Getting Real About Majoring in Engineering

It seems to me that too many parents are stressing about what their children should select as a college major.

I’m of the opinion that what’s important is getting a degree. I believe it’s less relevant what that degree is. Students are more likely to be successful if they choose a discipline that they are passionate about.

In this rush to embrace “practical” majors, too many students are selecting majors based on their parents desires or are taking their cues from the lists of the best-paying majors. These lists are pointless because the same majors monopolize the top. We don’t need to be constantly reminded that the grads more likely to snag top-paying jobs have mastered high-level math and science skills, which frankly most students are incapable of doing.

Being Realistic About Engineering

I was thinking about this lately because I’ve been hearing from people interested in engineering. Engineering degrees are perennially at the top of those best-paying-job lists. But strangely what some teenagers and their families don’t understand is that just because you want to earn a mechanical engineering or computer science degree doesn’t mean you have the ability.

I exchanged emails recently with a mom whose daughter would love to be an engineer. She has been involved in an engineering club at high school and she got a summer job at a federal agency where a lot of engineers work. All that sounds fine except when you look at the teenager’s academic profile. She earned about a 1600 (on a 2400 scale) on her SAT. She has a GPA of about 3.2. While it’s not impossible that this child could survive an engineering program with their notorious drop-out rates, the odds aren’t good.

Recently I attended a webinar that focused, in part, on what kind  of students should be pursuing engineering. The speaker was Hollis Bischoff, an independent college consultant, who gave the talk through MyCCA.net, which helps college consultants do their jobs. Because she’s located in the Silicon Valley, Hollis works with many students whose parents are highly educated and whose fathers are often engineers. Engineers, by the way, who often want their children to follow their career path.

Engineering DNA

In a blog post, Hollis had this to say about parents lobbying teens to pursue engineering:

Characteristics of a Successful Engineering Student

Here are some key characteristics, according to Hollis, that teenagers should have if they want to aim for an engineering degree:

  • They regularly solve household problems. If the dishwasher or air conditioner conks out, these kids will pull it apart and figure out what’s wrong.
  • They are life-long tinkerers.
  • They have developed apps for phones.
  • They have started a little company or created a product.
  • They have done computer programming.
  • They have taken the highest level math their school offers for four years. Ideally they have taken AP Calculus BC.
  • They have also taken four years of science, which ideally will include AP physics and an AP lab science.

My Favorite Engineer

I recognized my own father when reading the above list. When my dad was in eighth grade he rewired his family’s tiny house that previously had only possessed one electrical socket. Growing up, I remember my dad keeping an old, balky air conditioner alive for many years beyond its life span and frankly there was just nothing he couldn’t fix in our house. Thanks to the GI bill, he was able to attend engineering school at St. Louis University and later went on to graduate school in engineering. As an electrical engineer, my dad spent more than 40 years at Emerson Electric Co..

My dad never tried to push any of us to be an engineer. Neither myself nor any of my four siblings became engineers and only one of my parents’ 12 grandchildren graduated with an engineering degree. My father would have been very proud of his grandson Kevin, who earned an engineering degree from the University of Missouri in May and, yes, he did find a high-paying job. But boy did he earn it!

Engineering lab image courtesy of UC Davis College of Engineering.

 

 

 

 

 

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51 Responses to Getting Real About Majoring in Engineering

  1. Julie September 17, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    My father was an engineer and encouraged me to become one. But his advice was to do what you love and you will always be happy at your job.

    I majored in art, found a way to support myself in the arts and have always been happy with my choice. I have to say I did not fully understand what it entailed to become an engineer. It is so important to explore at this point. My daughter explored engineering and is hooked even though she has never tinkered around the house. We are gong to check out this week a very specialized engineering major just to understand if it is interesting.

    Many kids say – I will do what ever it is as long as I do not take another math class. My daughter said the opposite the other day. I will do what ever it takes as long as I never have to take another english class. We had a good laugh over that… Fortunately she is excellent in english so I am not worried.

    After all these years I think my Dad’s advice is right on!

    • BeenThere February 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

      Amen sister! I only wish I’d seen this article a year ago.
      One of my kids regularly scores in the 98th or 99th percentile in math and science and he somehow got talked into entering his freshman year as a declared engineering major.
      He had none of your successful characteristics and he completely blew his first year of college.

  2. Claire September 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    This one is personal for me.

    I attended an engineering college due to my dad’s insistence. Misery and subsequent transfer to another college and major followed. (The bright spot: I still graduated in four years)

    My daughter has friends who are in STEM majors due to their dad’s pushing. They are bright and capable, as well as stressed and not passionate about what they are doing.

    Thank you for bring up the topic.

