Before they go out and start making the big bucks, engineers have to go through that rite of passage called University. It’s a path that many people -- including non-engineers -- have struggled with, but for engineers, the University experience can feel a bit more like running a gauntlet.
While other students are more likely to go out partying and figuring out which fraternity or sorority they want to join, engineering students are more likely to be shoulder-deep in books at the University library. Indeed, their college experience can be much more different than the standard experience.
In case you’re thinking about becoming a civil, mechanical, electrical or computer engineer any time soon, here are some of the realities you will likely face while you’ll be there. From learning to love pocket protectors to a decided lack of people of the female persuasion, it can be a quite a journey.
1. Learning to Dress Down
Before the first semester, you, like many college students, may have gone out and gotten some new threads to help you really impress your professors and fellow engineering majors. You have to dress to impress, right? So with that in mind, you bought yourself some clothing that you might have only otherwise worn to your high school graduation. Ties, slacks, button down shirts and blouses for the ladies -- it was all part of the new you.
It was a good effort, but when it came down to it, that attempt at dressing to impress, lasted about one whole minute. Engineers -- and especially student engineers -- are decidedly low-key in the wardrobe department. It might be partly the heavy workload, but it’s also just kind of a cultural thing. So, even if you were a dapper dresser before you started engineering school, chances are that it soon devolved into t-shirts and jeans -- however ripped or torn -- worn every day.
2. Succumbing to the Pocket Protector
And the hits to your fashion sense didn’t end there.
Before you actually aspired to be an actual engineer doing engineer-y type stuff, you probably thought that the classic pocket protector was a silly stereotype that had no basis in reality. But then you found yourself needing to stash your protractor somewhere where it wasn’t going to rip your clothes or cut you in the leg -- and that’s not even mentioning the many different types of pens and pencils you’ll need to tote around while you move back and forth from the whiteboard or blackboard and back to your seat in the lab. So over time, engineering school turned you into someone who actually values the pocket protector. Hello, nerd!
3. Getting Down With the Bro-Down
Guys: Before you started engineering school, you probably thought you’d have no problem meeting girls, since you would be, after all, in a place where college coeds tended to roll around in droves. So what if engineering schools are typically chock-full of dudes? You’d get out there and attend those parties where the ladies would be waiting.
But then came the harsh realities of studying and classes, and the fact that the only people you ever seemed to see were the people in your engineering program. Bit by bit you became more and more OK with the constant bro-down that is engineering school, and left your hope of scoring a girlfriend behind.
Gals: If you were a female in engineering school, congratulations on breaking the stereotype! But you too would have to deal with the fact that there would be no one else around who would care about the latest episode of The Voice, and certainly no one who would want to hit the nail salon after class. (But that’s OK, because all your time spent working formulas was wearing your nails down to the nubs) As a woman, you too would soon start to be OK with the fact that engineering school was one big bro-down.
And if you thought that meant you’d probably have a huge pool of dating prospects to choose from, think again. The boys in engineering school were way too busy to take you out on an actual date. Beer and pizza at the campus pub after a big exam, yes, but a romantic night out on the town, no way.
4. Living in the Lab
It should be clear by now that engineering school is a huge drain on your time. In other words, after the first hopeful semester, you knew that having a social life or going out to those famous college parties was not going to happen to you. In fact, your engineering school career probably involved so much time spent hunkered over work in the lab, that you sometimes forgot that you had a home to go back to. If you counted up the hours, the amount of time you spent in your dorm room was waaaaayyyy less than the time you spent in the engineering building.
5. Living Off Granola Bars
And all that great food that’s cooked for you by the dormitory cafeteria staff? You never ate it. Lucky for you, the engineering building had a set of vending machines that doled out granola bars and other “healthy” stuff that helped to keep you from starvation.
6. Sweating the Small Stuff
In programs that involve chemical, electrical or civil engineering prowess, a small mistake has the potential to be deadly. Your professors started pounding that into your head very early, and eventually it stuck. What it meant: You were no longer the type of person to gloss over small details in favor of the larger picture. As a budding engineer, the details were the heart of the project.
In your personal life, however, it started to mean that you were also getting a bit more detail-oriented than your friends and family could handle. In fact, your penchant for sweating the small stuff might have even resulted in a few frustrated eruptions or family fights. Why didn’t your mother worry about the smallest fraction of a percent when he was calculating the family finances? Why did your father insist on building that garden shed without consulting you first?
In this case, let’s just say that engineering school turned you into a bit of a nit-picker.
7. A Sudden Increase in Popularity
Ah, the wonderful day when you finally graduate, and get your first real engineering job. It’s a big step and it means you’ve finally made it through the gauntlet of long hours, overstudying and being the social pariah of campus.
But with that new job and its relatively high income compared to other recent graduates, you found something curious: You were suddenly the object of many romantic crushes. For years you were that pocket protector-wearing social outcast, but now the fact that you make at least double what many other college-educated people make, has suddenly made you very popular with the ladies (or gents).
For a while, this might even make you pretty angry. You might ask yourself: Would any of these people have given me the time of day had I worked at McDonald’s? The answer is no -- but you probably shouldn’t think too deeply about it. Just try to relax and enjoy the fact that you now have money to spend on dating. You’ve made it through to the other side.
See Also: How to Look After Yourself at College
In spite of all the ups and downs, that engineering degree is definitely something to be proud of, and in the end, all the anguish will be worth the trouble.
Are you an engineering student? Do you agree with the above points? Share your experience in the comments section below.