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Is Being an Engineering Student Really THAT Bad?

  1. Feb 6, 2014 #1


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    I am going to a small tech school in the fall to study electrical engineering and while I am very excited to start I'm a bit nervous. I'm a senior in high school and have been taking community college classes full time for 5 semesters now so I understand what college is like. I will be transferring with most of my general ed other than Calc 3, Diff eq, and General Physics 2.

    I'm a little scared, because you hear all of those horror stories by other engineering students such as "I get no sleep" or "I work harder than most other majors for lower grades".

    I am just nervous I'll struggle and fall behind and have no free time, because I need to get a 3.0 GPA to renew my scholarship.

    So, really, how hard is it going into engineering? I am very good at math and physics and even got an A in an engineering design class last semester. Do you think I will be okay?
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  3. Feb 6, 2014 #2


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    you'll be fine.

    It is harder than many majors, and it does require more work. There was more than a few times that my friends were partying while I was working. You're going to struggle a little bit, but that's fine

    The fact that you are going to a small school is great. I did. If anyone fell behind in grades our professor called them and tried to figure out what was going on. There were 16 other EEs that graduated with me. We all got really close and would work the long hours together, especially on projects.
  4. Feb 6, 2014 #3


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    Something to keep in mind is the bias in the data (or at least the bias in the anecdotes you hear). People are unlikely to mention the weeks where they got most of their work done, stuck to their schedule, got lots of sleep, etc. and more likely to mention the extreme cases. Engineering students tend to wear their extreme stories like merrit badges.

    And these will seem even more potent when they're mixed in with stories about how kinesiology students get university credit for bowling.

    Engineering can (and should) be challenging. You will likely have some long nights. You will likely face some assignments or tasks that you just can't complete. But for the most part it's not unreasonably so. You should have time to exercise, socialise, work a part-time job and unwind and still put in the effort you need to get the marks or understanding of the material that you want. There will be times of course when you have to make temporary choices and compromise one thing for another. And if things get to be too intense for you, remember that you have options to mitigate the stresses such as reducing your extra-curricular committments or adjusting your coarse load.
  5. Feb 7, 2014 #4
    Actually, if you are very good at math and physics, you are more likely to find engineering to be too dumbed-down, depending on the school. I did, and that's why I changed my major to math.
  6. Feb 7, 2014 #5


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    Feynman (who spent much of his career at a small school) said:
    “The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things...”

    Sounds like you are not generally dopey, so don't worry about it being harder.
  7. Feb 8, 2014 #6
    I had the same worry. Needed to keep a 3.3 GPA to keep my scholarships. Your first semester you'll stress but after that it'll be easier. Your GPA won't move as much as you take more classes.

    Getting a 3.0 GPA is easy as long as you put in an effort. The people who complain are the people who must have a 4.0 GPA and end up settling with a 3.9. I had nights of very little sleep, but that was mainly due to reports and projects done in groups that effected everyone.

    You'll be fine :biggrin:
  8. Feb 8, 2014 #7
    Most engineering students in my class had plenty of time to party, and many of them still achieved top grades and got excellent jobs upon graduation.

    But if you want to being doing homework 24/7, there'll be enough of it for you to do that. And some people do want to do all of the homework - every last question - and to do that they obviously do have to cut back on socialising and sleeping.
  9. Feb 8, 2014 #8
    Feynman taught at Caltech not many humanities majors there.
  10. Feb 9, 2014 #9


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    True, and yet you can read about cases such as this (search for "literature" which you'll find on the second page). My classmate was able to graduate with her B.S. in literature, and this was during the period when Feynman was there. I'm sure there are others.

    But mostly the classes at Caltech that are called humanities are pretty heavy on the science and math perspective. It's what the customers demand. :) And it is a small school.
  11. Feb 10, 2014 #10
    This was quite the opposite for me Calculus I,II,II and Physics I were not that hard. Physics II was more challenging. But Circuits I,II and E&M, Systems and Signals challenged me more than any other Math or Physics class could. It is not the difficulty its the amount of work. The graded projects and the "tests" were never straightforward like a math or physics test. In engineering it's more of an exercise in solving problems rather than just being smart and knowing the material.

    Solid State Physics was difficult but there were no "Physics" majors in that class they were all Engineering majors so i couldn't there perspective.
  12. Feb 12, 2014 #11
    Sounds like someone never took actual math or physics major classes. So, it wasn't the opposite for you because you never really tried being a math major. I got deep into engineering before I made the switch. It's a question of introductory vs advanced, not engineering vs math and physics.

    As it happens, I did find math easier, but only because it was more in line with the way I wanted to do it--to learn through understanding, rather than by rote. Engineering allowed me to learn by understanding, too, but there were enough difficulties with it (due to the material being taught with the expectation that no one wanted to understand it deeply) to get on my nerves.