  3. Rosalie September 17, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I enjoy your blog and this is the first post that really troubled me.

    I agree strongly that parents should not push their kids into engineering, or any STEM field, simply because of perceived career benefits. Also, kids who do poorly in math and science should not pursue engineering.

    But when you go on to describe “engineering DNA,” you describe a male stereotype. Close your eyes and picture a “tinkerer” or a household fixer of appliances. Honestly say whether the image in your head is male or female. It’s male, of course. The DNA you refer to certainly seems to be of the Y and not X variety.

    I strongly recommend the excellent report “Why so few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” by the American Association of University Women. Link is here:
    http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/whysofew.cfm

    The report refutes the idea that STEM success is “in your DNA.” Rather, STEM success depends on a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset is the belief that intellectual abilities, including STEM abilities, are not fixed, but can be developed with persistence and hard work.

    My own seventh-grade daughter may someday major in English, or sociology, or math, or biology, or physics, or yes, even engineering. She has never torn apart an air conditioner, like most girls, and I’m confident she never will. But so what? If she became an engineer, it appears that some male engineers, wedded to sexist stereotypes, would refuse to hire her. However, others would surely judge her on her abilities. None of these abilities–math, science, or any other–are fixed in her DNA.

    Rosalie

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy September 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      Hi Rosalie,

      I want to thank you for your comment and the link to the American Association of University Women report. The last thing that I would want to do is to discourage women from going into the STEMs. I will take a look at the study!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • larry September 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

      As a male engineer I do agree that there are strong stereotypes regarding STEM careers. You are correct that too many of the expressions of engineering characteristics we look for in candidates for STEM education are expressed in male centric terms.

      However, I strongly disagree with the premise that anyone of average intelligence can succeed in an engineering discipline. I have worked in this field for almost 25 years, and I have seen lots of bright people, men and women, who simply lacked the “DNA” to be effective. There are characteristics that successful engineers possess that are not learned, but rather they are inherent expressions of who they are as individuals. It is a part of our personality.

      The challenge is to learn how to correctly spot the characteristics that make a young person a good candidate for a STEM career (or any other) in the variety of ways they are expressed in male and female children. As a father of three girls I have never pushed any of them toward or away from STEM. I have tried to instill confidence in them so that they can pursue whatever career they are passionate about, and the judgement to chose wisely.

    • Preston May 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

      Agreed^^^. I see many engineering students at a large university I attend that excel in difficult engineering courses, but some lack the knowledge and skill set to solve basic problems in the real world or do not even know how to use a screw driver. There is a difference between between obtaining an engineering degree and becoming a rounded go-to engineer in real life. Being honest, judging someones future performance on a SAT score or interests like fixing things around the house, is not an indicator on how efficient or successful a person will be if an engineering major and profession is chosen. There are many factors that dictate this. The most two influential factors I have seen, being a senor in mechanical engineering and having worked in the field as an electrical technician in the military prior, is the willingness to learn and being persistent to work hard and not give up when things get challenging and stressful. It is true a person does need to have a descent math aptitude since engineering is expressed by the language of math, but they do not have to be math gurus or score near perfect on standardize exams. In the real world, being able to adapt to new environments, learn new skill sets, and being able to work with people is key. Unfortunately there are lots of well-capable people in this world that do not pursue engineering based on a lack of confidence that they do not have the inherent ‘smarts’ to pursue the field, but do have the potential to. These people may have the aptitude for such a discipline, but may not directly show it in immediate test scores or abilities. Likewise, I have seen people that excel at math, physics, chemistry ect… that flat out quit and drop out of their major from lacking the factors mentioned above. There are book smart people in the engineering field, but make horrible people to work with, and the opposite can be said as well. Point-in-case here is that there is no ‘formula’ that indicates a person will be a good engineer; it is a personal journey than anything else.

      • Lawry July 14, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

        Well said Mr Preston, I very well agree with you

  4. Chris September 17, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Very true. I would like to add my own point of view to a worthy topic. I have seen many people parents push for practical majors, such as engineering or nursing, and totally rule out a liberal arts degree as if they are completely useless just because you may have a harder time getting that “all important” killer first job. I love math and science, but I have to admit it is not for everyone to get into as a career.

    Good read though, if you’d like check out my blog at http://EducationProductivity.blog.com/ where I try to address some issues with today’s college learning/

  5. Shane Anderson September 27, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I am a theatre-school graduate who has parlayed the degree I got into a successful career in HR for an Oil and Gas company. I agree wholesale with the early comment that people will be more successful long-term if they pick a degree which they are passionate about. Also, I agree that getting a degree is more important than which degree; But I would add that it also requires those degree-earners to develop the ability to identify which skills and capabilities they developed through their degree, and how they could apply those skills in different contexts.

