9 Great Tips for Surviving the Rigors of Engineering School

If you are off to university soon or you're already there, here are some tips to help you survive engineering school.
Christopher McFadden

If you are setting out on your path to engineering glory, then here are some useful tips to help you survive the rigors of university. Of course, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, and ultimately you will find your path to success.


How can I be the best engineering student?

Studying for an engineering degree is not for the faint-hearted. But, that being said, if you have the will to succeed, you most certainly will. 

Stay organized, keep focused on the short and long-term, and you will give the best you can. While comparing yourself to your peers is a useful measure for keeping on track, ultimately the onus is on you to keep track of your goals and classwork.

tips to survive engineering school
Source: Jacob Roeland/Flickr

Don't get disheartened; be proud of your successes, and your failures. And do not be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling.

If you want to be the best in your class, you might want to consider some of these studying tips

Is studying at an engineering school hard?

Let's not beat around the bush. Yes, it is difficult, but it is not so hard that you can't "nail it."

Whether or not something is hard depends entirely on your interests, skills, and innate talents. But anyone can learn something new if they really want to. 

But, that being said, engineering tends to have one of the highest drop-out rates. According to collegetransitions.com, engineering degrees tend to see a 60% drop-out rate for freshman students. 

How can I study engineering?

To study engineering successfully, you will need some skills and a lot of dedication. There are many resources online to help you out, but ultimately be honest with yourself before embarking on something like an engineering degree. 

If you don't think it's for you, then it's time to move on and try something else. But if you love a challenge, live and breathe engineering and like to solve problems, get stuck in! If you have your heart set on studying engineering, here is a nice guide to help you out. 

Here are some tips for surviving engineering school

University life can be a test at the best of times, but when your major is engineering, it can feel like an insurmountable goal at times. But nothing is ever that hard if you have the will and dedication to get through it. 

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That being said, there are some things you can do to make your time at university that much easier to handle:

1. Make good use of online resources to help you out

There are many great resources. Some of which are free and on the Internet. They help you get to grips with certain aspects of engineering. Sites like Coursera, iTunes U and YouTube are great places for some additional insight when revising or trying to get your head around something.

Many offer full-length video courses about a vast range of subjects. We compiled a great list of engineering-related YouTube videos not so long ago.

Of course, these resources should not be used as your only studying resource. Think of them more like tools than your only source of information. 

2. Collaborate and win!

The best way to ensure you understand something is to teach it. This is the quickest way to find out what you understand and seek out knowledge. 

By group studying with your peers, you will all collectively benefit from each other's insights and strengths and can share resources, and notes. 

By fostering a collaborative mentality, you will find that others will help you willingly if you help them. But, of course, prioritize your grades and well-being.

how to succeed at university
Source: Kim Unertl/Flickr

3. "Hack" the learning process

Make sure you familiarise yourself with some techniques that can boost your learning abilities. Things like speed-reading or making good use of mind maps will increase your ability to retain knowledge and get a handle on tricky subjects. 

Your mind is a powerful learning machine, so make sure you use it wisely. Don't waste time uselessly poring over textbooks — Work smart, not hard!

Make use of past papers to target your exam preparation and don't be afraid to let your interest in a subject take you to places off the curriculum. But, of course, try to stay on target!

4. Never take poor feedback or grades personally

You will fail at times. This is not something to be afraid of — consider any feedback a lesson. 

It's obviously nice to ace a test or assignment and finish a difficult course, but you will learn a lot more from your mistakes than your successes. So fail and fail fast, as they say!

Also, ensure you don't take any constructive negative feedback personally. You tutors want and expect you to become the very best you can be. 

5. "All work and no play."

While most of your time will be spent in lectures or studying, you are not a machine! Make sure you have some downtime to actually have fun and relax.

Indulge yourself with your hobbies, join a club or organization, or simply socialize from time to time. You can also consider this a form of investment too, as you may make connections and friends that you may keep for a lifetime.

It will also help keep you sane. If all you do is spend your time working, you will soon feel the psychological and physical effects!

Be good to yourself. 


This cannot be stressed enough. Make sure you get a good night's sleep as often as you can. 

Of course, this may not always be possible, but your magnificent learning machine will soon break down if you are sleep deprived.

It will also help you to keep your stress in check and help maintain the momentum you will need to complete your studies.

Try not to fall into the trap that you don't have time to sleep. Make the time and stick to it.

7. Plan and get your s**t together!

"Make a damn schedule and stick to it," as Jordan Peterson said. There is nothing that will torpedo your time more at university than being disorganized. 

how to survive college
Source: Chris Martino/Flickr

Devise and stick to a plan that will help you stay organized all the time. This should include time for lectures, study, having fun, and sleep!

Make sure all your notes, study guides, and other college-paraphernalia are also well organized and easy to find. If you have a small room, here is a great little guide to help you maximize the space you have on hand. 

8. "Fuel the jet."

"Junk in, junk out" as they say, but this is also true for your body. Make sure you eat as healthily as possible.

This will pay dividends not just for giving you the energy you need to survive university, but also for your mental well-being. Poor nutrition is one of the surest ways of damaging your mood and ability to focus. 

There are many guides online about this sort of thing, but you should also consult friends and family for some tips. You may want to consult a nutritionist for professional guidance. 

9. Keep an eye on the future

The ultimate desired outcome from your time at university is to begin a great career once you graduate. Whether you want to start out in employment or try your luck with your own enterprise, you should try to envision your future.

Concise portfolios can come in very handy when applying for jobs after university, for example. You might also want to consider applying for internships to make connections and gain real-world experience.

Showcase your finest work and projects like 2D and 3D CAD models from SolidWorks, etc. Keep a record of any work experience you have and the skills you acquired in those roles, where relevant.

You might also want to consider keeping a diary to consolidate your thoughts. It has been shown to have some very interesting benefits.

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