So you’ve finished your journey of elemental schooling and have taken it upon yourself to further your academics into the daunting realm of science. Or perhaps you are only interested in what drives people to seek four more years of grueling work which leads to a mediocre paying job that receives nowhere near enough recognition (no bias, of course…). So you are entering your first year as an engineering student, what should you expect? And what can you do to succeed? There is no single right answer, and everyone’s experience will be different. However, if there was a way to reach out to my naive first-year self, the following are the things I would let myself know.
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So you want to be an engineer
First off, congratulations on taking the first steps into bettering humanity! The world revolves around engineers, and so does pretty much everything that is made here. Thanks to intriguing minds that challenge conventional methods and thrive outside the box, the world continues to develop new and better technologies. Of course, there are many who contribute to the betterment of society, however, engineers will always remain a keystone in modern humanity. Engineers achieve some of the most incredible feats on the planet, and with a little work (maybe more than that…) you too can fulfill the long-standing legacy that is engineering.
As you might (and should) expect, it is not an easy journey and it will likely be the most demanding task you have ever been challenged with. But fret not, thousands have made the journey before you, and thousands will follow after. It is entirely do-able if you’re willing to put in the work. Here is what you should expect as a first year engineering student.
It is going to start out easy
But do not be fooled, the classes pick up remarkably fast. First semester will be almost indifferent to your last year of high school, except you will move much quicker and go much further in-depth. The classes will get progressively harder, if you do not master the fundamental skills, you will be left behind. Even if it is basic, attend ALL YOUR CLASSES. Professors are great people and tend to be more lenient towards students who show up more (seriously, do not take this lightly- it could save your university career). Sometimes they will give bonus questions in class. Make use of any and all bonus material, this is University, everything counts. Do not let your first year GPA bring you down.
Get used to not understanding your professor
You’ve entered a specialized discipline, and with that, specialized professors. While they will all be incredibly knowledgeable, they may not be necessarily understandable. To avert this (if at all possible) talk to second and third-year students in your program to see which professors are the easiest to understand. That being said, sometimes the ones who do not speak the most fluent are the best teachers. Another indispensable tool for you to use is Rate My Professor – Seriously, before signing up for a course LOOK THEM UP. Make an educated choice, and make it EARLY. Classes fill up and will leave you with the worst times and the worst profs- which leads on to the next point;
Expect classes to fill up fast, DO NOT BE CAUGHT OFF GUARD
Make absolutely certain that you are awake the moment registration opens. There are thousands of students registering and only so many 3 P.m classes with good professors. Miss your chance and you will be stuck with four 8:10 A.m classes in a row with a professor’s name who you can’t even pronounce (believe me, it happens and it happens often). If you can (and you should) check the classes and build a schedule with the classes that work for you ahead of time. You can view what classes are available on your school website. If you cannot find it, reach out to your academic advisors.
Doing things last minute is not going to work anymore
But that probably won’t stop you from trying… If you are willing to bite the bullet and pull a three-day bender with forty cups of coffee for a mediocre C grade then, by all means, procrastinate away. Most of us did. However, do yourself a favor and look at what you are getting yourself into. Look through the internet and pull together some sources to get a rough idea of what you are going to do. You will have pre-labs, labs, assignments, tutorial assignments, projects, quizzes, and more labs.
Time is of the essence, make sure you leave enough of it. There will be twenty-page labs, tedious reports, and potentially a seminar or two. Getting a little preemptive research out of the way will save you a ton of time. Try and be organized, make a plan, and STICK WITH IT. Often, labs will be due at the end of class. Printing out your lab manual before your lab could save you major precious time. Check ahead with your professor and your TA before you get caught out.
People are going to try and use you, so make the most of it
First year you will likely be faced with a group project or two. You will need a partner so make sure you reach out and see who could be a good potential partner. Just because its university does not mean people will not be lazy. They will, and if you end up with a lazy partner you will be left off with all the work. Be warned, YOU picked your partner so do not expect your professor to bail you out over a sob story. They do not care. Reach out and find a good group of students who are willing to work. If possible, go hang out at the university a week before it starts. Get to know your classmates and know who to look for when the time comes!
READ THE SYLLABUS
All your coursework will be outlined; due dates, classes, and contact details will all be nestled away somewhere in the syllabus. Make sure you know how much every bit of work is worth so you do not skip a tutorial or two and come to find they are worth five percent each. This tacks on to being organized, but likely no one is going to tell you to look at it. Stay on top and check it out before your first lecture.
Class updates will come quickly, so check it often
Your school will likely have some online interface with all your lecture content, grades, and class updates. Professors are human, they get sick, classes get canceled. Don’t get caught up waking up for an 8 A.m class when it was canceled the night before. Also, if possible, print out your pre-lecture before class. Read over it. If you do not understand, at least you will know what is to come. It is proven that it helps with understanding- make use of this resource!
Your grades will not make sense
Welcome to the GPA, or the most bizarre and dysfunctional method of scoring. While high school percentages are not only useful but also practical, Universities like to shake things up with a 4.0 scale. You will be given a letter grade and then a number. It breaks down something like this
Check and make sure you are passing. 50% may not cut it anymore. Check your syllabus, often a 2.0 is a pass, which is a 60%.
The school has a TON of resources
This is probably the most important point. You have paid thousands for an institution to prepare you for life. Likely tens of thousands went through the school before you- the university has seen and deals with every kind of situation you can imagine. For example, health plans cover dental work and can even cover massages and physiotherapy. For me, this meant a $17 massage for an hour- but I had no idea I could do it until later years.
Also, if you run out of food, make a trip down to your financial office. Most Universities have emergency funds to give students money to get food and essential supplies. Your student association will also regularly give away free food and other free things like writing utensils, backpacks, and even some large ticket items with the occasional giveaway (money, laptops, trips and more!). In first year I continuously filled out the same survey to get a ‘healthy’ supply of chocolate bars- make sure you find out if you can too.
People come and give FREE stuff- Know where and when!
University students are prime marketing pawns. Companies will constantly come and showcase their newest tech and will often bring free giveaways. Your school website should have the details of when and where they will be coming. Also, it gives you a chance to meet people in your future industry. Talk with them and express interest, you never know where the next intern is lurking.
There are tons of places to make a quick buck if you need it
When people warn that University is expensive, they were not kidding. Expect to occasionally live off $20 a week. It happens. But to prevent it as much as possible keep an eye open for job postings at school. School jobs work around your schedule and often pay well, not to mention it looks fantastic on a resume.
Sometimes there may be postings for research opportunities including researching or being researched, see if you qualify. While it may seem a bit odd to be researched, the pay is often great! Also, chatting up your professor could land you a research opportunity in the summer. Either way is great for making a few dollars.
It is impossible to go over all of the details of what to expect. It is a journey that must be traversed with some uncertainty. Hopefully, these pointers will serve you some good throughout your University endeavors. It will undoubtedly be a long and arduous journey. Though it may be difficult, maybe even the most difficult thing you have ever done, but it will be worth all the while when you walk out sporting your new engineering degree.