    Like the “lifelong engineer”, students need to examine their degrees, and figure out how the component skills they are developing operate, so they can determine how to make themselves successful in multiple industries. I was a mediocre math student, but learned everything I know about problem solving from putting on theatre shows. This flexibility makes you more marketable, since you avoid pigeon-holing yourself into one type of work or industry.

    Now, later in life, I find the skills I developed in theatre school invaluable, and am in a role which conventionally would have been offered to Commerce students. Though the idea of having taken a commerce degree gives me hives, I can reflect on the fact that I loved my choice of University Major, made great lifelong connections with people, and made myself into the person I am today. It is this, more than the letters of my degree that have enabled me to have a rewarding and challenging career.

    For those who dream of pursuing engineering, but can’t make the sut – take heart. Any other degree may mean you don’t work with the title of “Engineer”, but there are a lot of ways to do the work that excites you and that you are passionate about.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy September 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      Great comment Shane! You make so much sense and I hope it gives students agonizing about having to major in practical majors the confidence to pursue the academic areas that they truly care about.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • Kelly April 27, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      I find your comment very helpful and relatable. I am a junior high school student who wanted to pursue engineering (not because my parents want me to, or because of the high pay though) but am finding IB higher level (similar difficulty to AP) maths quite difficult. I took drama in freshman and sophomore, and take theater now, and I am rather interested in it.
      I am more relieved now that I read about your experiences and insights. :)

  6. Anthony H. December 23, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Wow, i know this artificial is just trying to be helpful but seriously i graduated from a top then engineering program (3rd in the nation for my major) and i meet few to none of your engineering requirements. I don’t think i barley had a 3.0 in high school, only a 1440 on my SAT, was never in accelerated math, my parents were not engineers, i had no programming experience, and never hardly tinkered with things. Sure I didn’t graduate summa cum laude, but i was in the top 50% of my class. Its about your math skills and your effort that is pretty much it.

    • Anon December 26, 2012 at 1:02 am #

      A 1440 out of 1600 or out of 2400? The former would be a strong score.

      • Lynn O'Shaughnessy January 14, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

        Anon — The SAT score was 1440 out of 2400.

        Lynn O’Shaughnessy

        • Kelly April 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

          how do you know?… just saying…

  7. Adam January 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    I want to reply to the list of traits that were listed above that have to be present to safely consider engineering as a career. It states that you should be actively taking things apart and putting them back together, programming computers, or starting your own business (at 16?). I am a professional engineer, a project manager, and I have 10 years of experience. At no time in my life have I ever taken anything apart to see how it works. I am quite sure my parent would not have been too thrilled with that. I have heard that stereotype many times. A student who is considering a career in engineering needs to have an above average ability in math and science and above all else a strong work ethic and desire to succeed. You will learn how to analyze whatever it is you are working on in college and you will really learn how to design in your job. These blogs keep making it sound like the student should already have the skills before they go to college. I have been working for ten years and I still learn every day. With regard to the SAT scores and the GPA of that young girl who wishes to be an engineer. I would not say that immediately excludes her from engineering. A successful engineering education is 3 parts intelligence and 7 parts effort.

    • butters June 18, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Adam, your comment is awesome to read. I am currently in the process of changing careers from the Exercise Physiology (have a BS in Human Physiology) field to mechanical engineering. I have always had a desire to make a difference and am gifted in science and now that I am older and have been out of school and working for 5 years, I have a better understanding of my priorities. I want to contribute to technology’s role in the environment and renewable energy.

      Honestly, I’ve always hated math because I was never “good” at it – I’ve come to find out that there is no “good” or “bad” at math but merely the amount of work you put into it. Since I have gone back to school and am rebuilding my math abilities – I’ve realized I actually enjoy the process, problem solving and it’s application to the real world.

      Thanks for writing your post, it helps to hear someone in the field say it.

      I am so driven to get my BSME but was disheartened because everyone talks about already having these skills before even entering college (or in my case going back) it made me feel as though it was almost an “untouchable” major, or you had to be pre-disposed to be an engineer.

      I have worked hard at everything I have done in my career so far. I’m now starting to understand that it really is about discipline, work ethic, and a desire to pursue what you want that matters more than “inherent traits”, or “DNA”.

      Thanks for writing what you did. Just more reinforcement to never stop pushing.

    • Wsr December 13, 2013 at 2:05 am #

      Wow, who in the world would hire you I don’t know how anything works, but look at this excel file.

      • Wsr December 13, 2013 at 2:07 am #

        Sorry, this was a reply to Adam.

