The path to becoming an engineer is a long and difficult one that involves an incredible amount of study, focus and determination. Those who choose to pursue additional education or certifications after qualifying as an engineer have even more work ahead of them.
As the process of becoming an engineer can be so difficult and challenging, it can be hard to know where to start. We have broken down the top courses you should take in order to get into an engineering program and listed some of the courses that engineers have taken post-qualification to get even more out of their career.
Why choose engineering?
While everyone will have their own unique motivations for becoming an engineer, we can all agree that it is a well-paid, intellectually challenging and rewarding career path. If you enjoy pushing yourself, working with math and science, and trying to solve problems, then you will very likely enjoy working as an engineer.
Another aspect of engineering is that it is incredibly varied. Just like becoming a doctor, when you become an engineer, you are able to specialize in a particular field. For example, civil engineers work on infrastructure and buildings, while mechanical engineers primarily focus on designing machines and biotech engineers work on medical devices.
There are many different fields of engineering, and you can even specialize in multiple different fields or study one field and then pursue a hybrid postgraduate degree in another. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and you will likely work on project teams in the future with engineers from a number of different fields.
The diversity of experience, interest and knowledge making up the engineering sector means that you as an engineer have an incredible amount of freedom when it comes to following your interests, and it gives the entire sector dynamism, diversity and excitement.
How to get into engineering
There are two main ways to become an engineer. You can either graduate from high school and enter a bachelor’s course in engineering directly, or you can enter a bachelor’s course after having already begun a different career. Engineering is not as friendly towards career changers as other professions are because a bachelor’s degree is required to become an engineer.
That being said, universities are keen on accepting career changers because the individual has shown that they have deeply considered their professional interests and determined that they are interested in the subject. Having career changers join the class also gives the class a certain amount of healthy diversity. Older students provide new perspectives and ideas and have more maturity and professional experience than younger students who are just starting out on their bachelor’s degree.
Many companies and organizations are also keen on hiring career changers because of the added experience that they bring. Career changers have experience in more than one field, and they have very likely worked in professional settings in the past and will be able to transition to working life more easily than their younger counterparts.
Regardless of whether you are a teenage applicant or a career changer, you will need to take a number of key courses in math and sciences and score well enough to make yourself a competitive applicant. You will also need to think deeply about your motivations for becoming an engineer and write about them in your application essay.
Many engineers focus solely on math and science and neglect their English language and communication skills. This is a mistake because you will need to be able to effectively communicate throughout your engineering career. If you need help writing your application, there are many public and private student services available.
If your application is successful and you are able to enter an engineer program, you must then complete the program and graduate – this is easier said than done, of course! After graduation, you may decide to pursue further education or licenses to boost your CV.
Important courses for becoming an engineer
If you are considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering, there are a few courses in which you will definitely want to focus on performing well. While some people may be taking these courses as a high schooler, those who are career changers may need to take these courses at their local university in order to apply to engineering programs.
Regardless of the context in which you are taking these courses, you will want to perform well in them in order to boost your applications to engineering programs.
It should hardly be surprising that math is going to be an important aspect of your engineering degree. That being said, while it will serve you well to be adept with higher-level math courses, higher-level math is not going to be a requirement for every engineering program you apply to, and some programs will require less math than others.
As a prospective engineering student, you will also want to have strong grades in the sciences. Subjects such as chemistry and physics provide essential foundations for engineering and will typically make up the core subjects of the first year in a bachelor’s program.
Depending on the course you are interested in, it could also be extremely beneficial to have studied and scored highly in courses such as biology, Earth science and general applied science. If they are available to you, it is also beneficial for high school students to take advanced-level courses such as AP and IB.
It is important to note that not every engineering program has the same requirements. You should make a note of the requirements of the various programs you are going to apply to and try to identify any gaps that all of the programs share.
Depending on the program you are applying to and the type of engineering you ultimately want to do, you may want to pursue a number of specialized courses in addition to the above subjects. These are courses that will very likely not be offered in most high schools, and taking them would not be expected of a high school student.
However, if you are a career changer and looking to get into a particular engineering program, then these courses are a great way to help yourself get into specialized degree programs and impress school administrators.
For example, if you are interested in working in the energy sector, you could take a geology course, and if you are interested in working in agriculture, you could take an agricultural science course. Other popular courses would be anatomy for biotech or medical device development and general business studies for becoming an engineering manager.
Further education for engineers
If you are already an engineer and you are looking to take your career a step further, then advanced education may be the right move to make. Many engineers graduate and quickly begin working in the field, gaining hands-on experience. While some people find that the career was everything that they wanted it to be and are happy to rise through the promotions available in their field, others quickly realize that they actually wanted more out of their engineering experience.
One career path that many engineers decide to pursue is engineering management. Engineering managers take a leadership role within an engineering team and utilize their commercial, communication and leadership skills to manage project teams and work with other segments of an organization.
