though. Also, I worked during my undergrad so your experience may vary.

    I'll start with undergrad. During the average week day I would wake up around 6am, get to work by 7am. I'd leave work around 3pm and have class/labs from 3:30-9:30. Go home, shower, eat, get as much as much homework done as I could and then probably go to bed around 2am or so. Repeat.
    On the weekends I would probably sleep in till 8am, go the library to study and catch up on school work. I'd probably take a break and go home around 6pm. I didn't go out to much as an undergrad as I was always pretty exhausted.

    But during my last month or two as an undergrad I would usually do the same but I would only go home maybe every other 2-3 days. I spent a lot of nights awake all night at school working on projects and getting things done. But I guess on average I'd have 4-5 hours of free time but I would had to of given up sleeping in order to enjoy it.

    Grad school right now is a LOT easier. I get on campus around 10, do my thing, and I'm usually home by 9pm every night. Plenty of time to get a full 8 hours and relax. I also only maybe spend 5 hours on saterday's and sunday's doing school work or TA work. Its pretty sweet. I still don't go out as much as I would like but I at least have time to do so, and I can date again.
  6. Oct 20, 2008 #5
    What kind of an engineering school only has 17 hours of class a week? Over here its anywhere from 25 to 35 hours, +/- 2 hours on either end. Here they say you should be doing between 2 to 3 hours of work for each hour in lecture, though.
  7. Oct 20, 2008 #6
    You spent 25-35 hours a week listening to lectures?
  8. Oct 20, 2008 #7
    Hours of class includes labs and tutorials. I assume that's what the OP meant since they said 'credit hours'?
  9. Oct 20, 2008 #8
    At least where I went a 3 hour lab counted as 1 credit hour, but yeah that's generally what is meant. That's a LOT of time spent listening to other people yap.
  10. Oct 21, 2008 #9
    I'm a sophomore in Civil/Environmental Engineering.

    You can plan on 2-3 hours of homework/studying for each hour you spend in class. So if you go to a one hour lecture, expect about 30-60 minutes of reading the text and then an hour or two of problem solving. A 3 hour lab will warrant at least 3 hours to prepare a good report.

    If you're planning on graduating in four years and taking 5-6 classes a semester, plan on being in the classroom/lab for about 22 hours, and then doing about 6 hours of homework every day.

    Papers, exam review, and class projects take even more time depending on the class and your comprehension of the material.

    The real time crunch comes from the dead time in your day. Waiting for classes to start, travel, etc. Make good use of it and you will find extra hours at the end of the week.

    This is what you will need to do to maintain A's. You can probably do less and get by on C's, but who wants to be an Engineer who doesn't have a firm grasp on things?
  11. Oct 23, 2008 #10
    Well if it makes you feel ok, I'm an Astrophysics/Physics major and I'm also in a Fraternity (social) where I have an executive position. I also do other stuff like attend the skeptic society meetings and so forth. So I'm heavily involved in Greek life, at least one other club and a very intense major.

    It can be done pretty easily I say, so long as you don't waste your time.
  12. Oct 23, 2008 #11
    Yeah, you can maintain a good GPA, a good social life, and get good sleep if you have enough discipline to manage your time well. By that I mean, you are capable of thinking "hmmm, I'm going to be really busy for the next week and I have an assignment that will take 6 hours due in a week. I need to do it now." If you are in that situation and think "I think I'll go play video games" then you'll probably have to cut one of the three out to an extent (most people seem to choose sleep).
  13. Oct 23, 2008 #12
    Thanks for all the responses guys,
    I think the trouble comes in with the fact that high school has always been such an insane breeze to me, and on top of that, my two siblings are at college now, but they are not studying very intense majors. (no offense to anyone, but teaching seems like quite the easy college life). My sister tells me how she does all her homework for all of her classes in one night usually, so she has one really annoying night, but then is free the rest of the week. However, when I looked at her schedule, there were no thermodynamics, multiple calculus classes, fluid dynamics........

