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How do people go about deciding what engineering they want to do?

  1. Dec 19, 2012 #1
    I just finished my first semester in college, and I'm unsure on what engineering path to take. It took me a while to decide I want to do engineering, but I am somewhat convinced it's the right path for me, but now I'm not sure what type of engineering to do. Everyone says to keep taking courses and your interests will become apparent to you by sophomore year. However, I am not sure where my interests lie, and would rather know what I want to do now, or at least have some sort of plan. I tried looking at the major breakdown for each of the engineering majors offered in my school and tried to get the syllabus of future courses I would need to take in the major -- but the courses don't have precise specifications, but rather vague general descriptions of what the course material is about. Also to be on track with major requirements I need to take certain classes next semester, but that amendment is dependent on my tentative major.

    I'm not completely clueless though -- I think I can safely say I probably won't pursue Civil Engineering or CS/Electrical/ Computer Engineering. In particular, I'm conflicted among mechanical and chemical engineering. So if you or anyone you know were unsure on what major, what helped you decide?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2012 #2
    Take the undergraduate chemistry sequence, and see if you like it. If you absolutely hate chemistry, maybe go mechanical, and if you like it, pursue it further and see what happens. Just keep your options open.
  4. Dec 19, 2012 #3
    Have you had the first course in the "big three" science courses biology, chemistry, and physics? Does your school have a nuclear engineering track? How did you like classical mechanics?
  5. Dec 19, 2012 #4
    Well I had a lot of AP credits and I ended up using a lot because I didn't want to waste my time relearning the basics. I ended up placing out of Mechanics with Physics C Mech, first semester of chem with AP Chem, and I haven't taken any biology since freshman year in high school.

    I did take Physics Electricity & Magnetism my first semester though -- I did well in the class and find it interesting, but I remember liking Mechanics much more in high school. So I'm pretty sure I don't want to do something related to Electrical Engineering.

    I don't think my school offers Nuclear Engineering, but you have the option of making an independent major (but it seems sketchy), here's the list of majors my school offers: http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/academics/undergraduate/curriculum/Majors/

    I initially intended to do Operations Research so I wasn't too concerned about the sciences, but I took an intro in the course and I found out I don't really like it, and felt I should go back to the sciences, so I read the descriptions on that site and chemical / mechanical seemed to be the most appealing. I sort of made a mistake APing out of 1st semester of chemistry, but I can't fix that now because it's only offered in the fall, and I need to take the 2nd semester of chemistry next semester in order to be track with chemical engineering (if that's what I decide to do). When I did take chemistry I really liked it because it was only the subject that came naturally to me and I really enjoyed thermodynamics in particular. However, I only did take it for one year and it was in high school and I went straight into AP without ever taking regular chemistry so I'm not very experienced in chemistry.

    So my plan was to take (for the spring semester): 2nd semester of gen. chemistry, differential equations and/or linear algebra, a mechanical engineering or a chemical engineering distribution, engineering probability / stat (personal interest) and I wanted to take a CS class because it seems like a useful skill, but I'd have to see how the time schedule works out. However, I'd have to decide an engineering major sooner or later so that's why I asked the question.
  6. Dec 20, 2012 #5
    Hi, I am a BS/MS Mechanical Engineering major at Drexel University. I will tell you that I was undecided coming in, and decided to major in Mechanical. I do not regret it. The nice thing about mechanical is how broad it is. You can almost redefine yourself under mechanical. It is a good choice if you are still a unsure, but like physics. I am currently concentrating in control theory and thermodynamics and love it. I have an interview with Lockheed Martin and the Navy as a Systems Engineer for my first Co-op. It has been a interesting journey. Good luck on yours!
  7. Dec 20, 2012 #6
    It's tough to decide. Unfortunately, I think the best advice is to be as non-committed to any single program as you can until you're sure. Keep your options as open as you can until you absolutely have to decide. I changed my mind a bunch of times in first year, and finally settled on electrical, which was something that spent half of first year in my "won't ever pick that faculty" bin.

    Talk to advisers/profs in the various departments if you can. It was a talk with one of the EE profs that swayed me towards EE because he made me realize that it's not all circuit design. I wouldn't bother trying to read course descriptions, because they usually won't give you any idea of what's actually covered or how it's covered. It's much better if you can talk to someone who's in the department and can give you a rundown of what's covered that will actually make sense to you. Then eventually, you'll maybe feel like you have enough information about the different departments and yourself to make a decision. Bad news is you'll probably still wonder quite a bit if you made the right decision. Good news is there's usually a wide variety of different things you can do, even if you don't like what most of your classmates are doing.
  8. Jan 7, 2013 #7
    I'm a grad student in Mechanical engineering. I was, like you, undecided in the beginning of my undergrad studies which engineering field to tackle; I was torn between Mechanical, Electrical, and Chemical. I chose Mechanical because, like MEM33 said, Mechanical is very broad. This is a good thing if you want to pursue graduate studies, which is a very important choice to make. I say this because as a Mechanical engineering student applying for grad schools I was offered research projects ranging from Bio-engineering, to Chemical, to Electrical engineering in focus.
    Likewise, if you want to work after undergrad there is a lot of mobility in the workforce. Also, you can concentrate in another engineering of your choice when you are in the second half of your undergrad studies. I did so with Aerospace engineering and Math.
    I don't want to sound dissuading in any way towards your interest in Chemical engineering but, from what my Chem.E colleagues tell me, it's mostly designing industrial chemical manufacturing processes, and less of the actual chemical design. If that is what you want to do then great, but this hard fact is what steered me away from Chem.E.
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