    • Jessica February 14, 2014 at 4:25 am #

      Loved your comment Adam. I am an 18 year old girl, freshman in college, and I want to major in Chemical Engineering and have been researching about it since I was first planning on majoring in Biochemistry. When I read this article I was thinking….hmm, well if these traits are needed , then I am definitely not qualified!I have always been such a “girly girl” but I love math and chemistry and I have always loved making things with legos and such since I was a little girl(I still do haha) . I agree that people make it seem like we have to be born with skills or else we’re on our way to failure. I couldn’t imagine myself majoring in anything besides a STEM based major. Its what I love and I hope I get to do it my whole life. Although I haven’t always liked math, I learned to enjoy it and I have always been into science. Wish me luck on my journey!:)

    • BeenThere February 17, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      @Adam There is one criteria you have left off and I think it’s really the main one for any engineer: the underlying goal for every engineer is to use their problem-solving skills, science, and technology make the world a safer, better place for our fellow humans.
      Every engineering problems, from the choice of screws to the most complex chemical processes, involve people in some way and unless your kid has a desire to be of service to their fellow man, engineering is probably not the place for him or her.

    • Byron March 4, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

      SPOT ON ADAM! I do not fit the stereotype of an engineer. I was an average STEM student in high school. However, once I was accepted into college, I developed an invaluable skill; work ethic.

  8. Bchags February 7, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    I’m not an engineer. My husband is not an engineer… he can’t fix anything (what was I thinking?). We’re both bachelor of arts people. But I come from a family of engineers and my son is obviously strong, if not gifted, in math and science. But, he doesn’t tinker. So, as I read your article I wonder: is this because he hasn’t been introduced to tinkering it from his youth? Is it because he’s not an engineer-type? Or, is it because he’s not a MECHANICAL engineer-type? Excuse my non-engineering ignorance… but aren’t there a huge variety of engineers? Civil, electrical, chemical, mechanical, etc? Do they all seem to “tinker” or might they have other skills/interests as well?

    • MarkB March 4, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      Bchags – You are correct. While the characteristics listed indicate a *strong* predilection to mechanical engineering, they are not all necessary. Help your son “try on” all kinds of things.

  9. Travis April 7, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Keep in mind that this blog post is not the gospel. It’s only an opinion of the author, who is not an engineer. I, however, am a junior in mechanical engineering at a well known university, I have interned at an international company, and am doing well in school. So here’s my thoughts on this blog’s list:

    “They regularly solve household problems. If the dishwasher or air conditioner conks out, these kids will pull it apart and figure out what’s wrong. ”
    “They are life-long tinkerers.”

    -For these first two comments, not necessarily. There’s a difference between a tinkerer and an engineer. Sometimes these go hand in hand, but not always. For example, I have some good friends who like to fix their car, computer, household items, etc. These same friends went to engineering school with me, and dropped out their freshman year. Why, you may ask? After all, isn’t a “tinkerer” what an engineer is? The answer is NO. An engineer has an analytical mind, but they must also have a strong work ethic and be motivated to learn many things that are hard to understand. These friends of mine knew how to be the “handyman”, but they thought doing math problems and solving engineering issues on paper/computer was stupid, or they just couldn’t bring themselves to learn the material. My question to you is this. How is a car designed? Do you have guys with screwdrivers tinkering aimlessly at each car until its finished, and then driven out of the factory? No..you have many people designing each part and process until the car is fit to be produced (by using computers and engineering concepts), then you tell the workers how it should be built.

    “They have started a little company or created a product.” How many teenagers do you know that have the resources / bright idea to patent a design or start a company? This comment is purely absurd. Of course, if your child has created something innovative, I’m sure their future line of work will be obvious to you regardless of what “most engineers” do.

    “They have done computer programming.”
    Not necessarily, unless your son/daughter aims to be a computer software engineer. To most engineers (especially mechanical), programming is just another tool we use, just as a construction worker feels about his hammer. I certainly don’t love programming, but it makes my work easier)

    “They have taken the highest level math their school offers for four years. Ideally they have taken AP Calculus BC.”
    “They have also taken four years of science, which ideally will include AP physics and an AP lab science.”

    These two comments, just no…You can start from nothing and still be a successful engineer. I didn’t know any math when I got out of high school (didn’t plan on becoming an engineer until my senior year so I didn’t even remember my algebra). So what did I do? I went to my local community college and got placed in college algebra the summer after high school. I then went to Trigonometry, Calc 1, Calc 2, Calc 3, Differential equations, then on to my engineering courses after transferring. And you know what? Some people who take Calculus 1 will fail it because they didn’t know their basic maths as good as they thought (good old public education system), and have to retake the class. Thanks to me having my algebra and trig fresh in my mind, I got all A’s in my calc. classes, while showing some of the other students up.

