10 More Tips for Engineering Students

This article is a continuation of an article I wrote a few months ago on the same topic. If you haven't read that one, you can check it out here. Here is another list of some of my top tips for engineering students!

1. Spend More Time Being an Active Learner and not a Passive Learner.

There are two main types of learning: active learning and passive learning. Reading over class notes would fall under passive learning. On the contrary, pushing your brain to recall memorized facts about what you just read or working on tough practice problems would fall under active learning. Our goal as students should be to spend more of our time studying actively instead of passively. We can accomplish a lot more in a lot less time, by engaging in active learning. After all, our goal is to increase the quality of our study time and not the quantity. 

2. Use Spaced Repetition for Classes That Require A Lot of Memorization .

Spaced repetition means increasing the length of time we go before recalling a fact. This forces our brains to work harder to recall a fact and thus makes it more likely to move the fact into long term storage. For example, after answering a flashcard correctly, I’ll try to answer it again in a minute. After that, I’ll wait 10 minutes. Then, 30 minutes. Then, 1 hour. 5 hours. A day. A week. In order to make this strategy as effective as possible, we have to start studying and memorizing early. Here’s a more detailed video on the topic.

I like this technique for two reasons: 

  • It stops you from constantly reviewing material you already know. Once you correctly recall a fact, you HAVE to wait for longer and longer periods of time before trying to recall it again. 
  • It forces you to start studying early but makes memorization classes less stressful. If I start memorizing facts 2 weeks in advance, I only have to work on flashcards for about 30 minutes to 1 hour a day in order to get all the information into my head. This beats cramming the night before the test.  

Use this technique in electives classes that require more memorization or when you need to memorize facts for an engineering class. A good flash card app that uses this method is Anki which I believe is free on all platforms. 

3. Learn How to Solve Integrals and Work With Matrices on Your Calculator.

Seriously, you’re going to have to use your calculator for nearly every test during your degree. Most calculators can solve integrals and do matrix multiplication/division. If you learn how to use these functions, you will save yourself a LOT of time when taking tests. This becomes especially useful in higher level classes when you are working with lots of matrices and tensors.  

4. Be Proactive in Your Job Search.

The first step to a proactive job search is to know which companies you want to work for. Start researching different companies and industries as soon as possible. Next, I want you to create a new email and subscribe to receive notifications about new job postings from each of those companies. You can usually do this on their websites. As a result, you will build up a large list of companies that you want to work for and get notifications when they post a job up. This is the opposite of how most students conduct their job search. Most students wait around until a posting goes up on their campus website and then they all apply at once. This is called being reactive. Being proactive puts more power in your hands. You’re no longer at the mercy of your campus website. Instead, you have a steady stream of job postings coming straight into your inbox. 

5. All Engineering Jobs Are Not Boring. 

There’s a myth that engineering is full of boring, and soul-sucking office jobs. The truth is that - in the modern world - a vast majority of jobs are boring. It has nothing to do with your degree. Big companies work on big problems by breaking them down into really small problems. It's one of the most efficient and safest ways to solve difficult problems. This is why many jobs may seem boring. If you work for a big company, sometimes you have to do a small task in order to contribute to something much larger than yourself. You can break this cycle by building, as Cal Newport would say, career capital. Career capital is built up by developing rare and valuable skills. Once you develop these skills, your career capital can be exchanged for more autonomy or a meaningful mission. People are willing to give you these traits because of the rare and valuable skills you have. Cal Newport argued in his book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, that it’s these traits that make up an interesting career. Therefore, you have to build a compelling career for yourself through hard work and strategic movement. 

6. Be Thoughtful, When Choosing Your Electives.

Nearly every school has a class that most students will agree is easy. In engineering, our schedules can easily become overwhelming. So, sometimes it pays to take a well known “easy” class in order to boost your GPA. An easy elective can boost your GPA in two ways:

  • The class itself is easy and thus allows you to achieve a high grade.
  • Because the class is easy, you have more time to focus on your other classes. 

However, sometimes it’s worth taking a class you’re interested in even if that may mean getting a lower GPA. It can also be a smart idea to take electives that increase your employability. For example, I know some students who studied aerodynamics as an elective, in their final year of mechanical engineering. They didn’t need to, but taking the class can boost their chances at getting a job related to aerodynamics. At the end of the day, you have to make the best choice for you.  

7. Pick the Right Extracurricular Activities for Your Personality.

I wrote a whole article on picking the right extracurricular activities in college which you can check out here. During my second year of engineering, I tried joining multiple clubs on campus. But, I was an introvert. After going to classes all day, the last thing I wanted to do was meet up with more people and become even more stimulated. I supported their causes and wanted to help them out but I found it extremely draining. Later on, I realized that I was picking the wrong extracurricular activities for my personality type. Instead, I wish I had started Engineering Worth earlier. I could have been a much better writer, and animator by now. Engineering Worth would have also been a lot bigger by now. Do an activity that you like doing, recharges you, and makes a difference in your life and hopefully in the lives of others. If you’re an introvert, you may benefit more from a solo activity or a small group activity with friends. For example, if you want to work for a mobile development company, you may benefit more from trying to create your own apps with a small group of friends. That way, you can do most of the work and be learning on your own, but you guys can also meet up to collaborate on it. If you’re a square peg, don’t try to force yourself into a round hole. This goes for extroverts too.  

8. Tailor Your Job Application to the Company.

When you’re applying for a summer internship or a co-op position, it’s much more effective to tailor your resume and cover letter for each specific company. Trust me, it’s much better to send five tailored job applications than a hundred generic ones. Hopefully, you've followed tip #4 and know which companies you want to work for and what they are looking for. Most companies list what they are looking for, in potential employees, on their websites. Keep an eye out for their core values. Naturally, a company wants to hire employees that have values that are aligned with their own. Once you know what they are looking for, highlight the skills and experiences that you have that show that you are a good fit for that company. 

9. Write Down Why You’re Doing This. 

Life is going to punch you in the face, a lot. During school. Punch. After graduation, when you're looking for a job. Punch. During work. Punch. In these tough times, it helps to remind yourself why you started on this journey to becoming an engineer in the first place. Don’t get so lost in what’s happening right now that you lose sight of where you want to go. 

10. Having Grit is Valuable.

For all the tough times ahead, remember to stay persistent... if it’s really what you want. Anyone can stick with something for a day, but few can stick with something hard for life. Patience and persistence are a virtue. If you are willing to stick with something, and constantly develop yourself, it might just pay off big. This is true for all areas of your life.  

That's a quick summary of some of my top tips for engineering students! Naturally, I will explore some of these topics more in-depth in future blog posts. 

What tips do you have for new engineering students? Let us know in the comments!