Engineering is generally considered a safe career path but in order to remain on the cutting edge of technology, it is crucial to find a leading engineering school which has a proven record of reinventing itself.
South Asia has never faced a challenge in persuading students good at math, science and analytical thinking to choose engineering over other careers.
Leading US universities known for their engineering courses rely on gifted Indian and Chinese students to fill their seats in departments such as computer science and electrical engineering.
As a group, engineers earn some of the highest average starting salaries among those holding bachelor’s degrees.
However don’t be fooled: it is an exacting discipline and not everyone manages to receive a master’s or bachelor’s degree in engineering. "Engineering has a pretty tough reputation," said Michael T Gibbons of the American Society for Engineering Education who tracks US college enrollments. Gibbons found in one of his surveys that 40% freshman usually drop-out due to the rigor of the classes. "Programs weed out a lot of students and a lot of them will move to different majors because of it," said Gibbons.
Education experts say specialty fields in engineering also become obsolete, faster. To remain on the cutting edge of technology, it’s important to zero in on a leading engineering school which “reengineers” itself constantly.
Engineers’ pay and prospects are in the premier league. Chief executives of top engineering firms earn hefty paychecks, and millions in cash bonuses, perks, stock options and grants.
As a group, engineers earn some of the highest average starting salaries among those holding bachelor’s degrees. A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. It is good to remember that engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches. For example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers may be in short supply. It also allows engineers to job-hop and shift to fields with better employment prospects.
Source: United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook
Timing the Engineering Degree
Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with courses in English, social studies, and humanities.
A student with ambitions of becoming a much-in-demand chemical engineer should have a solid foundation in chemistry and math, the ability to create design processes and to understand the limitation of theoretical concepts.
To be accepted at a Bachelor of Engineering (BE or BEng) program in the US it is essential to have completed 10+2 years of schooling. If you have done plenty of science and math in school then you are probably a good fit for engineering. Bachelor’s degree programs in engineering in the US, Canada, India, Australia, Britain, China and Germany are typically designed to last 4 years, but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to complete their studies.
A Bachelor of Engineering degree reflects a student’s major or area of specialization. For instance, a student who majors in aeronautics will receive a BE(Aero) degree. Selecting one branch of engineering over another to major in straight out of high school is a stressful choice. Fortunately, most American universities give students a year to switch in and out of different majors, irrespective of what they may have enrolled for, at the time admission. Common fields for the Bachelor of Engineering degree include:
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS): These two engineering disciplines are usually clubbed together in most US engineering schools. In parts of Asia, including India, it closely resembles Electronics and Communication Engineering. The coursework merges aspects of computer science, communication and electrical engineering. It spans a range of topics from theoretical studies of algorithms and the limits of computation to the practical issues of implementing computing systems in hardware and software. Expect to learn a lot about electrical circuits, signal processing, computer systems and architecture, digital logic design, communication networks, integrated circuit designs, artificial intelligence, control systems.
There is a lot of scope for research in this relatively new form of engineering.
In some universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California, Berkeley, the major is abbreviated to EECS, whereas in Stanford University it is known as Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). These two forms of electrical and computer science engineering run parallel to each other but are also taught as separate majors in some universities.
Chemical Engineering: This branch of engineering segues into the activity of applying chemistry to solve practical problems. It deals with the manufacture of products through chemical processes. These products include everything from pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, petrochemicals, polymers, microelectronic devices to products used in food processing and biotechnology.
A student with ambitions of becoming a much-in-demand chemical engineer should have a solid foundation in chemistry and math, the ability to create design processes and to understand the limitation of theoretical concepts.Expect to learn about chemical structures and thermodynamics of reactions, process control and the kinetics of heat transfer using complex computerized mathematical models to highlight the different theories and their applications. In some US engineering schools such as Cooper Union, which do not offer environmental or biomedical engineering exclusively, chemical engineering students can still get a minor in these fields by taking extra courses associated with the fields. This not only holds more value, but the student also becomes qualified for a wider range of paying jobs.
A Bachelor of Engineering degree is usually awarded at the end of a rigorous four-year program. The Sophomore Year is important for scoping out internships.