    My point is this: Do not let “myths” about engineering keep you, your son, or your daughter from majoring in it. There is not a prerequisite for the major. You only need to have a keen mind, a strong will to learn, and enough motivation to get you through the toughest major ever. Everything else will come along with your job/experience in the field.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      Thanks Travis! I appreciate hearing comments who actually attended engineering school and survived! Congratulations.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      • Nicole April 24, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

        Anyone can be an engineer if they want it bad enough. All it takes is putting in the work to get there. At one of the top 5 engineering universities in the world, I promise you most of us did not come in with Calc BC, most of us have never programmed on a computer before, most of us have not pulled apart our air conditioning systems at home, and most of us have never started a business. While I admit that most of us did come in with more than a 3.2 GPA, it does not mean you are not capable of engineering if you didn’t have the best study skills when you were 15 years old. Some people know how to study in high school, some learn when they get to college and are forced into those situations. The SAT and ACT mean nothing except for how fast you can take an exam. Engineering does not require anything except a desire to be an engineer. The problem with many engineers is they fall in love with the science. That will lead to amazing, useless advancements. It is much more important to want to make things happen in the world, not in your computer or lab. I don’t mean to be argumentative Lynn, but it would kill me if someone was discouraged from pursuing their dream of engineering due, in part, to this article.

        • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 24, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

          Thanks for your comment Nicole. I just don’t see how someone who has gotten “B’s” in lower-track math and who only wants to major in engineering to make more money — and break out of poverty — has a chance in engineering school. I am referring to a boy who looks like he will be heading to the University of Missouri engineering school and I have a bad feeling about it.

          There is a reason why there is such a large drop-out rate in engineering.

          Lynn O’Shaughnessy

          • Adam August 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

            I commented in this blog several months ago (see above). I wanted to add a couple of things now that more have posted. First, pertaining to what Nicole has written. It is very common in blogs like this for the thread author(s) to be supportive. It is important to temper support with realism. Otherwise you can send someone down the wrong path, which will ultimately be a disservice. I studied engineering for six years and business for two. It is not true that anyone can be an engineer. Engineering is one of the most difficult subjects a person can study (not impossible, just difficult). It requires a cognative ability that many people really do not possess. I am not saying you have to be a genius (I certainly am not). As I stated above, many people can ultimately succeed, but it does require a significant amount of dedication and a reasable amount of innate intelligence. Now as I stated in my previous post, I completely agree with your criticism of the original article. That author has absolutely no idea what they are talking about. To everyone reading any of these blogs, please completely disregard the original article. It is complete garbage, and as a licensed engineer, I am qualified to make that statement. To respond to what Lynn wrote directly above. It will depend on aptitude vs. effort. If this boy received those grades because it is the best he could do with a reasonable amount of work, then I would say he should pursue other endeavors. However, if he wasn’t really trying and now feels ready to apply himself, then maybe. It is not uncommon for mediocre high school students to become better college students due to increased interest and maturity. One thing is for certain. A student with below average math ability who pursues engineering for the money will not last one semester.

            Engineering education is a transformation of the individual. It is really not unlike special forces. By the time you are finished (assuming that you do finish) you will have become a different person. The material you deal with will be a hundred times more complex than anything you have ever seen before and it will come at you 20 times as fast. When you start it will feel overwelming, but the students who can run fast enough will transform, and by graduation, will be able to handle any challenge, with usually pretty good grades, that the curriculum can throw at them. The challenge is that some students just can’t run fast enough. Some students do not possess a strong enough math ability to keep up with the pace of an engineering curriculum. Engineering is a subject that is not just memorization. You have to actually solve problems every day. Some students, who do not have a good grasp of mathematics or problem solving, could potentially work on a single problem for hours and still not produce an answer.

            I am sorry this is running so long. I want to also add, as stated above by Nicole, that success as an engineering student is still 70% effort and determination. To perhaps provide a little encouragement to others, I studied engineering for 6 years at two different schools. During my education, I failed 8 classes. The reason I succeeded is because I didn’t give up. I was determined to succeed. I am now a licensed engineer with 10 years of experience. I manage 6 people below me and am responsible for the design and management of a billion dollar facility project in the energy industry. School is really just flash in the pan in your career, but an important one. For those of you who do possess an above average ability in math and science, DON’T QUIT. It’s worth it. My life has been forever changed because of my engineering career, not because I am smart, but because I am so determined!

    • Person December 31, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      As an Electrical Engineering student. This covered everything… every single thing I found wrong with the post. I started with College Algebra at a CC, as well as Calculus and succeeded in Calculus- compared to my peers- in part because I had the material fresh in mind.

