The Importance of True College-Prep for Engineering

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Mark Conner

Engineering is a great profession, and an engineering degree provides a unique foundation for careers in fields like medicine, law, and business.  Many of today’s most successful entrepreneurs are also engineers.  Unfortunately, earning an engineering degree is challenge that leads far too many interested and capable young men and women to pursue careers in other disciplines.  Consider this statement from Andrew Belasco at


The harsh reality is that only 4 out of every 10 college freshmen declaring engineering as a major will actually complete an engineering degree.  What’s worse is that a slightly higher percentage won’t even make it through the first year.  It would not be a quantum leap to say that the overwhelming majority of these students were not prepared for even the first two years of an undergraduate engineering curriculum.  As a matter of fact, if you were to poll the students who complete engineering degrees as to how well-prepared they were upon graduating high school, a significant number would likely say that they, too, were not adequately prepared.

Preparing for engineering requires knowing what students need to prepare for.  The first thing to know is that a Bachelor’s degree in engineering typically takes 4 ½ – 5 years.  Between the rigor of the coursework and the importance of internships and co-op experiences, most students will take 5 – 5 ½ years.  Engineering degree programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).  The first math and science courses that count toward a degree in the overwhelming majority of engineering disciplines are Calculus 1, Inorganic Chemistry 1, and the first Calculus-based Physics course.  Unless students enter college truly ready to succeed in these courses, they are behind before they even get started.  The first two years will generally include the following:

  • Calculus 1, 2, and 3; Differential Equations
  • Inorganic Chemistry 1; Calculus-based Physics 1 and 2
  • Introduction to Engineering; Computer Programming;
    Statics and Dynamics

When you compare these courses to a standard high school curriculum, it’s understandable why so many students leave engineering during the first two years.  It isn’t that these students do not possess the aptitude to succeed in engineering.  It’s more that they are not prepared for the rigor, the content, and the skills expected in an undergraduate engineering program.

So, what should a “college-prep” curriculum for engineering look like?  Ideally, it should include a focus on the (1) content knowledge, (2) hard skills, and (3) soft skills that students will need to be successful at the undergraduate level while being (4) appropriately rigorous.  I will discuss each of these in detail in upcoming posts.