Civil Engineering: This branch of engineering specializes in the design and construction of large structures such as bridges, roads and dams. It focuses on sub-disciplines touching on municipal and urban planning, transportation, structural engineering, geo-technical engineering, environmental and hydraulic engineering. Useful courses include structural and applied mechanics, basic sciences, environmental systems and using computer applications to make models and diagrams. US schools give civil engineering students an opportunity to specialize in geotechnical, water resources and environmental, transportation or structural engineering. In Cornell University, MIT and University of California, civil and environmental engineering go hand in hand and fall under the department of Civil and Environment Engineering (CEE).
Mechanical Engineering: This broad engineering discipline involves the application of principles of physics for analysis, design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. Mechanical engineers design and build engines and power plants. It requires a solid understanding of core concepts related to mechanics, thermodynamics, robotics, computer applications related to Solidworks and AutoCad, which design complex models of components and machines that are used in the manufacturing process.
This is a comparatively less stressful year as most students usually have a job in hand by the time they graduate. Most US engineering schools require the GRE General Test and an appropriate subject test.
Nuclear science and engineering: Nuclear science and engineering is a discipline that has transformed in less than fifty years from lab research into a branch of engineering with broad practical applications. From the first experimental reactor built in 1942, nuclear energy has emerged as an important source of electricity for countries like France, the United States, India, Russia and China. The nuclear industry itself sees the next 20 to 30 years for their business as a "global nuclear renaissance." Nuclear technology is also widely used in medical imaging, diagnostics and therapy. Agriculture and other industries also make wide use of radioisotopes and other radiation sources.
This undergraduate major covers concepts of nuclear interactions and processes, nuclear reactors and their applications in a variety of fields such as nuclear power plants, materials science and medicine. This course is offered in schools like MIT, University of California and Georgia Tech. Important courses include nuclear, atomic and quantum physics, computer programming, differential equations and thermodynamics.
Engineering Systems: It deals with diverse, complex, physical design challenges that may include components from several engineering disciplines, as well as economics, public policy, and other sciences. It hinges on factual considerations associated with the engineering of large scale systems, or systems engineering.
Engineering Systems doctorate programs integrate methodological research with sophisticated innovative applications in the field of knowledge. After advanced courses on Engineering models, optimization algorithms and advanced microeconomics, students choose from three areas -- energy, operations, and transportation.
Materials Science and Engineering: As the name suggests, Materials Science is all about materials, their composition and applications. The study concentrates on the relation between the structure and properties of materials, factors which control the internal structure, and processes for altering the structure and properties. It brings together in a unified discipline the developments in physical metallurgy, ceramics, polymers and the physics and chemistry of solids.
Settle on your test dates well in advance and prepare methodically.
Aeronautics and Astronautics: Aerospace engineering involves design, development, testing and production of new technologies related to aviation, air defense systems and space exploration. Since this field is so vast, undergraduates can specialize in a wide variety of areas involving structural design methods, aerodynamics, propulsion, celestial mechanics, and control and instrumentation methods. Coursework includes applied aerodynamics, flight vehicle design, trajectory dynamics, aerospace propulsion systems along with a very solid background in math and physics.
Bioengineering: Bioengineering, also known as Biological Engineering is the application of engineering principles to address challenges in the fields of biology and medicine. As a study, it encompasses biomedical engineering and it is related to biotechnology.There is a lot of scope for research in this relatively new form of engineering.Bioengineers can apply their expertise to other applications of engineering and biotechnology, including genetic modification of plants and micro-organisms, bioprocess engineering, and bio-catalysis.
US schools hold career fairs and formal college events once every semester where students get ample opportunities to meet company executives and hand them their resumes.
Undergraduates usually do extensive research in one of the following fields: biomaterials, biomedical instrumentation and diagnostics, drug delivery, biomedical mechanics, bioengineering and nanotechnology. Some schools offer more areas of research in fields related to bioengineering.
Interdisciplinary Engineering: This is a more general form of engineering where students have the flexibility to choose from a wide range of courses according to their interests. For example, a student can choose to focus on an area of interest like robotics, infrastructure engineering, or electro-mechanical engineering. Students are required to complete the same number of credits required for any other undergraduate engineering degree major but have the independence to take the subjects they want to rather than the core courses which are mandatory for any other major.
