21 Things Engineering Students Wished They Knew When They Started University

Your university years can be some of the most exciting years of your life, but it's easy to lose your focus. Here's a few things budding engineers wished they knew when they started university.
Saoirse Kerrigan

Starting at university is an exciting time in anyone's life, and marks a new beginning full of promise. You're encountering a wealth of knowledge, meeting countless new people, and paving the way for your future.


That said, it's easy to be overwhelmed by your new surroundings and end up losing your focus. Between parties, events, and extracurricular activities, there's no shortage of distractions from your studies.

Not just that, but life after graduation might not be what you thought it would be. As always, hindsight is 20-20, and past graduates have plenty of advice to impart. Here are just a few things that engineering students wished they knew before starting university.

1. There's No Such Thing As a Stupid Question

Never lose sight of the fact that you're there to learn. Second-guessing yourself is normal, and you might feel intimidated by some of your professors, but if you hold back on asking questions you're only hurting your own chances. 

Everybody starts somewhere, and you're not expected to know everything on your first day. If you're unsure about something - just ask! You'll thank yourself later.

2. Socializing Can Be As Important As Studying

Obviously studying is incredibly important, and it is not something you want to let fall by the wayside. That said, it's important to get out and meet people too. 

Not only will a healthy social life keep you from burning out on your studies, but it will help you develop your social and communication skills. This will be a credit to you when you enter the working world post-graduation. 

3. It's Never Too Early To Start Networking

Socializing can be a great way to get your work recognized and put yourself on the radar for future employers, too.

Even if you're not on the look-out for work for a while, it's always a good idea to get your name out there. You never know who might vouch for you later when you're looking to land your first big job.

4. Don't Burn Any Bridges

There will be times when you have to work with people you don't like. Maybe your group partner is a jerk, or maybe you think your professor is out to get you.

Whatever the issue may be, it's up to you to rise above it. It might not be easy, but this is good training for real life. You won't always get along with your colleagues or your boss, but that can't get in the way of the job. Plus, being on good terms with your professors will be invaluable if you later need a reference for work or a post-graduate application.

5. Ask For Help When You Need It

Don't let your pride get in the way of your success. Naturally, you'll want to do everything on your own, but we all have our limits.

If you're struggling, ask someone for help. It will save you so much stress in the long run, and there's nothing wrong with gaining a little humility.

6. You Probably Won't Use Everything You Learn - But You Still Need To Learn It

Throughout your university education, you're going to be faced with a lot of information. Sometimes it will seem overwhelming, and other times you'll question whether all this new information is necessary or not.

Most jobs you undertake in your future won't require all of the knowledge you gleaned in university, but that doesn't mean you can just skip out on the classes you think aren't worthwhile. Everything you learn will provide you with the best possible basis for your work. While you might not put everything to the test in real life, it's still essential.

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7. You Need To Push Yourself and Take Initiative

If you don't understand something and it wasn't covered in any of your classes, find out independently. Don't wait around for someone else to tell you, because that might not happen.

You have an entire library at your disposal - use it wisely! Showing that you can work independently and demonstrating a real interest in your studies will set you apart from the crowd.

8. You Can't Ever Settle For "Good Enough"

There will be times when you're exhausted, stressed out, and working down to the wire to finish assignments. When you're in this situation, it might seem tempting to just accept that you've struck upon the right answer, without fully understanding how you did it.

Don't give into that temptation. It's not enough to know that your answer was right. When you enter the working world, there are no grades, and you need to be able to explain your work. Make sure you fully understand the intricacies of your work, and don't rely on guessing. 

9. Don't Worry About Getting Into the "Best" Schools

Sure, prestigious institutions have a lot going for them and can seem pretty impressive on a resumé, but they're not your only option. In engineering especially, prospective employers will likely be more interested in your own projects and achievements, rather than those of your alma mater.

So don't sweat it if you didn't get accepted into your first choice. Let your work speak for itself, because that's all that matters in the wider world.

