A Guide to College Life as a First-Year Engineering Student | Top Universities

A Guide to College Life as a First-Year Engineering Student

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Sam Hau

Updated Apr 07, 2021



A Guide to College Life as a First-Year Engineering Student main image

You just got accepted into college. It could be the college of your dreams, that safety school, or that university you were kind of considering; it doesn’t matter, you have decided to spend your next four years there to study engineering. However, you don’t have a clue what you are doing. You don’t know which field of engineering is right for you, you have no idea how difficult it is to find internships, plus, you definitely do not know how important clean underwear is... How exactly do you get through your first year of college life as an engineering student?

Quit procrastinating

This isn’t high school anymore. You are going to realize that you have a lot less time on your hands. If you want your 4.0 GPA, to actually contribute to your club, to obtain internships in the future, to have time for your friends and time to yourself, time to have fun, and time to clean laundry – you need to quit procrastinating. Not only are classes going to get harder in college, but you are going to have other responsibilities (perhaps even more important than grades) that will consume your time. Trust me, stop messing around and limit your Netflix allowance; you have more important things to do.  

Explore different types of engineering

Some of you will start college life thinking that civil engineers are known for their politeness (because they’re so civil – get it…?). Others will think that obtaining a computer science degree involves playing Titanfall. In short, a lot of you do not know much about different types of engineering and probably have no idea which field is right for you. Those who know their engineering fields and are adamant that they want to be a chemical engineer may find themselves questioning their choice after taking organic chemistry classes. Regardless of your knowledge of the various types of engineering, it’s important to keep an open mind.

There are many factors to consider while choosing an engineering specialization: future job demand, programs at your college, your own interest, etc. Most schools offer introductory courses which can expose you to a few of the different types of engineering. Personally, I think the best way to find what is absolutely right for you is to be directly involved with engineering clubs, have a professor tell you about his/her research, or talk to engineering upperclassmen about their classes. The earlier you identify what interests you the better; this way you waste less time taking the wrong classes and have more opportunities to join programs related to your chosen field.

Remember that leaving engineering is also an option. University is supposed to expose you to all different fields, in addition to the different types of engineering. Perhaps you may find your true passion in medicine or even literature.

Find your college friends

I truly believe that most people can be happy in any school that they go to, provided that they find meaningful people as college friends. These people are going to grow with you and they will be very influential in your life for the next four years. During the first few weeks of school, be social. This may be hard for some of us since Flappy Bird and 2048 are right at our fingertips, but trust me, it is worthwhile. Your first few weeks of college life are going to be filled with extremely friendly people. Take advantage of that. No other time in college will people be so open to meeting you. However, remember that the friends you make in the first weeks will not necessarily be the college friends that remain with you a few years later.

Do your laundry

Do your laundry.

Seek out additional opportunities for growth

In high school, having a high GPA defined success (more or less). That changes tremendously in college. I'm not saying that grades aren't important, but I am saying that other parts of life will come into play. For me currently, landing an internship is probably more important than obtaining As in every one of my classes. Learning soft skills such as communication (by communication, I don’t just mean having the ability to talk to the opposite gender) will greatly expand your network of influential people. Speaking of networks, having a group of influential people around will help you greatly in your future. See what I mean? It’s no longer just about the grades; it's also about your reputation as a hard worker, your ability to sweet-talk an interviewer, and your desire to improve yourself.

Don’t dismiss other subject areas

Something I see a lot within the engineering community (me included) is that we think we're the best on campus. We think we’re the smartest because our engineering predecessors invented the modern world. We think we’re the most hard-working because while the “arts and crafts” (A.K.A. arts and sciences) people are hanging out, we’re studying how electrons work. Don’t do that. It’s good that you invented the first flying refrigerator machine, too bad you didn’t listen to your business major college friends about how there is no market for that.

Have fun as a first-year, but don't make choices you will regret

Going crazy after leaving home (forever) is part of the first-year experience. But don’t go too crazy. Remember, you only have a few years at a university, so be sure to make the most out of them. I’m not telling you not to have fun – by all means, your first year of college life is when you’re supposed to go crazy – but don’t make choices you’ll regret. There are a lot of opportunities, people to meet, and most of all, distance to grow; it’d be a shame to waste four years throwing ping pong balls around in a basement.

Sam is a second-year civil engineering student at Lehigh University, and also contributes to the official blog of Lehigh University Civil & Environmental Engineers here.

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