Long haul to a BE degree
A Bachelor of Engineering degree is usually awarded at the end of a rigorous four-year program. Each year comprises of two semesters -- the spring semester and the fall semester. The four years are divided into the following:
Freshman year: This is the first year of college where all students are required to take core courses in math (calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra) and physics (mechanics). Students are all bought up to speed and taught the fundamentals and key concepts of engineering through a common curriculum.
Sophomore year: In the second year, the students usually separate into groups which take classes in synch with their engineering major. By the end of the year, students should have analyzed and decided to change or stick with their major for the remaining two years of the engineering program. The Sophomore Year is important for scoping out internships.
Junior year: This is a crucial year as a summer internship takes precedence over all else and students get first-hand industry exposure. The internships also give students something to write about in their resumes. Students need to apply for summer internships by the end of the fall semester in junior year in order to have an internship for the following summer.
Senior year: All engineering credits are required to be completed by the end of senior year in order to receive the bachelor’s degree. This is a comparatively less stressful year as most students usually have a job in hand by the time they graduate.By senior year, a majority of the students have completely a huge chunk of their credits and only focus on their senior engineering project which is due at the end of the year
Scoring an internship
Most engineering students find a paid internship by their junior year. These internships come from a wide variety of organizations from banks such as Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse to the science, technology, computer and manufacturing sectors. Internships are usually linked to a specific major. For instance, a chemical engineer is likely to get an offer from a chemical plant or the petroleum industry, while an electrical engineer may land a job relating to digital signal processing, computer networking and telecommunications.
There is a myth that students with only very high scores are accepted in good colleges in the US. Although the SAT and ACT scores are important, it is not the only thing that gives weight to your application. Most schools judge you on your entire application.
US schools hold career fairs and formal college events once every semester where students get ample opportunities to meet company executives and hand them their resumes. On the strength of your resume, you can be called in for an interview. Additionally, good schools also organize networking events where students get the opportunity to meet alumni from their school, share information and exchange contact numbers. These events are important and a student should prepare for them well in advance in order to secure a good internship. Ample prep includes an up-to-date resume, intelligent questions about the organization or type of job and an e-mail contact for follow-ups.
A sophomore can get a lead about an internship by tracking job openings posted on a school’s career center website, meeting career advisors to learn about job or research opportunities, building a good GPA (it’s the first thing any company usually looks at in your resume), keeping in touch with alums, networking, and preparing for interviews and applying for summer positions both in and out of school.
Getting into Engineering School
Coursework: After the tenth grade, it is advisable to choose higher (advanced) science rather than commerce or arts if you want to pursue engineering studies. Take plenty of mathematics and get a good grip on calculus, algebra and differential equations; and a solid background in science including physics and chemistry. For pursuing biomedical engineering, biology in school is a must.
The Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs): Before applying to any college in the United States, be mindful of the step-by-step application process. The very first step hinges on getting a good SAT score which measures literacy, numeracy, and writing skills.
The SATs, which are incredibly important for getting anywhere near an Ivy League college.
A good way to practice for the SATs is through the preliminary-SATs (PSATs) that normally take place in October. The PSATs comprise of three sections -- math, writing and critical reading. After that take the SATs, which are incredibly important for getting anywhere near an Ivy League college. Since these colleges get thousands of good applicants, they sometimes narrow it down to students who have exceptional SAT scores. The SATs comprise of the same sections as the PSATs, a 70-minute math section, a 60-minute writing section and a 70-minute critical reading section combining test results from three 800-point sections.
The mathematics section consists of three scored sections. One of the 25-minute sections is entirely multiple choices with 20 questions. The other 25-minute section contains 8 multiple choice questions and 10 grid-in questions while the last 20-minute section is 16 multiple choice-style questions. The math tests students on geometry, statistics, algebra and functions, probability, and data analysis.
Recommendation letters should highlight your academic qualities as well as personal strengths.
The writing section of the SAT includes multiple choice questions and an essay. The essay score contributes about 30% towards the total writing score, with the multiple choice questions contributing 70%. The multiple choice questions include error identification questions, sentence improvement questions, and paragraph improvement questions. Error identification and sentence improvement questions test the student's knowledge of grammar.