  10. Pyrite August 1, 2013 at 2:52 am #

    But will STEM be a good provider?

  11. blah August 24, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    This has to be the dumbest article ever.

  12. Lemuel Uhuru September 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    I’m currently a Mathematics major with all A’s in my major classes, soon to be transferring into Computer Engineering. It’s always funny to me when people make the claim that Math and Science is somehow too difficult to comprehend for the majority. It’s not, and this is one of the most primitive and prevalent myths in existence. In fact this advice is one of the reasons for the lack of inspiration among youth in STEM fields. I hope in the future as more people develop a basic understanding of how our brain works, myths like this will be mocked. I admit that the best engineers most certainly had to have been very curious about how things work with a deep desire to understand inner elements of a system or structure. However, this hollywood promotion of obsession is not what’s required to do well at all. In fact, I think time and perseverance is more of a factor than anything else, that including patience, passion, and resilience.

    • Traci September 10, 2013 at 2:12 am #

      @Lemuel..I absolutely love your comment. I will graduate with my MBA this December.I have worked full time throughout my undergraduate and graduate career while taking a full time course load. I am also an attentive single parent. I worked overnight law enforcement for over 5 years. Often times I would work more than 60 hours a week. My undergraduate gpa is a 3.1 and my graduate gpa is a 3.2. I made the decision to attend engineering school in the Spring of 2014…but I’m resigning to focus on school.

      This article can be viewed as taking a realistic approach but it is also very narrow minded. The author is making the assumption that every student is supplied with the element to afford them with the ability to produce a higher gpa. Every situation and circumstance is different.

  13. ha September 25, 2013 at 12:00 am #

    Funny article. Being an mechanical engineering student, I see all walks of life with varying skills in math and physics and intelligence; as long as there is a solid understanding in the basics of these areas mixed with solid study habits and descent reading skills and a high tolerance to prolonged stress and sleep deprivation- that’s really all is needed to complete an undergraduate degree in any engineering field.

  14. Takenoprisioners September 26, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    Oh, the whole “you have to be intelligent to become an engineering” argument. Sure, you could be the smartest one in the room, but in my opinion, that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed as an engineer. To me, what this career comes down to is how you manage yourself rather than how good, or in some cases “gifted” you are with a certain skill. It doesn’t require a high level of IQ to become one, but it does require determination. That’s all.

  15. Karen November 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    This slightly worries me. I’m a first year mechanical engineering student and I’m super passionate about learning how things work and I excelled in math and physics in high school.
    BUT I’ve never programmed until I had a mandatory class and sometimes electronics confuse me. I wouldn’t know where to start building a robot and and don’t feel like entrepreneuring a small business.
    Knowing the drop out and failure rates of engineering majors this freaks me out because I don’t want to drop out or fail!

  16. Dan November 27, 2013 at 12:06 am #

    This article is stupid! Engineering is HARD, but not impossible. You just have to want it and be willing to work at it.

  17. Clark December 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    I am a Chemical Engineer, and a Chemist, I have BS in both. I have been an engineer in the Chemical industry for > 30 years. That list of characteristics is stereotypical and while I know a few engineers that are described by that list, most are not.

    Does your child excel at math?
    If your child loves multi-step math problems in higher level math classes in high school he will ok.

    Can your child visualize how things work? Can he describe them? I got a model of a V8 engine at the age of 8 for a Christmas present. For one reason or another my dad never got around to sitting down and helping me get started. I still remember looking at the detailed diagram on the back of the package and visualizing how the engine worked, I could describe every piece’s function.

    I can tell you from personal experience that engineering is not for everyone, it’s hard and you have to be pretty smart to do it.

    My own son is trying to be a petroleum engineer at a major university in Texas and is probably not going to make it. That’s why I am up at 5 am reading blogs on the internet.

    I have come to learn several difficult and expensive lessons.

    Not all things are about effort. When my son was struggling early with calculus and chemistry, I believed it was study habits and effort. Now that he is in the upper level classes and really trying and still not succeeding it’s painfully clear that he’s just not smart enough to do it. He gets As in all his electives and some of the easier engineering courses, but the “weed out courses” get him every time. He really wants to be an engineer, in the field, building stuff, making things happen. He started as a a civil, but did not want to take years of concrete classes. He got his grades up, transferred into petroleum and was passionate about his petroleum classes. Sadly it’s becoming evident that he just can’t do it. So I am not sure what happens next. He’s four years into college and still a year or two away from a degree. I have three in college and the money for him is almost gone. He’s always been a pleaser, which is why he went down this road.

    I will add one more thing. I went to very small schools. Not these large factories. I believe the smaller schools genuinely care more about your child and want to educate as opposed to weed out.

