There seems to be a stigma that studying abroad is only for people studying another language, international relations or some kind of humanities subject. Or, an even better way to say it is that it is more meaningful for the people belonging in any of the categories described above.
As an engineering major, I too believed this before I applied to study abroad. I used the terrible excuse: “I’m an engineer, so I don’t have time to have fun traveling. I need to focus on building myself technically professionally and blah blah blah.”
Studying engineering is always highly structured. Every university always has a set schedule for engineering majors, thereby limiting our freedom in choosing our own classes. This instills the mindset that engineers have no power over shaping their own education. Once they have declared their major, they are expected to pass their major requirements dictated by their curriculum just like the rest of their classmates. It wasn’t until I studied abroad that I learned this is absolutely not true. After all, why should everyone take the same exact classes? If we all took the same classes, then we all gain the same set of skills and knowledge. How does that make one unique and stand out from the rest of the crowd? Why shouldn’t we have some flexibility that other disciplines are lucky to have?
I want to debunk the myth that engineers cannot go abroad: it is definitely a possible route, but not an easy one. Aside from applying for your visa and figuring out your accommodation plans while abroad, you also have to make sure you are choosing the right university that will meet such a demanding discipline’s requirements. The following steps are just a guide to help you get started as an engineer abroad:
1. Picking the right school. The reason this is the very first thing to consider is because you have to make sure the school’s engineering rigor is on par with that of your home university. In my situation, I considered applying to University College London but was told that I would be taking classes that do not match up with the ones I would have to take back home. Luckily, many top universities specialize in engineering and sciences or have top name programs in those fields. Just to name a few: Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Manchester, Osaka University, and University of Melbourne all have top programs in engineering. The list is far greater than this; do your research!
2. Ensure you meet the university’s requirements for exchange students. The first requirements to consider are GPA (so make sure your GPA is above their minimum) and how many years of university you need to have already completed before starting. Another important thing to consider are how many classes/units you can take per term or per year and see if that limit will allow you to take all the classes have to complete. Some universities will not allow you to take classes outside of your major department as well. In my case, as a Chemical Engineering major at Imperial College London, I was not allowed to take any classes outside of my department. However, as a third year I was free to take any Chemical Engineering class across all four years.
3. Schedule planning. After you have selected your school and have familiarized yourself with the requirements as an exchange student, you have to carefully peruse through many course descriptions offered at your chosen school. Just as I mentioned before, taking engineering classes tends to be super structured, so you have to make absolutely sure that the classes you take will transfer back to your home school. The last thing you want is to delay graduation due to your time abroad; therefore, make the most of it by ensuring you are taking classes you are expected to take.
4. Consult your study abroad and major adviser. Your study abroad adviser is the expert on all the programs available to engineering majors, and he or she can help you find a program that suits your needs. On the other hand, consult your major adviser with a proposed schedule of classes you plan to take abroad, send him or her the class syllabi, and ask them to evaluate whether or not these classes will meet your major requirements.
5. Consult your chosen university adviser. If advisers at your home university cannot help you, reach out to those at your chosen university. They have probably dealt with many exchange students in the past and will know more about their respective university than the people you talk to back home.
This list may seem daunting and work-heavy, and you may think “Wow, I have to deal with all these problem sets and projects. How am I going to put aside any time to research and plan study abroad?” Luckily, when you plan to go abroad you have to start planning at least a good 8 months before departure. It’s a long process to plan, but it’s plenty of time for you to not have to worry about it constantly.
As an engineer abroad, I challenge you to take the leap and diversify your education. Studying abroad has been one of the best decisions I ever made and I cannot imagine my college career without having done it. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm and allow yourself to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Studying abroad as an engineer is a rare thing these days, so be one of those rare students and go on an adventure of a lifetime.