The critical reading section tests students on their ability to read and comprehend carefully. The bulk of the critical reading questions are made up of questions regarding reading passages, in which students read short excerpts on social sciences, humanities, physical sciences, or personal narratives and answer questions based on the passage.
The SAT is usually offered seven times a year in October, November, December, January, March, May, and June.
The ACT is a widely-used for college admissions and placement:The ACT is curriculum-based and not an aptitude or an IQ test. It is preferred by most public schools for admission purposes. Instead, the questions on the ACT are directly related to what students have learned in high school courses in English, mathematics, and science. The test comprises of four sections -- English, math, reading and science reasoning. The maximum score in the ACT is 36 with a US national average of 21.1 in 2007.
To pursue a Masters degree, a student needs to maintain a good cumulative percentage in their undergraduate studies.
Since some US colleges look at SAT scores while others rely on the ACT results, applicants first have to decide what university they are applying to before getting down to taking either or both the tests. Every university has specific admission requirements; they explicitly mention the type of test and minimum scores required.
There is a myth that students with only very high scores are accepted in good colleges in the US. Although the SAT and ACT scores are important, it is not the only thing that gives weight to your application. Most schools judge you on your entire application.A strong application consists of impressive recommendation letters, good high school transcripts including a decent GPA, good SAT scores and interesting, relevant personal statements or essays.
Your recommender should provide specific examples of your accomplishments, skills and character.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score: For international students, taking this exam is mandatory. It simply gives the admission committee a sense of an applicant’s proficiency in English. If your TOEFL scores are not up to scratch, a college may recommend that you take English as a Second Language (ESL) course for the first few semesters.
Recommendation Letters: An applicant should send in at least two recommendation letters written by teachers who know them well. The importance of a positive recommendation cannot be over-emphasized; not only does a letter forge a strong impression of you, it reflects your strengths and weaknesses, signals to the college admission committee whether you are a good fit for studying engineering in their school or not. A positive recommendation from a science or math teacher normally goes a long way in convincing the admission committee that you are good at science and math and will be able to handle the engineering coursework.
Recommendation letters should highlight your academic qualities as well as personal strengths.It should list or describe some of the extra-curricular activities an applicant has participated in. Most schools require a lot of project work in teams for which they want students to be well prepared. Any leadership or project work experience holds a lot of value.
Most students after completing their bachelors’ degree in engineering opt for either higher studies or work to get some real world industry exposure. In the US, the Master of Engineering degree is generally a professional degree offered as a coursework-based alternative to the traditional research-based Master of Science. It is typically of two years length and provides scope for specialization in particular fields of engineering.
A minimum of 16 years of education (10+2+4) is required before enrolling for a Master’s degree in the US. It is also possible to complete a Master's degree in one year of full time study in most universities.
Most US engineering schools require the GRE General Test and an appropriate subject test.
Good grades a must:To pursue a Masters degree, a student needs to maintain a good cumulative percentage in their undergraduate studies.Different universities have their own standards of calculating the minimum percentage, but students have a better chance of securing admission if they score above 60%. Even though this is not the only thing that universities look at, it is important to maintain an above average percentage in college.
Recommendation letters: Pick your recommenders carefully because impressive recommendations can offset weaknesses in other parts of the application. Most schools prefer at least two letters of recommendation and by the time you apply to an engineering school, you shouldn’t have to scramble for recommendations. You should ask faculty members, professors or professionals who know you well for recommendations long before the application deadline.
Your recommender should provide specific examples of your accomplishments, skills and character.A school may also be happy to know that you are a team player or have worthwhile extracurricular activities. Most schools want recommenders to send in the letters directly so you may not see exactly what’s being written about you, but you should still prep them on what to write. It is a good idea to offer your recommender a bio. Some recommenders may even ask you for a note on specific projects and activities.
Settle on your test dates well in advance and prepare methodically
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE):This standardized test is an admissions requirement for many graduate schools principally in the US, but also in other countries. The exam is primarily focused on testing abstract thinking skills in the areas of mathematics, vocabulary and analytical writing. The exam consists of four sections. The first section is a writing section, while the other three are multiple-choice style.
Some American engineering schools specify the minimum verbal, quantitative, analytical and analytical writing GRE scores a student needs to be eligible for admission. Only a general test is required by some departments in a university while others may want a subject test score.
