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Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 11:32 am UTC
by Viri
I'm currently a freshman in college, and I started out this year undecided about my major, but now I'm thinking that I want to do engineering (not sure which branch yet). The problem is that at least up until this year, I have never been great with math. (My high school was way too easy on everyone, I got As and Bs even though I often didn't understand what I was doing...) But last semester, I took a trig class that actually was challenging, and after a lot of work, I ended up with an A-.

I'm just worried because even though I can understand new concepts pretty easily (Not just memorization either, I get the reasoning behind stuff and understand how to derive things) I still get caught up on simple things that I should have come into college knowing. I'm taking calculus 1 next semester, and I see myself continuing to have the same problem.

I was wondering if any of you who are doing math-intensive majors think that I would be able to do well enough in my classes to get the degree; I'm ready to put in a lot of work to catch up, but it seems a little overwhelming to me right now! And if you've done something similar, having to catch up on stuff you missed in high school, how did you do it?

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:38 pm UTC
by Brace
For purposes of undergrad math, it's really sufficient to just do problems until you learn to recognize what you're looking at and until your hands remember what to do. You can forego a detailed understanding of things to a fair degree. I would say, just take the math courses. You will need at least some of them for most other majors. Have a fallback plan if you can only get satisfactory grades up to Calc 1, Calc 2, etc. Having someone to talk to about things you don't understand is helpful. I've found various youtube videos and Pauls Online Notes to be helpful. Khan Academy gets recommended a lot. I didn't find it hugely helpful tbh, but many do. Mostly it's just a matter of trying the problems, though. Read an overview, try them, then go back and read about them in detail. I've found it's useless to read about math in detail before you've attempted to work some of the problems because you have no frame of reference for what's being discussed. Worked examples can be helpful for seeing the solution to conceptual difficulties you're having but math is probably the one thing that can't be learned without practice.

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 8:08 pm UTC
by LaserGuy
I know a few people who have tried to do what you're doing, with varying degrees of success. Engineering is a very math intensive field, and, while later in life you'll be able to use a computer that can do a lot of the legwork for you, in undergrad math and physics, you're going to be expected to do lots of calculations by hand. For calculus, you typically need a very good grasp of algebra and trigonometry. I've tutored lots of Calc 1 or Physics 1 students who ended up getting into trouble because they didn't know how to solve a quadratic equation or can't convert logarithms to exponents or don't know trig identities or whatever--it wasn't the calculus per se that was the problem, they just didn't have the prerequisite skills to be able to go about solving the problems. If you aren't sure you have all the requisite skills, you may want to take a precalculus course at your university if there's one available, or use an online resource or a book like Schaum's Outline of Precalculus to get yourself caught up. Do lots and lots of problems. You really want these types of skills to be second nature to you so that you can focus on the new material.

Otherwise... don't fall behind. Try to do at least a few problems on the topic you've covered one day before the next lesson. If the prof assigns homework for you to do, whether it is mandatory or not, this should be considered the minimum that you should do. The more problems you can do, the better.

As Brace notes, have a fallback plan ready. This will probably be quite difficult for you, and require a lot of extra time. If you don't go the extra mile though, your odds of success will be pretty low.

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 4:36 pm UTC
by D.B.
LaserGuy wrote:Otherwise... don't fall behind. Try to do at least a few problems on the topic you've covered one day before the next lesson. If the prof assigns homework for you to do, whether it is mandatory or not, this should be considered the minimum that you should do. The more problems you can do, the better.


Seconding this. I studied engineering at university, and once I began doing work the day it was assigned (which generally meant I'd only had a couple of hours to forget the lecture covering the material, rather than a couple of days or weeks) everything got a lot easier.

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 8:33 pm UTC
by Cronos51101
I signed up for mechanical engineering before I even looked up what it was. It just sounded like what I wanted to do. I never had good math grades in high school, but I am very hands on. I decided to push through, and I ended up with straight Ds in Calculus 1,3, and 4. I got an A in #2 because I dropped the class before I officially failed, and made it up in a very easy summer class. Most of the higher math classes after that followed in the same fashion. (I had to re-take Dif-EQ) In hindsight, I would probably have been better suited for mechanical engineering technology (there is a 4 year program here in Erie). It's very similar, but a lot less math intensive. I'm actually quite proud of it. I got a 2.8 overall GPA, and I finished in 4 years... I wouldn't get into NASA or Raytheon with those grades, but I had a good paying job lined up a month before I graduated. It's true there is a lot of math in engineering, but outside of pure math classes, you're mostly doing algebra and trig (the solving triangles kind) I got a big ol' TI-200 Voyage which I still use (2 years later) and I hardly ever face any challenging math problems. It all depends on where you want to end up. Engineering gives you so many tools to work with outside of pure mathematics, and industry presents you with a full spectrum between all math and hardly any math. Engineering is a very broad field.
Focus on your strength, focus on where your curiosity leads you.
Anyway, just my $0.02

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 7:41 am UTC
by mwkennedy54
Be prepared to work, HARD! Engineering is no joke? (Why do you think it has the highest drop-out rate of any major)...That being said, you are pretty much guaranteed a high-paying job after college, well worth it. But I would suggest talking with your counselor to see there's a fit. Note: lots of Calculus is involved in ANY engineering curriculum, so be prepared for this, I majored in Computer Engineering in college and have absolutely no regrets

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:39 pm UTC
by Chen
mwkennedy54 wrote:That being said, you are pretty much guaranteed a high-paying job after college, well worth it.


This can depend massively and where you are and what type of engineering you're doing. I also don't know how you define high-paying, but again that's not necessarily true.

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:28 pm UTC
by mwkennedy54
Chen wrote:
mwkennedy54 wrote:That being said, you are pretty much guaranteed a high-paying job after college, well worth it.


This can depend massively and where you are and what type of engineering you're doing. I also don't know how you define high-paying, but again that's not necessarily true.


The major engineering disciplines (electrical, computer, mechanical, aerospace) all generally provide HIGH-paying salaries. Just do a quick Google search for "highest paying jobs" and you'll see that engineering almost always tops the list

Re: Thinking about engineering major, Any advice?

Posted: Sun Mar 23, 2014 11:35 pm UTC
by Bakemaster
You're cherry-picking and ignoring their point. Nobody is guaranteed a job after college. High-paying is subjective. Many people graduate with engineering degrees but don't enter engineering fields, or start in paraprofessional capacities rather than entry-level professional capacities (e.g., engineering technician vs. assistant engineer).