10. Don't Limit Your Skills to Engineering Alone

Once you start working, you might find it's very different to what you had expected. You might find yourself at a desk dealing with documents and paperwork more than you thought, so you'll need to prepare accordingly.

Make sure you're proficient in Word and Excel, and other tools that you wouldn't immediately associate with engineering. While there will be a lot of fulfilling work in your future, there will also be plenty of writing invoices and general admin. 

11. You're Not Guaranteed A Job After Graduation

Though STEM fields are certainly more stable than a lot of other labor markets, that doesn't mean you'll be hired as soon as you're handed your degree.

A lot of recent graduates become disillusioned in the months following their graduation when they fail to get a job for life immediately. While your chances of finding employment with a degree in engineering are good, there's no such thing as a guaranteed job. Don't study engineering because you think it will get you hired. Study engineering because you're truly passionate about it.

12. If You're Not Having Fun, You're In the Wrong Place

University isn't always fun and games, and engineering courses are notoriously difficult. Though there will be times when you're really feeling the pressure, ultimately you should still be enjoying your studies.

If you come to realize that engineering isn't for you and that your course is making you miserable, there's no shame in reconsidering this path. At the end of the day, if you don't enjoy studying it, you probably don't want to commit to it as a career.

13. Get Hands-On Experience

Some of the best lessons take place outside of campus. Whether you take on an internship, or just a hobby that tests your skills, it's important to put your education into practice.

You'll never fully understand some of the things you're studying until you put them to the test. Find a practical outlet for your theoretical studies that you enjoy doing.

14. You Need to Be a Team Player

Though you'll likely be working on your own a lot through university, the world of work will require you to work as part of a team. This can sometimes mean butting heads with people whose approach to tasks are different to yours.

Make the most of any group assignments by learning to communicate and compromise. It's rare that you'll be working on a project in real life where you have total control, so learning to work well with others is essential.

15. Nobody Cares About Your GPA After College

Sure, maintaining a good GPA is important, but perfect grades aren't everything. After college, employers will be more interested in your projects and practical skills than how many As you got. 

Work hard, but don't put yourself under too much pressure and burn yourself out. If you score lower than you'd like, take it as an opportunity to grow. 

16. Reflect On What Inspires You

What made you want to become an engineer? Do you have a role model? What's your biggest goal?

Identify these things, and break them down. What sets you apart from your heroes, and what do you need to do to be more like them? Engage with what inspires you, and work systematically towards your aspirations.

17. Start Your Portfolio Sooner Rather Than Later

Your portfolio will be your greatest tool when looking for work. Document every project you work on, and be detailed.

Clearly outline the work that you undertook, and what you learned from each project. This way you won't have to tell future employers about your skills, but instead, you can show them.

18. Take Good Notes and Hold Onto Them

Don't throw out your notes at the end of the semester or year. Keep them for the entirety of your university education.

You never know what information might become useful further down the line, or if something you learned last year is applicable to your current project. Keep everything well-organized and you'll save yourself a lot of time and effort.

19. Look Outside of Your Desired Field

You want to be an electrical engineer, so you should just focus on classes devoted to electrical engineering, right? Wrong. Give yourself a broader base and take classes in concentrations outside of your own.

You'll be surprised at what you can apply to your own work, and it will give you a better understanding of other engineers and their processes. This will be invaluable when it comes to working with other engineers later in life.

20. Don't Get Lazy Over the Summer

Obviously, summer is your chance to take a break, but be smart about how you use your free time. If you already know next year's coursework will have a lot of heavy reading, why not start on it before the semester starts?

Even just a few pages a day will make a huge difference, and will lighten your workload when the college year starts. Take notes too, especially of any questions you have. This way you'll be able to get the most out of your time in class.

21. Use the Internet to Your Advantage

There's a wealth of information online that can help you when you're struggling. From lectures on YouTube, to podcasts, there's no shortage of ways to supplement your learning.

So if you've missed a class or are having trouble understanding something, there's always help to be found online. 

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