10 Ways to Survive Engineering School

how to survive engineering school

Engineering is known to be an extremely difficult major. Prospective and current students are often faced with a great deal of anxiety, wondering how they are going to make it through. This feeling is normal and perpetuated by the stereotype that engineering is awful, and you will have a stress-filled undergrad.

There’s no denying that it’s a hard major, but there are ways to make it more manageable and allow you to have a great undergraduate experience. Here are ten things you can do to not only survive engineering school but thrive in it.

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  1. Go to office hours
  2. Don’t overload on credits
  3. Don’t let yourself get intimidated
  4. Stay organized
  5. Start getting internships as soon as possible
  6. Join something
  7. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in your grades
  8. Hang out with non-engineers
  9. Don’t freak out if and when you do fail
  10. Stay true to yourself

1. Go to office hours

It’s never too late to start going to office hours, but the sooner you start going the better. At the very least, it’s good to build a relationship with your professor from the start. That makes it easier to go back to them later when you need help. A good relationship with a professor is also beneficial when you inevitably apply for something that needs a letter of recommendation.

Professors all run their office hours differently. For some classes, there will be a group of students at every office hour, just working on the homework in their office. If this is the case, you should join them. It’s great for time management because you will always have dedicated time to work on the class and will reduce the possibility of falling behind in the class. It will also make the homework easier because you will have help either from other students or the professor immediately as issues come up.

2. Don’t overload on credits

The easiest way to not feel overwhelmed in engineering is to limit the number of credits you take every semester. At most colleges, the minimum number of credits you can take to be considered a full-time student is 12. You should try your hardest not to go over 12. Even if it causes you to graduate a semester or two later. The reduced stress will be worth it.

In engineering, internships are everything so delaying graduation by a semester or two gives you another summer to intern. You can even take a class or two online during your summer internships to lighten your course load during the school year.

Don’t forget that “hard” and “time-consuming” are two different things. Be careful when it comes to adding “easy” classes on top of a full 12-credit semester. These classes still take time and can end up causing more stress than anticipated.

3. Don’t let yourself get intimidated

Engineers like to be dramatic. People who have already taken a class like to tell students who haven’t how horrible it was. How bad the professor was, how difficult the material was, how they barely passed, etc. But at the end of the day, they got through it and so will you.

If you’re majoring in engineering at a university, you’ve already come so far. One class isn’t going to stop you. Certain classes might be hard but once you’re done, you’ll look back and think “eh that wasn’t so bad”.

With this, don’t get into the habit of unintentionally scaring younger engineering students. The best thing you can do is break the cycle. Be honest but encouraging. It’s not a competition of who had it the hardest.

4. Stay organized

Keep organized notes from the start. If you have the financial means, taking notes on an iPad or 2-in-1 laptop on OneNote is a great way to do this.

Keep track of the projects you do throughout classes and extracurriculars and keep a portfolio. Take pictures of everything and keep notes of what you did for the project, learnings, failures, and anything else noteworthy. Create a portfolio to bring to internship/job interviews. Portfolios are extremely impressive to employers.

5. Start getting internships as soon as possible

In engineering, internships are everything. Don’t fall under the notion that you are too young or inexperienced to land an internship. Apply early and apply often. Apply to as many internships are you have time for. The earlier you get experience applying and interviewing, the better.  

Read 8 Ways to Get an Internship with No Experience here.

6. Join something

There are so many options for things to join in college that it can be overwhelming. There are clubs, design teams, research labs, professional organizations, and more. Don’t think you need to join as many things as possible to be successful. When it comes to extracurriculars, quality is more important than quantity. Pick something that truly interests you and stick with it.

Joining extracurriculars is not only attractive to employers but is a great avenue for making friends and de-stressing.

7. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in your grades

This can be a hard one for many students. In high school, grades are everything. They affect your rank and even which schools you get into. It’s hard to let that go, but you must in order to be a successful engineer. Grades don’t matter nearly as much in college as they did in high school.

In fact, in engineering, many employers consider a 4.0 GPA to be a red flag. It indicates that you’re not spending enough time outside of the classroom. Employers value design and internship experience significantly more than grades. An employer will always choose the 3.5 GPA student with design experience over the 4.0 GPA student with no design experience.

That being said, most internships do have a GPA minimum of 3.0, occasionally 3.5. You should aim to keep your GPA above a 3.5, but if you’re above a 3.0, you’ll be fine. Companies want to see that you can balance school and extracurriculars rather than hyper-focusing on one.

Engineering students like to do this combination of complaining and bragging where they talk about how they’re up until 4 am studying all night. Don’t let this intimidate you. Sleep is important and they’re probably just bad at time management. Sacrificing basic human needs such as food and sleep to study is not something to brag about. Your health and well-being come above all else. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

8. Hang out with non-engineers

Not all of your extracurriculars need to be engineering-related. It’s okay and even encouraged to have things you enjoy outside of engineering. Full-time engineers have lives outside of engineering and it shouldn’t be any different for students.

It’s way too easy to get wrapped up in the “grind” when you eat, sleep and breathe engineering, and only hang out with people who do the same. Hanging out with non-engineers forces you to take a break. It’s good to hang out with people who don’t care what you got on your Dynamics exam.

9. Don’t freak out if and when you do fail

You will fail an exam at some point. Everyone does. A few bad exams is not an indicator of the success of your future. It’s okay to freak out a little but learn from your mistakes and move on. Take it as a sign to go to more office hours, switch up how you study, and work to do better on the next one.

Even if you fail an entire class, that’s okay too. Plenty of successful engineers failed a course or two during their undergrad, and still survived. Failing an exam or even a class does not mean you’re a failure. The most important thing is to not give up or let it weigh on your self-confidence too much.

10. Stay true to yourself

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re in the thick of things. Don’t forget why you started engineering in the first place. Don’t let yourself lose your passion due to the stresses that come along with the major.

Let yourself be a person. Don’t feel guilty for doing the things you love. Your whole life shouldn’t revolve around engineering. Remaining happy and having a good work-life balance will reduce burn-out and make you a better engineer in the long run.


Read More:

8 Ways to Get an Internship with No Experience

11 Things to Know Before Starting Engineering School

4 Hardest Mechanical Engineering Classes