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Majoring in Engineering what is the sacrifice like?

  1. Apr 6, 2012 #1
    My dilemma: I met with my counselor today at my school and told her my intended plan of pursuing a degree in engineering (civil or mechanical are the fields I'm interested in). However, because I go to a JC, I'm going to miss out on some of the lower division engineering classes I would need for university (completing my physics and calculus series here).

    She put it into perspective for me that of the engineering classes the do offer I would need to cram in just 2 semester before transferring at the end of next year. Most of the classes don't seem like a problem, they would actually fit into my schedule very easily. However, some on the other hand... would require night hours and impair me from working. My counselor told me today, don't plan on working because this is a fulltime job.

    My question, simply, is this... to all of you engineer and engineering majors: is the sacrifice of time, energy, social life, etc. worth it in the end? Do you truly enjoy being an engineer?

    After my meeting, I'm seriously considering switching back to my original physics major and becoming a science teacher because helping/teaching people through knowledge is truly a passion of mine (I'm a math/physics tutor).

    For what it's worth, I was also messing around with the idea of going into economics because I like the application of math to social science thing it has going on, can anyone give me some insight on economics education/career opportunities as well?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2012 #2


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    There is absolutely no doubt that engineering is an enjoyable, challenging, rewarding career for many people. It certainly has been for me for the past 50+ years! At the same time, it would be a mistake to think it is something that you just fall into easily; it is definitely a lot (a whole lot) of work to get an engineering degree. This has been true forever, as far as I can tell. Engineering is a very knowledge intensive profession, and the curriculum is more jammed that for any major in Arts & Sciences. The only way you can possibly acquire the required level of proficiency is to do an awful lot of homework problem, labs, etc. and that means a lot of late hours, short weekends, etc. Don't kid yourself; for engineering, you will study, study, study, and for a break, you will study a little bit more.
  4. Apr 6, 2012 #3
    Well, I know someone who works 40 hours a week and goes to school fulltime for electrical engineering, so its not impossible. Secondly, you can still be a science teacher with an engineering degree, so I guess in that sense you'd have more options.
  5. Apr 6, 2012 #4
    Engineering school = Having no social life, getting yelled at by your significant other constantly because you're not spending any time with her, class averages of 50% on exams, piles of problem sets, a project due every couple weeks, all nighters, trying to learn some software that is used in a project that you were told about 2 weeks earlier, always feeling tired, endless debugging of MatLab, predicting that a project or problem set will take 5-6 hours but then ends up taking 12-15 hours, losing interest in almost everything, and asking yourself why you're doing this.

    I do enjoy it but seriously it's a lot of work.. endless work. I work anywhere from 15-25 hours a week at my job and that feels like too much. Most of the kids in my program (EE) don't work at all which I'm sure helps with stress.
  6. Apr 6, 2012 #5
    Engineering is definitely lots of work, which could include lots of problem sets, and projects. As for me, I am studying EE and it involves lots of MATLAB and calculations, but I do enjoy the fact that I'm learning the basis of the technology that we take it for granted today.

    Have you considered which possible areas of engineering that you would like to study?
  7. Apr 6, 2012 #6
    I understand your frustrations, and yes this does seem like a big sacrifice. I, too, hope it will be worth it in the end. I currently work 45hrs per week and attend community college part time (10hrs of online and night classes).

    I finally have most of my gen-ed classes out of the way, but my counselor is having trouble with my schedule. I may have to register at another CC, and take some classes at each school in order to keep working full time. I also just found out that my wife is having twins!!!

    I hope you decide that the journey is worth it, and hopefully I will too.
  8. Apr 6, 2012 #7


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    What sacrifice? Education, to the point of becoming proficient, requires an investment of time and effort.

    I had a reasonable social life in university. I have plenty of mates with whom I could socialize or play sports, and there were plenty of women to date. I met my wife during my junior year of my engineering program and we got married when we both graduated. I then went to grad school.

    I truly enjoy my work. I truly enjoy working with my friends and colleagues.
  9. Apr 7, 2012 #8
    The only sacrifice I made, is working on electronic circuits during most of my free time on weekends, which is really not a sacrifice because it's an enjoyable work. However, with stress I get from going to and back from the university everyday, all way through jammed streets and hot weather, I have started to develop a feeling of being burnout. I'm afraid that I may end up losing all interest in working on circuit problems that I have enjoyed doing for quite a while. Now, I'm just waiting for the next holiday to go to a quiet and natural place, a mountainous village, to relax and breath fresh air.
  10. Apr 7, 2012 #9
    They let me break steel bars and play with million dollar wind tunnels. It's worth it.
  11. Apr 7, 2012 #10


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    An engineering curriculum is assumed to be a full time effort. If you are taking 16 semester hours, that indicates that you are in class 16 hours per week. It is understood that you are studying a MINIMUM of two hours outside for each hour inside of class, so that accounts for 48 hours out of every week, at a minimum. In actual fact, some things are going to take more than that minimum length of time, so it is to be expected that an engineering student should average about 55 hours per week between class and study time. Slow students, or those that are extremely ambitious, will run more than that.

