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Great Lakes Press / "Engineering Your Future"
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"Choosing the right college is a critical decision. This guide helps students get it right. Since college is such a significant investment, I recommend that you also make the relatively modest investment in this guide."

--Dr. Alan Gomez
Sample content for "Choosing the Right Engineering School":

Chapter 1

Scanning the Horizon

Picking up this book shows that you are thinking about going to college and already have some interest in engineering, presumably to the degree that you are considering being an engineer yourself. In other words, you are standing at the trailhead of what should prove to be a challenging but gratifying growth experience. We hope, too, that your parents are standing there with you as you plan your trip. Encouragement always helps.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu wrote in the 17th century, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” but that first step has to be taken carefully. A good first step on the journey to a fulfilling college education was to buy this book. The next step is to visualize the destination that this book is meant to guide you toward: the beginning of your life at college where you will study engineering. Steven Covey, the celebrated author of a series of self-help publications, touts “starting with the end in mind” as a key for success. Let’s take a moment to envision what the end of your college search might look like, even before the search begins.

. . .

Particular Benefits of a Four-Year Engineering Degree

Before you commit the time, effort, and funds required to enjoy and excel in a four-year engineering degree program, give some thought to why you are doing so. There are a few standard motivating factors: your parents expect it, you expect to earn more money in the future with a degree, you’re not sure what else you would do after high school, etc. The best reason for going to college is because you have a curiosity about the world, or some aspects of it. The happiest engineering students (and other types of students) are those who genuinely want new knowledge—and at college, you’re not put down for showing that curiosity.

Since curiosity can be satisfied at libraries and online without spending tuition money, the college experience should offer you more than what you could get on your own. First, there should be experts, in the form of professors or lecturers, to help direct your learning. These experienced guides have packaged opportunities for gaining essential skills and information into sets of classes called curricula. Second, college offers you the chance to meet other like-minded students who are exploring the same worlds that you are. Even if some of your “team” assignments in high school have made it seem otherwise, there is a great potential for creativity and learning when working with others. Third, higher education offers built-in challenges, from which every learner benefits. And finally, your college should offer resources that you couldn’t easily get online or at the library: million-dollar lab equipment, opportunities to compete in college-sponsored events, and software that would cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy on your own.

. . .

How to Use This Book

As a reader you might want to do your own table of contents for this book. If you are really unsure whether you want to study engineering at all, you should read Chapters 2, 5, and 15 first, and then read Chapters 6 through 14, which apply to making your college choice in general, even though they are written about choosing an engineering school. If you are sure you want to do engineering but just want to know how to decide where to go to college, you can skip to Chapter 3 and read through Chapter 14. If you are pretty sure you want to do engineering and know where you want to go to school, but don’t know which field of engineering to pursue, you might want to start with Chapter 5. In any case, you will hurt our feelings if you skip any of the chapters—they are all there for a reason! As you go through college and into your professional career, you will be frequently reminded of this maxim: you don’t know what you don’t know (that is, you aren’t aware of the blind spots that you have because of lack of knowledge). That is particularly true of the college search process, and ultimately of the college experience itself.

. . .

Chapter 2

Understanding Engineering and Engineering Education

To make sure we’re all starting from the same understanding, dive into this chapter for an overview of what engineers do and what engineering students do (and don’t do) at college. Learn how universities that offer engineering are classified and the practical impacts of those differences in classification.

. . .

Overview of Engineering Education

Within the huge enterprise of higher education is the distinct world of engineering education. Some institutions such as the Milwaukee School of Engineering were created strictly to produce engineering graduates, but more commonly engineering education takes place at large comprehensive universities such as Ohio State, Cornell, and the University of Florida, where engineering is a small part of the big picture. In between are some large universities that describe themselves as technical universities (e.g., Clemson, Purdue, Michigan Tech, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), where engineering, science, math, and related technical degrees like computer science account for the majority of students but other programs, including education, exist side-by-side with the technical programs.

At all of these types of universities (all engineering, mostly engineering, or only partly engineering), engineering is taught in a separate school or college devoted just to engineering studies, offering a qualitatively different kind of education than the education other college students experience. Even at universities where engineering is a choice alongside literally hundreds of other academic choices such as soil science, retail, finance, pharmacy, forestry, and the like, it still is a unique kind of education, with unique goals, as the next section explains.

. . .

Chapter 3

Academic Differences Among Engineering Programs

There is so much room for variation among engineering programs that we have divided the discussion of how they can differ into two chapters. This chapter addresses undergraduate academics. Some information, like the undergraduate engineering majors that a school offers, is easy to find but less critical than you might expect. Other information, like a school’s teaching philosophy and its focus on improvement, is much more relevant to the quality of your undergraduate experience, but the only way you’ll learn about it is by asking pointed questions on your campus visits. To help you form a list of good questions, we have provided sample questions in the campus visit section of the book, Chapter 10, What to Ask on Your Campus Visits. The sample questions correspond to the information in this chapter and the chapters that follow. As you read through these chapters, we encourage you to use the sample questions as a guide to create your own list of questions that you can use on your campus visits.

. . .

Chapter 5

What Color Is Your Calculator?

It is patently unfair. When you are asked by your math teacher, school bus driver, cross country coach, or Aunt Sally what you will study in college, as soon as you say “Engineering,” no matter how you say it, you will get the question back: “What kind of engineering?” Note that had you said “Economics” or “French” you would not be bothered with the question, “What kind of economics?” or “What kind of French?” Fair or not, that further cross examination will happen, so often and so predictably that perhaps you will opt to say, “I don’t have any idea what I will study at college,” even if you are quite sure it is engineering. To ask a 16- or 17-year-old to have insight into “what kind of engineering” is indeed presumptuous, but after you get the question multiple times, we can see why you might think that you need an insightful answer. We are not convinced that you do while you are in high school, but of course later you will, so let’s discuss the question.

. . .

Chapter 9

Planning Your Campus Visits

The structure of this book may make it look like deciding where to apply, applying to colleges, and visiting colleges campuses are consecutive steps that are clearly delineated in time and occur in order. That is not necessarily the case. For example, some students, instead of visiting colleges where they applied, use college visits to decide where they want to apply.

Timing of college visits varies as well. Some students do a great deal of research at the end of their junior year, visit likely engineering programs during the summer after their junior year, and start the application process in September. There are also students who research colleges, visit campuses, and decide where to apply all during their senior year. A senior-year approach can make for an excessively busy fall semester, especially for students in football or girls’ golf, while a junior-year approach might not give students enough time to accurately identify their college interests. Whichever way you proceed, you should find helpful guidance in this chapter on how to plan your campus visits and what to expect when you get to your destinations. We’ll start with the best time to visit.