Engineering degrees typically take four years to complete. However, it takes the average student 4-5 years to become an engineer.
Realistically, getting your degree in engineering can take anywhere from 3-6 years depending on how you structure your undergrad. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can graduate early and why taking longer than 4 years to graduate is usually a good thing.
- The typical 4-year engineering curriculum
- How to graduate from engineering early
- Why graduating late is good in engineering
- Key take-aways
The typical 4-year engineering curriculum
Most colleges and universities in the US have four-year engineering degrees. The curriculum consists of 120-130 credits broken up into eight semesters (not including summer semesters). If you complete your degree in 8 semesters and have no credits coming in, it comes out to 15-18 credits per semester.
There are many ways to structure your undergrad, but the typical breakdown usually consists of:
- Year 1: Gen Eds and introductory STEM courses (such as physics 1, chemistry 1, and calculus 1)
- Year 2: Completion of the physics, chemistry, and calculus courses, and introductory major courses
- Year 3: Intermediate/advanced major courses and labs
- Year 4: Advanced major courses/labs and senior design
It should be noted that completing 15-18 credits per semester in engineering is extremely difficult. Most students take summer courses or add a semester to lighten the course load and make room for other activities.
How to graduate engineering early
It’s very rare to graduate from engineering early, but it is possible. Here are two ways to graduate from engineering early:
- Coming in with credits from high school: Coming into engineering with AP/IB/Dual Enrollment credits under your belt is one way to graduate early. However, even if you have a whole semester’s worth of credits coming in, it doesn’t guarantee that you will graduate early. Engineering courses can’t be arranged in any order. Many courses are pre-requisites or require pre-requisites. Even if you don’t graduate early, it allows you to spread out your courses and take a more manageable number of credits per semester.
- Taking summer courses: Most universities don’t include summer courses in their model semester plans. However, many courses are offered over the summer. If you took nine credits over all three summers, you could easily graduate two semesters early.
While it’s possible to graduate from engineering early, it’s not recommended. Graduating early usually requires you to take more than 12 credits a semester. When you take 15-18 credits a semester, it’s hard enough to manage your classes. It leaves very little time for design teams, clubs, research, and jobs. All of which are more important to employers than GPA.
There are more benefits from graduating on time or even late than there are from graduating early. We’ll talk about that next.
Why graduating late is good in engineering
It’s common for engineering undergraduate students to take 4.5-5 years (sometimes as long as 6 years) to graduate. As an incoming engineering student, this might seem like a bad thing at first glance. The high school days of prioritizing classes and GPA are over and that can be a hard transition. Read What is a Good GPA for Engineering Students? for more information.
Most students who graduate in more than four years do so because they supplement their undergraduate degree with multiple internships. In engineering, internships and co-ops are the best things you can have on your resume.
If you only do summer internships, you should still be able to graduate in four years. However, this is assuming that you can take 15-18 credits per semester, which is a LOT. Most students aren’t able to handle this many credits a semester while juggling their extracurriculars and maintaining their GPA. If you’re not using your summers to take courses, it may end up extending your graduation date.
Co-ops typically occur during the school year. When you sacrifice one semester to a co-op, it usually ends up being tacked on to the end. You can always take classes online during your co-op, but generally speaking, it’s hard to make up an entire missed semester.
You should always prioritize doing internships over graduating on time. Graduating a semester late is even a benefit for many students because it allows for another potential summer internship. Having just one internship makes a huge difference when it comes time to apply for jobs. Students with multiple internships often have one or more job offers before they even graduate.
Read Co-ops vs. Internships: 7 Major Differences for more information on the pros and cons of doing internships and co-ops.
- Most engineering degrees are 4-year degrees, but it can take anywhere from 3-6 years to complete your degree. On average, it takes 4-5 years to become an engineer.
- It is possible to graduate early, but it is very difficult and is usually not worth it since you sacrifice time that could go to internships or extracurricular activities, which are more important to employers than GPA.
- It’s encouraged to graduate in more than 4 years if it means that you supplemented your undergrad with internships, co-ops, or other extracurricular activities.