  18. Duce January 14, 2014 at 4:13 am #

    I’m actually in school right now for mechanical engineering at 32. I’ve never had to repeat a class and have made it through all of the nasty math classes unscathed. First and foremost high school GPA, SAT blah blah blah means nothing. Many of the “smart kids” end up switching majors to civil or business. Most of my classes at my community college started full and finished with less than half the class. Many of those guys ended up back at community college because they flunked out of university. (NOTE TO PARENTS, SEND YOUR KIDS TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FIRST) It isn’t uncommon to have a low GPA for the first 2 years and then get better in your major so take your heavy classes at CC to save your GPA.

    In my engineering college a little over 60% remain at the end but it gets better in Junior year. The people that spend their time whining are the first ones to go and then you have those who care so much about grades that getting a C freaks them out. There will be many C’s and some failed tests. On some tests nobody will get above a 65 but everything is curved so treat others as your competition. Most colleges evaluate that way.

    Engineering classes take more determination than brains. There are times in the beginning you feel like you don’t belong or that others are doing better than you. When you have made it to your second year past Calc 2 and Physics 2 you do belong because it doesn’t get much more brutal than those two. Calc 3 is pretty brutal because it involves three dimensions partial derivatives, double/triple/etc integration. The next “hard” classes are thermodynamics and some say fluids. (KEEP YOUR GPA ABOVE 3.0 IF YOU CAN!)

    The worst thing you could possibly ever do to yourself is lie. If you know you aren’t capable of studying or self motivation you will fail. If you can t work in groups, you will fail. If you can’t make new friends from diverse groups of people, you will miss opportunities. If a social life outside of school is extremely important to you, you will fail. If a healthy relationship is something you hope to keep, you will suffer. Wait until you two are stronger together or don’t get involved in anything serious.

    Finally, most people become miserable due to the math and the science. I know its been covered but some of you will underestimate the toll the workload will take on you lives and cave. The first 2 years, which isn’t even two years, sucks. What sucks even more is living in your moms basement, working at McDonalds and/or not doing something in your life that has meaning. Get the past the first two years and its a plateau for a semester and then downhill.

  19. Andrew Li January 27, 2014 at 7:51 am #

    In short, I don’t agree with what you’re saying. I believe that anyone, regardless of ‘innate ability’ has stones required to earn an engineering degree provided that he or she is willing to persevere. It startles me (or rather, doesn’t) how many people scored in the 99 percentile of the SAT, who majored in engineering, eventually washed out of their programs. On the other hand, the people that struggle to perform as well academically, well, you guessed it- earn their degrees. Technical degrees are not a measure of how smart you are. Here, the genetic lottery doesn’t count for much; I believe one can go so far as to say intelligence plays absolutely no role in college engineering – rather, it’s perseverance and willingness to adapt to the rigors that determine whether you succeed.
    Most engineers’ heads seem to swell up after getting their degree… After all once you’re on the throne, it’s easy to overlook the trials you endured to get there.

    • Mike O. February 13, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more with your comment, which evidently pertains to myself perfectly. In my high school years I failed precalculus due to a complete lack of motivation and stopped working with math from there until college. I worked my way from graduating high school with a 1.8 gpa as well as low math scores on the act to reapplying myself in community college and finding my passion in engineering. I am now currently a junior at a good university in Industrial engineering making a 3.2+ gpa. High school is a test of motivation in academia, college is the test of passion and desire in the subjects you enjoy.

      My social life suffers, my life is unbelievably busy and I am stressed 75% of the time, but doing something that is a personal success for oneself is what drives an engineer through the rigor of the program they are enrolled in.

      Thank you Andrew for your great comment and hopefully my journey will help push those who aren’t as successful in high school as some say is mandatory.

  20. George DeMarse February 4, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    This article is right on. Engineering is a field where the passion comes early and stays through high school into college. Those kids engaged in STEM show interest early on in these subjects and they excel.

    That should not be surprising. Musicians, writers, dancers all show early passion for their discipline. It’s silly to think STEM would be any different.

    There is, as the article pointed out, a tendency to emphasize that kids “must study” majors “where the jobs are.” Right now, those jobs appear to be in some types of engineering and computer science. This mistaken view by the pundits and some parents is that college students merely have to “shop around” and pick the majors that are “vocationally hot.” But that’s silly. Anyone who knows some psychology, especially personnel psychology, knows talents, motivation and abilities don’t allow students to “shop around” willy nilly for a major–as if ability and motivation do not matter. They do–a lot.

    Not motivated by STEM? Stay away from it.

    George DeMarse
    LRS
    U.S. Office of Personnel Management (Ret.)