    No body ever intended that engineer education was something to be undertaken on the side, part-time. That is not to say that it cannot be done, but that is not the way engineering curricula are laid out. They are planned as full time efforts. Some people may be able to do more, but do not be surprised if you find that you cannot. It was never planned that people of ordinary capability would be able to do more than simply carry out this one task, without the burden of outside work, family responsibilities, etc.
  12. Apr 8, 2012 #11
    So many people overplay the amount of work required for an engineering degree. It's not easy, no, but it's not so difficult that you cannot have a social life, play sports of whatever. The only people who say it is that difficult, that they have to sacrifice everything, are those whose social skills are so poor that they can't really do anything else other than study. And engineering probably attracts a disproportionately large amount of those type of students...
  13. Apr 8, 2012 #12
    Nice troll comment. Please explain how saying engineering school is difficult equates to having poor social skills.
  14. Apr 9, 2012 #13
    You obviously didn't read my post correctly, did you? :)
  15. Apr 9, 2012 #14


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    Perhaps he did not read your post exactly correctly where you made your wildly unfounded slur about the type of students attracted to study engineering. You really need to provide some justification for that, or retract it with an apology to all engineers and engineering students everywhere.
  16. Apr 9, 2012 #15
    No, he absolutely misread my post.

    My post was pretty clear in that it says that those who say that you have to sacrifice everything to study engineering are usually trying to justify their poor social skills. They'd rather be at a party at 2am but they're not that good socially so they rationalise it to themselves as having so much studying to do that they don't have time to go to parties, because it's easier than having to admit to yourself that you may have a deficiency in some areas.

    As an engineer I have duty to encourage people into the profession, and nonsense along the lines of "you can't have a social life if you do an engineering degree" does the opposite: it turns people away from it. And it's also completely false, too. I know many engineering students who were always the first to the pub once lectures finished. And they got top grades and top jobs, too, earning on average half as much again as the average engineering graduate gets on his or her first job.

    Now it may be an uncomfortable truth but engineering degrees do have a much higher proportion of students who are not that comfortable in social situations than many other degrees. That's a fact and not the least bit offensive to me as an engineer.
  17. Apr 9, 2012 #16
    Did you ever consider that maybe your school was just a little lax..? Mine lets me have something vaguely resembling a social life, although 2:00 am parties are completely out of the question. Maybe yours is different.
  18. Apr 9, 2012 #17


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    Evidence, please? (Personal anecdotes are not evidence.)
  19. Apr 9, 2012 #18
    Nah, I didn't at all. I calculated my total workload (including my job) several times this semester and it's ranged from 75-85 hours of work a week with the bulk of it on Mon-Sat. I try to reserve some time on Sundays for my significant other. If I get invited to go out anywhere I either don't have time or I'm just too tired to stay awake to make it into the night. According to you, this schedule is just an excuse for having poor social skills.

    No, it wasn't clear at all and it's still not clear. Given the time, many of my friends will get together and go out or watch sports, play video games, rock climb, hike, or snowboard. I guess this means we have poor social skills, right?
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012
  20. Apr 10, 2012 #19
    Cheers Mate! Same here.. (although I have no S.O.).
  21. Apr 10, 2012 #20
    I certainly don't think it was lax because, in the UK at least, it's perfectly normal for engineering students to have active social lives, to participate in the drinking societies, to play sports and to go to several parties each week.

    Why are you discounting anecdotal evidence?

    So you've included your job in your workload schedule to help inflate it and then said that you still do the things that the rest of the student population do. I struggle to see where you have to sacrifice anything.
  22. Apr 10, 2012 #21
    Clearly, you misread my post. :smile: I said "Given the time," which must mean when I'm not in school because it's obvious doing anything for that many hours a week doesn't give me much time or energy for anything else but work. If you want the engineering school work hours that would be 60-70 hours/week. I know you could have gotten that from my previous post in this thread. I just wanted to make sure you weren't missing anything. :wink:

    By the way, you *still* haven't justified the view of saying engineering school is difficult = poor social skills.

    I'll ask one more time.. Please explain how those two equate.
  23. Apr 10, 2012 #22
    Because that is not my view and nowhere have I posted that anyone who finds engineering a difficult degree is socially inept. You have failed to read my post correctly.
  24. Apr 10, 2012 #23
    If I'm misreading your post this many times then why haven't you explicitly pointed out where I'm going wrong; this is where you have failed. If this continues, then it's obvious you're just trolling this thread because several people have now asked for evidence, justification, and now clarification of your claims. The only thing you've done is italicized the word sacrifice when I ask for justification or in this case clarification. In my program, I have sacrificed a lot and mainly it's social activities. I will get invited out to do things but usually have to cancel because something else takes longer than expected or I'm too tired from the week. I'm certainly not happy when this happens and it makes me anxious for summer so I can actually do fun things again.

    This is the statement I need spelled out please.

    I also don't understand this.. You don't think it was lax because you had a social life? Wouldn't it be you *did* think it was lax because you had a social life? Your posts are so confusing.
  25. Apr 10, 2012 #24


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    You are claiming something is "a fact", and I take your posts as meaning the "fact" is true of all engineering students (or prospective engineering students) around the world, not just for the people in your personal peer group.

    From the forum posting guidelines:
  26. Apr 11, 2012 #25
    Even if it was true you had to sacrifice your social life and all that... You're only in university (undergrad anyways) for 4-5 years of your life. It's not that long. Making decisions with life-long consequences based on 'not having a social life' for a couple years is just a horrible idea.

    ...and engineering students consistently party harder than any other students on campus because they also work harder.

    Something I learned a couple years into my university career that I really wish someone had told me at the start:

    Adviser's generally don't know what they're talking about. ESPECIALLY with regards to science and engineering. Talk to profs or upper year students.
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