    That's just the way it is taught, though. I actually happen to think that someone who likes understanding things very clearly will probably be much happier as an engineer, contrary to popular opinion. That is because math and physics are so complicated that people are usually forced to use black-boxes that they don't understand, whereas engineering is simple enough to be understood more completely (although, you do get that in engineering, too, because you have software doing stuff for you or you have to build on other people's work because there are devices that are too complicated for any one person to understand completely).

    Ultimately, I decided I'd be much happier as an engineer than a mathematician, although my PhD is in math (it's possible I will get an engineering job, now, but more likely that I will go for insurance or software development).
  13. Feb 14, 2014 #12

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree then. I was talking about introductory vs introductory BTW. E&M,Systems and Signals, and Circuits are introductory really.
  14. Feb 14, 2014 #13
    Well, something like E and M is inherently more advanced than calculus because calculus is a prereq. Same with circuits and signals. You can disagree all you want, but the fact is that most people would agree that as a math major, you have to solve more difficult problems when you take classes like real analysis, abstract algebra, and so on. That could be somewhat dependent on where you get your degree, but if you were at a more rigorous program, the math would probably be correspondingly more difficult, and therefore still harder than engineering for most people, other than for weirdos like me who do better with a more theoretical approach. If you want to go off of more than conjecture when comparing the two subjects, you would have to actually try studying something like real analysis or topology and then you could compare what it's like being a math major to being an engineering major.
  15. Feb 14, 2014 #14
    Different types of problems. Engineering requires you to apply physics to solve practical problems. Case in point our engineering senior design project was to build an autonomous robot and integrate sensors to detect size and color of boxes and deliver them to the respective location. Basically solving problems related to private sector productivity. We presented this project with CS and Math majors who were developing algorithms with no practical use. They didn't have to proof the concept was adaptable to the real world. Just a poster board with equations and only math majors would understand the theory. Our design was meant to attract investment so any joe smoe could relate to the concept.

    At my school "The School of Engineering" is a lot harder to get into than the "Math and CS department". It was a B.A. not a B.S. also.
  16. Feb 14, 2014 #15
    You seem to have shifted the goal-posts a bit, now, though. If you wanted something analogous to projects in engineering, you'd have to compare it to undergraduate research, where you'd get a taste of what it's like to manage a big project that you can't do in one week, like with a normal homework assignment.

    Yes, getting stuff to work in practice is a different kind of challenge, but that's apples and oranges, and in my program, other than labs, which were pretty easy, the only place where that happened was the senior project at the very end, so it was a small (but crucial) part of the major (I changed majors before doing it).

    That's not really related to the kind of dumbing down that I was talking about. The kind of dumbing down that I was talking about is making people take stuff on faith, in contrast to math classes, where everything is proven, and if the professor is any good, not just proven, but actually explained.
  17. Feb 14, 2014 #16
    University Research is not like "Private Sector Engineering". To quote Ghost-busters

    Ray Stantz: "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities; we didn't have to produce anything. You've never been out of college. I've worked in the private sector. [shrugs shoulders indignantly] They expect results."

    Most of my professors were research consultants BTW.
  18. Feb 14, 2014 #17
    Sure, but that's all beside the point and not relevant to my initial post, as I pointed out.
  19. Feb 14, 2014 #18
    If you really are good at math and physics, Electrical Engineering won't be as difficult as people make it out to be. I regularly take 18-19 credit semesters, and can still maintain good grades with about 4 hours of school work per day outside of class. If all of my courses have homework or projects due at the same time, or if there is an exam, I will occasionally have to stay up well into the AM in order to get caught up. I do, however, still have time to pursue hobbies outside of school and I put in 10-15 hours of research per week. I don't go to parties or do any college campus activities because I don't enjoy them; my socialization comes from my hobbies.
  20. Feb 14, 2014 #19
    It's all a lie. I know people who never go to class and graduate in 4 years and get a job. The average GPA is a ~3.1 at my school which is top 25 for undergrad engineering.
  21. Feb 14, 2014 #20
    I'm interested, what in particular is difficult about the engineering coursework? Like is it the math, applying the math to solve problems, etc. And what steps should a future engineering student take in order to attain a mastery of the subject?
  22. Feb 14, 2014 #21
    None of that. Mostly the volume of work. An engineering degree requires more credits than a physics degree and each class has more work. But the work isn't as hard or thought-provoking as physics. I say this as a person about to get degrees in MechE and physics this May.
  23. Feb 14, 2014 #22


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    I didn't find engineering coursework to be particularly hard (I am an EE). AT least where I was, the main reason why engineering was harder is that we had to take either 22 or 24 (I don't recall exactly) more semester credits than non-engineering majors (including physics and math). That amounted to an extra course almost every semester.


    EDIT: looks like fusiontron beat me to it by a few minutes!
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