How to Prepare for an Engineering Major in High School


How to Prepare for an Engineering Major in High School

For those of you interested in studying engineering in college, it is best to begin gaining some experience in the field during your high school years. Why, you may ask? First, doing so will increase your chances of gaining admission into college. Second--and more importantly--it will help you figure out if engineering is actually the right path for you.

Of course, learning about engineering right now can be difficult. After all, most high schools do not even offer an intro to engineering class. However, there are a number of ways you can involved involved in the field. Here are a few:

STEM-related Clubs 

Robotics Club is an especially good choice for aspiring engineers (especially those interested in mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering), as it provides practical, hands-on experience. A computer science or coding club can also be a good choice, as every type of engineering is going to require some degree of computer proficiency. Other clubs to consider include JETS (Junior Engineering Technical Society), Math Club, or a research-related club. If you are particularly ambitious, you might even consider starting your own club. A previous student of mine, for example, founded a drone building club. Pretty cool, right?

Interested in engineering? Get involved in your school's robotics team!

Science and Invention Competitions

If you love conducting experiments or creating things, consider participating in competitions such as the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, the Google Global Science Fair, or the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Initiative, in which groups of students build prototypes that solve real world problems. To get a sense of whether these programs are intriguing to you, search online for examples of past submissions (For example, a recent Intel Science Fair winner designed and built a robot that can wash the windows on skyscrapers).

Independent Projects

Another extracurricular possibility to consider is an independent project of some sort. In other words, go ahead and build something! That something could be a robot, a web app, or even a piece of furniture. These types of projects can be good practice for you because engineering is a practical discipline. Building something, either by yourself or with friends, will help you learn to come up with creative solutions to practical problems. Plus, colleges love to see this type of hands-on experience. In fact, one of my former students who was accepted into the engineering program at Carnegie Mellon wrote his supplemental essay about building and selling custom skateboards.

Try working on an independent project

Extra Courses

Another way to learn more about engineering and stand out as an applicant is to take additional STEM (i.e. science, technology, engineering, and math) courses beyond what is required to graduate from high school. If possible, push yourself to take a math and science course every year during high school (AP Physics will be especially helpful for those students applying directly to an engineering program). Another possibility is taking an extra STEM course at a community college during the summer, when your schedule might be a little more flexible. Finally, check out online course providers such as Coursera, Code Academy, and MIT OpenCourseWare. Although these online courses will not provide you with college credit, they are a great way to learn about a subjects that are not typically offered in high school.

Summer Programs

Although summer programs are never necessary for college, they can be a good option for certain students. For example, juniors who like to get creative and build things may want to check out Operation Catapult at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. Past student projects have included a hovercraft(!) and frisbee throwing device.

If you are interested in additional summer program recommendations, talk to your Future Stars counselor!

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