While some engineering managers work their way up to the role, many decide to hone their skills by pursuing a postgraduate degree. For example, the engineering management degree from uOttawa prepares engineers to take the next step into management by teaching them important commercial skills such as financing, project management, leadership, innovation management and operations.
These are all necessary skills and abilities that an individual must possess in order to become a successful engineering manager, so it is worth learning the best practices in an academic setting, rather than learning them from trial and error. The uOttawa course is designed to accommodate working professionals because it is a fully online course, which makes it much more flexible.
Engineering management is a good career path for engineers to take if they want to launch an engineering company themselves one day or if they love working with people and driving teams towards excellence. Most programs will require an engineering bachelor’s degree along with a few years of work experience in the field.
Another interesting career path open to engineers following graduation is research. This is a career path for students who are truly passionate about academic work and engineering study, and is extremely rigorous.
Individuals who pursue research will typically graduate with their bachelor’s and then go on to postgraduate education either by joining a PhD program right away or by completing a master’s program and then following that with a PhD program. While some students will begin their postgraduate work right after finishing their bachelor’s degree, others will spend some time working in the field to gain practical experience before applying to programs. Gaining experience in the field is a great way to try out an engineering career before committing to academic work.
Some people are truly passionate about teaching and want to dedicate more time to teaching than they would be able to as an engineering manager or a learning and development specialist in a private company or organization. These people tend to be attracted to academia and the opportunities it affords in terms of lecturing, working directly with students, and helping to shape the next generation of young engineers.
No one ever said that pursuing a PhD was easy, and certainly no one will ever say that pursuing a PhD in engineering is easy – it is a difficult pursuit and takes years of hard work with low pay. However, there are many benefits to working in academia, and professorial roles in the STEM fields tend to be more secure and offer more opportunities than similar roles in the arts.
Online education: is it right for you?
You may want to boost your CV after graduating with a postgraduate certificate or degree, or you may be a career changer who needs to retake certain math or science courses in order to enter an engineering program. If you are already working or have to care for family members, then the prospect of adding a rigorous course on top of your workload can be incredibly daunting. This is where online education may come in as a highly flexible alternative.
If you have never tried online education, then you may feel hesitant and uncertain regarding distance learning and wonder whether it is really a good fit for you. Many people of a certain age have never had to do any type of digital learning, and the transition to learning remotely can be difficult for learners who really need a classroom setting in order to thrive.
Thankfully, there are a few different steps you can take to find out whether or not you are well suited to online learning before committing to a full course.
The rise of online learning
Online learning was previously believed to be a somewhat niche and lesser form of education than in-person education, and was often tied to schools such as the University of Phoenix. However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed this perception of online education within the span of just a few months.
When the pandemic hit, suddenly all forms of education had to make a full digital transition to online learning. While it was certainly awkward and difficult at first for the professors and schools that were not already digitally equipped, they were forced to adapt quickly to the new circumstances presented by the pandemic.
The fact that every course and program was able to successfully transition to remote learning proved that online learning was just as valuable and important as traditional, in-class study.
Remote learning and accessibility
One impact of the general shift in perception regarding online learning is that there are now more courses than ever before offered in remote and hybrid formats. A result of this is that many people who previously would have been totally unable to pursue education due to demanding work or family life schedules now can.
The increased flexibility of online learning means that many more people than ever before have the chance to develop their skills and experiences in their own time, around their commitments. While we are yet to fully understand how this change could shift education in the long term, it is an incredibly positive and hopeful development that will ideally lead to more accessible learning.
Is remote learning for you?
If you are unsure whether or not you can be a successful and happy student while learning remotely, there are a few steps you can take to find out. Firstly, you can write down a list of things that you need to be a successful student and factors you are looking for when choosing a course.
If you find that to be a successful student, you need a flexible course, interesting electives and support from your professors, then you may be a good fit for online education. However, if you really rely on in-class discussion and connections and you struggle to manage your own time or stay disciplined, then you may not be well suited to studying remotely.
One way to give yourself a taster of what studying online is like is to enroll in a few of the free or low-cost online courses. There are thousands of different online courses offered at very low prices on a variety of platforms, which all give you a sense of what studying remotely is really like. Trying out a few in your subject area of interest will help you to experience online study and also broaden your understanding of the discipline.
Finally, another important step to take is to reach out to the recruitment teams at the universities you are interested in. They will have a range of different resources available to help you learn more about the program and its expectations, and they may also be able to put you in touch with professors, current students and alumni who can answer specific questions you have.
Making your career your own
At the end of the day, whether you choose to pursue online or in-person education, take on a postgraduate degree or focus on gaining experience in the field, what really matters is that you are taking steps towards the career you want. Becoming an engineer is not an easy accomplishment, and after dedicating so much time, energy, money and effort into becoming an engineer, you deserve giving yourself the chance to pursue your dream career.
As long as you know what you are interested in and you are dedicated to getting there, you are certain to meet your career goals.