Updated: Jun 24
Getting into the right engineering school for you requires a strategic blueprint. Use this article as a guide to successfully gain acceptance into the right engineering school for you. We will unveil some common misconceptions about the process as well as reveal what admissions officers look for in the applications and essays from students interesting in engineering. We also include insights into the preparations you need to make while in high school along with the questions to ask admissions officers to find the perfect fit for you.
You Are More Than Your Grades
It is important to remember that high test scores (SAT/ACT) and a high g.p.a. that includes a rigorous math and science courseload is not enough for admission to top engineering programs. That criteria is easily met by all students applying for those programs. As you complete your college application essays, you need to find a way to tell your story in a way that reveals your engineering mindset and shows your initiative and fortitude outside of the math/science classroom.
What ARE these colleges looking for? According to Princeton, “We are especially interested in students who have done well in the most challenging program of courses that was available at their high school, have particular strengths in math and science, and who have a sense of intellectual curiosity about technology and its role in the modern world.”
“Princeton strongly recommends that applicants submit the results of two SAT II subject tests. Applicants who intend to pursue a B.S.E. degree should include among these either the Level I or Level II mathematics test and either the physics or chemistry test.”
If intellectual curiosity is what many of the top programs want to see in your application, what exactly does that mean? It means, don’t just give them a bulleted list of accomplishments. They want to learn more about what you tick and your process of taking action on your curiosity. What colleges don’t want is students who just grind and grind away doing things that they think are going to look good in their applications! Colleges want interested and interesting students.
MIT offers this advice:
“Of course, you need good scores and good grades to get into MIT. But most people who apply to MIT have good grades and scores. Having bad grades or scores will certainly hurt you, but I’m sorry to say that having great grades and scores doesn’t really help you – it just means that you’re competitive with most of the rest of our applicants. It’s who you are that really matters. It’s how you embrace life. It’s how you treat other people. It’s passion. And yes, that stuff really does drip off the page in the best of our applications. It’s not anything I can explain – you just know when you read an application and a “perfect match” is there.”
Another key component to include in your college application are your math and science teacher recommendations. Well-written recommendations help admissions officers understand your particular strengths in math and science as well as documentation of advanced independent or extracurricular math and science projects you’ve participated in. Your teacher recommendations are also a great way to show additional skills such of as problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration with others, perseverance and systematic thinking.
Ask yourself the following questions:
How are you building these qualities and skills as a high school student?
What could you do to engage in more collaborative work outside the classroom?
Are you taking intellectual risks?
What projects have you dreamed about doing but have been holding back because you’re afraid of failure or perhaps you don’t even know where to start?
Have you created a blueprint or master plan for yourself as you prepare to apply to colleges?
Where in your college applications can you share compelling stories that show these qualities and skills?
Building meaningful rapport with your teachers takes time, but it’s a sound investment of your time that can pay off in many ways. Without doubt, a teacher who really knows you can write a more detailed and powerful recommendation. But there is a deeper value to establishing an intellectual connection with your teachers. Teachers who understand your genuine interests in the areas of math and science can help guide and mentor you, inform you of STEM opportunities, and encourage you to achieve the higher levels that you desire. Think about how you can help your teachers learn more about how you process complex math and scientific concepts. Also think about ways to help your teacher see the interpersonal skills that you possess and that colleges desire.
What to Look for in an Engineering School
When it comes to researching potential engineering schools, make sure the ones you are seriously considering are certified by the American Board of Engineering and Technology. This certification means that these schools meet the standards of the profession you want to get into. You should also find out how each college of interest is ranked nationwide, and what type of research opportunities exist for undergrads at those colleges.
A word of caution – when you are looking at the college statistics for admission, not all statistics are created equal. Don’t fall into the trap of just researching general admissions statistics for a college. As a general rule, the college of engineering is much more stringent. Those are the numbers you need to be reviewing. The American Society for Engineering Education provides a valuable resource on college admissions statistics specifically for engineering programs. Visit http://profiles.asee.org/ to explore the statistics that relate to your colleges of interest.
Some questions you should ask admissions officers. Does the college use state-of-the-art technology in their teaching? Do they prepare students to tackle real-life situations by providing them such opportunities? Does the School of Engineering have a Career Counseling Center that helps students with their resumes prior to graduation.
Also, if possible, it is always a good idea to visit your colleges of interest when they are having open house and other recruiting events geared to give future students a taste of class work, facilities and faculty interaction. Admissions Officers will be able to give you this information.
You may be asking yourself, why is admission to engineering programs more competitive than gaining admission to the universities themselves? Take the University of Texas at Austin for example. UT is ranked the 10th best engineering program in the world according to US News and World Report and is labeled as, "moderately difficult" to get into. The university admitted 39% of the applicants for the 2017-18 academic year. However, of the applicants vying to get into the Cockrell School of Engineering, just 26% were offered admission. Freshmen entering UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering had an average SAT score greater than 1400.
The main reason for this highly selective admissions process to engineering programs seems to be that the faculty who head these programs want to make sure that the incoming freshman class is prepared for the demanding course load, and that they don’t become a part of the 60% statistic of students who drop out or change majors during their first year. Another important statistic holds that the more math courses a high school student has taken, the lower the student dropout rate will be.
How to Prepare for an Engineering Major
In addition to the prerequisites required for graduation, think about what courses engineering schools are going to be expecting to see on your transcript. For example, students interested in engineering majors should take the highest levels of Math and Science offered in their high schools, as well as a foreign language for at least two years. For fun, students can try their hand at creative writing, enroll in an arts course, be part of the Drama Club, or get involved in debate or mock UN. These classes will help to build your communication and collaboration skills. Students can also volunteer in community service projects like homebuilding for Habitat for Humanity and cleanup projects through Keep America Beautiful, but when possible, go the extra mile and align your community service with your areas of interest for the type of engineering that appeals to you.
Diving Deep into Activities and Internships
One way to show interest in STEM activities is to create independent learning opportunities through experiments and projects approved by your biology/chemistry/physics teacher. Results can be documented and displayed through district's science fairs, UIL STEM competitions, and national research competition. Summer activities that can build your competencies include internships in STEM field occupations, science and space camps, and summer programs at colleges and universities.
Getting Ahead through Summer School and Capstone Courses
Summer school isn’t just for students who need to retake failed coursework, it can really help you get ahead of the game. If you can get an elective out of the way or open up opportunities to take additional STEM courses during the school year, it is definitely worth consideration. If your school offers the AP Capstone Program, you should make plans to take advantage of that experience.
When it comes to researching potential engineering schools, make sure the ones you are seriously considering are certified by the American Board of Engineering and Technology.
3-2 Engineering Programs
Another option to consider is a dual degree programs or 3-2 engineering programs where the student will obtain a degree from their liberal arts college, and an engineering degree from one of several partner engineering schools. This means spending 3 years at your own college, and 2 years at the partner college, and earning both a BA and a BS degree upon graduation.
Job Rates Upon Graduation
STEM majors, specifically engineering occupations, have high starting salaries – more than $55,000 on average. Students receiving degrees in these fields also find it easier to obtain jobs when they graduate. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in this field are expected to increase by 140,000 in the next decade. For these reasons, many college students and parents find this major appealing.
If you are considering an engineering major, make sure that your interests align with the math/science classes and the college preparatory work that you take. If you find that this is not where your interests lie, it's better to find that out in high school rather after you are already enrolled in the college program. Remember that while an engineering degree may produce substantially more income than other majors, keep in mind that it requires rigorous coursework and great determination to earn this degree.
Ask for Help
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