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How to Prepare for an Engineering Degree While You’re Still in High School


If you’re certain that you want to pursue a career in engineering, you don’t have to wait until college to start preparing.

Keep reading for steps you can take in high school to prepare for a successful engineering career — and for acceptance to a top college with a strong engineering program.

1. Take Challenging Math and Science Classes

In college, engineering majors take a rigorous course load that’s packed with math and science. Prepare yourself by taking the most challenging math and science classes available at your high school.

These may include AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Computer Science, and/or AP Statistics. If your school doesn’t offer AP courses, don’t panic. Colleges will take this into account when reviewing your application. Simply tackle the most challenging opportunities available to you.

College admissions teams are impressed by candidates who demonstrate initiative and genuine enthusiasm for their area of study.

This presents a chance to gauge whether a career in engineering is truly a good fit. Do you enjoy these classes? Do you find them mentally stimulating? Do you excel in math and science courses? If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” you may want to consider other career options.

It’s also a good idea to study math and science independently. Check out books from the local library, watch videos by leading experts in the field, and continue learning as much as you can. This is great preparation for college and your career. Plus, college admissions teams are impressed by candidates who demonstrate initiative and genuine enthusiasm for their area of study.

2. Participate in STEM-Related Extracurricular Activities

We mentioned above that colleges like to see initiative and enthusiasm in your area of study. One way to demonstrate your passion for STEM is to participate in relevant extracurricular activities.

Examples include:

  • Engineering Club
  • Math Club
  • Physics Club
  • Robotics Team
  • Chemistry Club
  • Coding Club
  • Tutoring other students in math and science
  • Attending a science or math camp
  • Becoming a counselor at a local science/math camp

If your high school suffers from a lack of STEM clubs, start your own. Talk to a teacher or administrator about creating a new club at your school. Now that’s initiative!

Whether you start your own club or join an existing organization, try to work your way into a leadership role. Alternatively, contribute in significant ways by organizing events, coming up with creative new ideas, or recruiting new members.

Colleges don’t only want you to participate in extracurricular activities, they also want you to show commitment, leadership, and the ability to make meaningful contributions.

And the more deeply you involve yourself in these endeavors, the more useful skills you’ll gain for your career as an engineer.

How to Make Your Extracurricular Activities Stand Out When Applying to College

3. Gain Real World Experience

You’ll gain skills and knowledge through your coursework and extracurricular involvement, but it also helps to have experience. You can build real-world engineering experience through job shadowing, internships, or volunteering.

Ask your parents or guidance counselors if they know of any engineering-related opportunities or connections. You can also call or email local companies and see if they’re looking for interns or volunteers. If not, would they allow you to shadow someone and learn about the job?

Another way to gain hands-on experience is by attending an engineering summer camp. These camps are typically held at universities and involve design challenges, renowned guest speakers, behind-the-scenes tours, and more.

Real-world experience builds skills and knowledge and gives you another opportunity to evaluate whether engineering is the career for you. Of course, all of these experiences will also look great on a college application.

4. Pursue Independent Projects

Independent projects are another type of hands-on experience. Depending on your interests, you can build a website or app, conduct research, create basic machines, and so on.

This independent work requires creativity and problem-solving, which are vital skills for engineers.

5. Enter Competitions

Once you’ve gained skills, knowledge, and experience, put your engineering abilities to the test by entering a competition.

STEM-related competitions include Science Fair, Math Olympiad, Science Olympiad, Chemistry Olympiad, High School Innovation Challenge, Intel International Engineering and Science Fair, and more. Competing in these events requires you to apply all the engineering knowledge you’ve acquired.

If you can rack up some awards and achievements in STEM, you’ll stand out from other engineering hopefuls. And even if you don’t win, entering competitions demonstrates you continued commitment and passion for the field.

6. Don’t Neglect English Class

Although it may be tempting to focus exclusively on math and science, don’t neglect your English classes. Employers say that both verbal and written communication is extremely important for engineers.

As an engineer, you may have to present your work to others. For this reason, it’s helpful to take a Public Speaking course.

Developing your math, science, and English skills will make you a well-rounded and highly competitive engineering candidate.

Additional Advice for Future Engineers

  • Remember that there are many fields within the discipline of engineering. You can be a biomedical, software, environmental, civil, or chemical engineer — and that’s not an exhaustive list. In high school, explore several options before settling on a specialization later in your college career.
  • When it’s time to get teacher recommendations for college, at least one of your letters of recommendation should be from a science or mathematics teacher. This fits with the “theme” of your application (STEM) and enhances your credibility as a future engineer.
  • Depending on what colleges you apply to, you may or may not need to declare a major and/or apply to a specific school within the college. Regardless, it’s important to demonstrate strength, commitment, and passion in a particular area.
  • Competition for engineering jobs is stiff, so continue enhancing your resume and pursuing challenges and opportunities in college.

The Bottom Line

The best time to start preparing for your future engineering career is now. Build your knowledge base in mathematics and science by taking challenging courses and pursuing independent study. Participate in extracurricular activities and seek opportunities for hands-on experience.

You can also put your skills to the test by entering — and ideally winning — competitions related to science, mathematics, and engineering. In the meantime, don’t forget that your communication skills matter too.

By taking these steps, you’ll make yourself a competitive college applicant and lay the foundation for a highly successful career in engineering. If you aren’t sure what courses or opportunities are available to you, start by having a conversation with your guidance counselor today!

Discover the best colleges for Engineering

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.