Most US engineering schools require the GRE General Test and an appropriate subject test.For instance, MIT states on its website that for chemical engineering applicants a general test is required, while a subject test in chemistry is optional.
GRE subject tests:In addition to the general test, the GRE gauges a student’s aptitude in eight specific fields of study. Each subject test is intended for students with a Bachelor’s degree who have majored in or have a solid background in that specific area, including:
Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
Literature in English
It is important to note that the subject test can only be taken at paper based test centers, three times a year (October, November and April). However, the general test is offered year-round in many computer-based locations in India and students can register to take the test by filling out online forms on the website (www.ets.org/gre).
Settle on your test dates well in advance and prepare methodically. Since the most US graduate school deadlines fall in early-January, the tests should be taken a few months ahead of winter. The sooner you take the GRE, the lesser you will worry as deadlines creep up on you. In makes sense to start preparing for GRE exams at the start of the fourth year of undergraduate college.
TOEFL: Mostengineering schools want a minimum TOEFL score of 600 although it varies from department to department even in the same university.
Interview:Some universities use interviews as an essential screening tool while others may encourage, but not require, the interview. The admission dean may set up a telephone interview with an international student or ask someone from the alumni living in your country to interview you in person.
PhD in Engineering
For graduate students, the two year Master's degree is by far the most common route, which may be followed by the doctorate. However, students who have a bachelor’s degree can also sign-up directly into a doctoral degree program without a Masters. A doctoral degree usually takes three or more years beyond a baccalaureate degree in the same field.
A doctoral degree requires the satisfactory completion of an approved program of advanced study and original research of high quality.
A doctoral candidate needs to have good GRE scores, favorable letters of recommendation from three references, TOEFL scores, and a strong graduate Grade Point Average (if applicable) of 3.2 or better. At the more selective schools you will need a higher GMAT and GPA to stay in the game. Admission committees consider the personal statement or essay the clincher in the admit/deny issue for doctoral students.
Admission Deadlines for Engineering Programs
Most colleges announce their application deadline dates on their official websites. Students should complete their entire application well in advance, to leave elbow-room for last-minute changes. The application deadline for most colleges is January 1 for regular admissions. If an applicant wants to qualify for “early admissions” into an undergraduate program, then the student should ensure the application reaches the college by October-November.
Foreign students who apply under the early admissions umbrella sometimes have a better chance of getting admission than they would through the regular admissions process.
Foreign students who apply under the early admissions umbrella sometimes have a better chance of getting admission than they would through the regular admissions process. Studentsnormally have to pay some fees upfront when they accept the early decision offer in December or January from a college. This also works out well for south Asian students, as it gives them more time to work on their onerous visa applications.
Other students seeking admissions through the regular route usually hear from universities by March. The student visa is the F-1 visa and US Embassy/Consulate websites detail how students can apply for it.
Some US colleges provide rolling admissions for the undergraduate and Master’s program. For instance, Cornell University notifies applicants within two weeks of receiving their applications. But admissions for the PhD program is not on a rolling basis and a complete application containing all required components must be submitted no later than the deadline of January 1 for fall entry.
Private Versus Public Engineering Schools
In the US, excellent engineering programs are offered at both public and private schools. Public universities which include state and city schools usually have a lower tuition fee while private universities are pricier. This benefit does not extend to foreign students but public universities have a lower tuition fee for in-state American students who are permanent residents of that particular state. Students applying from elsewhere have to then pay a higher tuition fee for public schools which still work out less expensive than private schools.
A doctoral degree requires the satisfactory completion of an approved program of advanced study and original research of high quality.
Another advantage of public schools (such as state or city schools) is that they offer an honors program. If a candidate applies for an honors program and gets accepted, they are awarded full-tuition fee scholarships in addition to other benefits such as free dorming and a laptop. The application for honors is not a separate one, and the students usually just need to fill out the “honors” section in the respective application to be eligible for it.
Top Engineering Schools:
A few of the best engineering schools in the United States are:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of California-Berkeley
California Institute of Technology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Georgia Institute of Technology
University of Michigan
Carnegie Mellon University
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
By browsing through a college website an international student can find specific details to fill out application forms. All schools do not offer the same fields of engineering study so check out the college websites carefully.