    Thanks again guys for all the answers, it seems like it would be manageable as some people are mentioning having jobs. I do not belive ill be having a job during the year, unless its an internship related somehow to my career.
  14. Oct 23, 2008 #13


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    I would not recommend such advise in general. Living off 4 or 5 hours sleep a night will not do you any favours in the long term.

    My days sound a bit like that, without the weekends, which I normally keep open for social activities. I'd say such weekdays were busy, though, and not "a lot easier than undergrad."

    I think it's safe to say that most people find school a "breeze."
  15. Oct 23, 2008 #14
    I'm in my second year of undergrad majoring in electrical engineering. I'm a straight A student, and I still have plenty of time for socializing.

    I do my homework the day I get it, unless there's a lot in one day, in which case I'll spread it out a bit, but I never wait until the last moment. I go to the gym three times a week, watch a couple TV shows religiously, and I hang out with friends at least 4 nights a week, if not more. I also spend a lot of time hanging out with friends in between classes.

    Not only that, but I never lived in a dorm/on campus, so it takes me about an hour to get to and from school.

    Honestly, as long as you manage your time well, you'll be able to get your school work done, have fun, and have time to kill.
  16. Oct 28, 2008 #15
    You're either amazingly smart or don't go to a very difficult school. Over here (in the elec/comp program at least), most people don't have time to do much else other than study because there is a LOT of course content and the material itself is difficult.
  17. Oct 28, 2008 #16
    I am not an engineering student, but my school has a very large engineering department. Here are two things you should not do and discourage people from doing:
    1) Thinking that being an engineering student makes your courses much harder, and spend your time complaining about the work than actually doing it. First year is generally a cram year for engineers (I can't comment on the upper years). Don't let your friend's complaining affect your studies.
    2) Do not let your studies overtake all other aspects of your life. If you want to go into industry, as long as you pass, everything else takes presedence. Many of my friends at the top engineering firms don't actually have stellar marks.

    Lasty, study smart, study intensely for short periods of time. Don't study with friends, study alone at the library or in a seperate room from your laptop. This way, you can fit 5 hours of casual studying into 1 or 2 dedicated sessions.

    Sleep is the most important tool you will have for studying. Get 8 hours minimum. Trust me on this one, you will need all the sleep you get.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2008
  18. Oct 28, 2008 #17
    Really good points actually... making me reconsider my last post. The thing is, can everyone REALLY be very efficient and fit 5 hours of casual study into 1 or 2 "sessions"? I guess this is a skill that needs developing, and it looks like it is an important one if you want a really balanced life... Thing is, I would consider myself pretty slow and kind of need to spend more time on things vs. other people in my program.
  19. Oct 28, 2008 #18
    Yes, in order to have a balanced life in a more challenging program, you have to schedule your time better.

    Make a weekly schedule in excel, study in 1 hour periods and preplan your study sessions. Have 5 min breaks in between study periods when you study more than 1 hour. This is what I do for school sometimes, when things get busy. This saved my *** during finals, and as a result I was able to completely review everything that I learned, plus do a lot of practice exams.

    A balanced life means having friends and doing things with them. Trust me if you spend all your time studying like I did, your social skills will drop like a stone. My personality changed from very extroverted to very introverted in two semesters. :(
  20. Nov 19, 2008 #19
    so is it really like this

    "study/ have great marks or you'll regret it"
    "improve social skills and minimize study/ sleep well"

    which is preferable for an engineer knowledge or social skills? and why?
  21. Nov 19, 2008 #20
    To be successful your going to need both. Its all about balance really. Like I stated in my previous post, for my undergrad it was all work and no fun. I have more experience than most people my age do, I have gotten a job offer for every job I have interviewed for, even been flown half way across the country for interviews. So was all the hardwork worth it? No, not really. I really wish I would have spent more time having fun rather than working so damn much but I didn't really have a choice. I atleast have 0 debt and many grand in the bank though.
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