  21. Chris Revere March 17, 2014 at 1:28 am #

    I am a high school dropout from the age of 19. I have had my fair share of bumps and bruises along the way. In 3rd grade math was fun because my grandma had me studying. I learned my multiplication table and raced my classmates on small math tasks. High school and life in general became very challenging for me. I had a lot of healing to do. I’ve worked as a salesman for a year and in a sausage factory for another. It’s been mostly fast-food apart from that. One day I decided I needed change. I made a plan then and I am sticking to it now because I am hopeful for a happy ending. I decided to go to cc to begin a degree program in engineering because I have come to notice the importance of problem solving skills in all aspects of life, and I wanted to challenge myself. I must admit engineering is an acquired taste and it isn’t for everyone. You have to want it. Hard work beats an IQ everytime. If not in test scores then in everyday life.

    In my opinion engineering is the only degree program worthwhile for me because of my desire to make a positive contribution to society and because of the debt that I am taking on. It just makes sense to me. It’s common sense. The world needs more engineers and it’s just the most sensible and practical choice unless you have huge talents elsewhere. Engineering is for your everyday person. Believe me I’m not special. I just realize my own opportunity to get myself out of debt, help my family, and if everything goes right, help the world.

    I have an average IQ, and an overactive imagination especially when anxiety takes it’s toll. I also have a few friends that have been a little more privileged as they have parents that are engineers but I am doing better than some of them because of my maturity. I like to consider myself a genius, not because I’m intelligent but because I choose to be. I’m more of a philosopher than anything else. I am very stimulated by learning. My overall goal is a career in politics. In order for me to secure my future I am beginning to lean towards petroleum engineering. I am not an advocate for relying on carbon based fuels by any means. I think we need a shift in power and that businesses interests are being looked after directly more so than the people’s are. Perhaps it is for good reason and even justifiable, but I can’t help but think there must be a better way.

    Yeah I’m doing petroleum for money but that’s not what motivates me, its the opportunities the money will create for myself and for others. I would love to make a scientific breakthrough by developing a technological advancement that will revolutionize the way the world is and enhance everyone’s quality of life but I’m not sure that will happen. After a few years as a petroleum engineer I hope to begin a dual grad program in business and law. It’s those three majors combined that I believe will build the skills that will make me better equipped to take on the challenges of the world. For me to accomplish my goals I need the money.

    I have always taken the time to participate in school clubs and liberal arts courses because that is where the real learning takes place. It’s a shame that education is heading in the direction of developing processors for corporations and getting students to buy in instead of making it’s students better people. Money can’t be the ends of a mean but only a side effect of creating an all around value. I hope that my perspective will have an impact on any organization I ever become involved with. I love nature and want to limit any harm done to it. I gotta do what I gotta do to survive in this world and to help other people.

    At this point in my academic adventure, I have slightly under a 3.1. At the age of 26 school is pretty new to me and my GPA would be better if it weren’t for a few unfortunate chain of events. I too began college taking intermediate algebra. Now I am taking calc 3. My first test score was a forty but no worries the lowest score gets dropped. My second exam was an 88. Just this past Friday was my third exam and I expect it to be even higher. Every semester I feel like dropping out but I always succeed. I just have a flame plain and simple.

    In today’s world it’s sink or swim. No matter where you come from you must simply maximize the opportunities you have in life and everyone’s are different. If engineering is something that just makes sense for you to pursue then just go for it. I’m no longer putting it on a pedestal that’s just out of my reach like I have done with so many other things in my past. Lets break the mold and become what we want to be. Engineers are the future of our existence. I’d make the investment again and again. Liberal arts are easy and fun but that’s not something to commit to if you catch my drift. Those sort of things can be learned if one keeps an observant perspective throughout their daily routines and independent research. I just don’t think it’s smart to become a soft science major unless you want to become a proffessor or are already well off and can afford to do that.

    In summation, the name of the game is survival and not harming others. It’s all about finding the utilitarian thing to do. No matter what you choose to do in life make a plan and keep on learning and adapting. Don’t consider this article to be a determining factor in deciding your future. The journalist did a good job, but he is a journalist and it’s his job to get people to read this and nothing else. I have good faith that the writer is coming from a good place and is doing a good job of helping people to not set themselves up for failure. The problem is he could be setting people up for failure by having them choosing a major that will chew them up and spit them out into a saturated job market with no useful skills backed into a wall being forced to take whatever job comes their way and taking on debt that will never be paid off.The only key ingredients needed to succeed are believing in yourself and doing the wor. Where there’s a will there is a way. You don’t have to be book smart because there are ways around that. I have a learning disability but somehow I have developed a decent amount of social intelligence. That has opened plenty of doors for me.There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

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