First Year Engineering Survival Guide

First Year Engineering Survival Guide

Congratulations, you made it into engineering! It’s time to celebrate the start of fresh beginnings, new friendships and exciting adventures, but don’t party too hard. Becoming an engineering student comes with a big lifestyle transition that can shake up your life, from relationships to academics. Remember that getting into engineering is hard, but getting out is harder.


Tips for how to survive engineering school

Engineering course load can be demanding and time consuming. Staying on top of all the lab reports, assignments, and exams requires good time management, and even better priority management. Here are some tips and tricks to get you through some of the most important years of your academic career.

Stay nourished

Students coined the phrase “Freshman 15” for the 15 pounds that many first year college students gain. While I’m by no means a health expert, one major cause of the freshman 15 can be pinned on poor dieting.

The transition from high school to university can induce quite a lifestyle change. For many young adults, this marks the bittersweet milestone of leaving the nest and embracing newfound freedom. Freedom, however, comes with responsibility. When young students are suddenly given the power to eat whatever they want, more often than not, they beeline towards junk food.

Another reason for poor dieting is due to lack of free time. Freshmen who haven’t fully adapted to the change of setting often struggle to maintain a healthy diet. This is especially prevalent in engineering, where class schedules can run to 40 hours per week.

Neglecting to maintain a balanced diet can be severely detrimental to not only your academics but your wellbeing.

An unfortunate example of this was a hardworking student who died from stomach cancer due to his daily instant noodle diet. While this is an extreme case, it should serve as a reminder for other young students that staying healthy should be your number one priority.

Manage course expectations

Engineering courses can vastly differ from each other. In general, engineering courses lie on a spectrum. One end being conceptual, and the other being procedural.

Difference between conceptual vs procedural courses
Conceptual Procedural
Focus Theorems and ideas Algorithms and processes
Study strategy Understand and memorize Understand and practice
Examination type Multiple choice and essay questions Numerical problems

Ideally, a course should teach both conceptual and procedural understanding. Where a course lies on the spectrum depends on both the course content and professor.

In engineering, many of the courses tend to skew towards procedural, so make sure to match your studying strategy accordingly. Doing so will save you a lot of time and ensures that your study efforts are put into good use during examinations.

Keep up with sleep

It’s no secret that sleep loss is very exhausting to deal with, and can easily snowball into bigger problems.

Sleep deprivation can slow your thinking abilities, forcing you to spend more time learning, which cut more of your sleep time, and worsen your sleep deprivation.

This is especially the case in engineering, where the daily expected time spent on lectures, labs, homework, and sleep exceed the number of hours in a day. Because of this, many young engineering students choose to run on coffee instead of sleep.

While this may reward you in the short term, this is a very unhealthy habit in the long term. In fact, if you study smart and manage course expectations, getting 8 hours of sleep per night is entirely doable.

Get to know your classmates

Engineers are stereotyped as anti-social geeks who rely solely on their brain power, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Studying engineering can get tough, but having a strong network of classmates makes things so much easier. Remember, you and your classmates are in this together. Getting through the storm of engineering coursework is so much more enjoyable with comrades by your side.

Labs also make up a significant portion of your studies, so knowing your classmates is helpful when choosing lab partners.

Keep your eyes open for new friends in lectures, especially in freshman year. You never know, they may eventually be your colleagues, life longfriends, or even significant other someday!

Commit to one extracurricular activity

The search for internships comes a lot quicker than you think. By the time internship positions get posted, it’s already too late to start padding your resume. Many inexperienced engineering students find themselves scrambling to fill their resume with relevant experiences.

One way to avoid this mess, is to find an extracurricular activity and commit to it. At the start of the school year, try out a couple of clubs and teams. Find out what peaks your interest and stick to it. The longer you stay, the more you learn, and the better it looks for your resume.

Ideally these extracurriculars help develop your technical skills. Even if they don’t, developing soft skills and showing commitment goes a long way as well.

Allocate time to have fun

Don’t dedicate all your time into work because that’s how burn out starts. In the past, I’ve given up hobbies to study engineering. While it helped me achieve my academic goals, I wasn’t completely happy.

Burn out can cause students to give up on studying, which ends up undoing a lot of the hard work that they put into their academics. It’s not healthy and very counterproductive

Allocate time every week or two to have some fun, go shopping, play some video games, or watch a movie. Taking your mind off of work can help you if you’re stuck on a problem and also gives you something to look forward to every once in a while.

Obviously, be smart about what you choose to spend your time on. Sometimes it’s reasonable to go to a party instead of studying and sometimes it’s not.

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