Over the (almost four!) years of running this blog, I’ve received so many questions from y’all about college life, studying advice, and how I’m surviving as an engineering major. I usually just answer privately, but since most of the questions are pretty generic and asked so much, I thought I’d take this Monday morning to share my answers!
I want this post to be a bit collaborative, so if you don’t see your question answered here, ask me in the comments and I’ll add it in. I love getting in touch with y’all so don’t hesitate!
How did you decide on your major?
Tbh I didn’t decide on Electrical/Computer Engineering until I was filling out that blank on my college applications. I had taken a few Computer Science classes in high school and knew I liked the tech aspect, but I definitely wasn’t one of those people who knew what they’re majoring in by their freshman year!
I remember looking through some college website with descriptions of every major and thought this one had a nice combo of software and hardware stuff. At the time I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career, so having a more broad education sounded like a good idea.
What was something that nobody told that you had to learn your first year of college?
I don’t think I realized how important learning to balance my time was my first year. It’s so easy to fall into a routine of sleep-eat-study and forget to take care of yourself or go out! I would spend a full week living in my dorm or the library and it would leave me feeling so burned out.
Since I started living in an apartment, I’ve how much dorm life can really trap you in school. You have to make a conscious effort to get out, eat away from the cafeteria, and just not study for a few hours.
How many hours do you take in a semester?
I took 13 hours my first semester of college, which I think is the recommended amount for first years. Since then I’ve been taking about 16 hours (18 is the limit at my university), and wouldn’t take more unless I desperately needed to fit in credits!
Hours only mean so much though, what matters is the difficulty of the classes you’re filling your semester with. I took four engineering classes one semester for a total of 15 hours, ended up dropping one and finishing the semester with 12 hours, and still felt like dying by finals week. But the semester before was one of my easiest even though I was taking 5 classes and a lab, since most of those classes were general education (like government and visual arts) and didn’t require nearly as much effort.
How did you start learning how to code?
I took a Digital Media class in 7th grade where I learned a bit of HTML and CSS, but most of my learning came from making blog or profile designs! Everyone will tell you this, but learning by doing is the best approach to learning how to code. You can read all the textbooks you want, but most of it won’t make sense until you’re working on a project!
Before you chose your major, how much experience did you have with computer engineering/coding? I have very little experience (basically whatever is on khan academy) and I’m worried that will affect my learning at the college level.
I took three Computer Science courses in high school and had a bit of experience in HTML/CSS from just playing around with blog designs, but honestly my high school curriculum was so messy that I went into college only knowing the basics. I knew a ton of people my freshman year with zero coding experience and while they did struggle a bit more, most of them had similar grades to the rest of the class. College CS classes are a lot more intense than high school, so really everyone struggled!
If you know you’ll be taking programming classes though, I would definitely recommend taking some online classes (I like Codecademy) to learn the basics. Don’t dive too far into one language, because you’ll probably learn several in college and most CS principles aren’t specific to one language anyway.
What kind of laptop do you use for your classes?
I bought a Macbook my freshman year and it’s worked out pretty well for me! A lot of my friends have Dell/Asus laptops, but there’s no shortage of Macbooks in my major either.
The main problem I have is needing to use an application that’s only offered in Windows, but my school has a program that allows Macbook users to open Windows through a virtual workspace that already has most of our engineering apps installed. There are also computers in the labs that are open for students to use, which I’d imagine most universities have when the class requires it!
How hard is it to major in engineering?
I can only speak for Electrical/Computer, but it’s admittedly as hard as it sounds. I left high school accustomed to acing all my classes and going into tutorial hours to raise my grade from a 96 to a 97, so getting a 31 on my first engineering exam was obviously a shock!
Expect to spend a lot of your free time working on labs or physics/math homework, all of which take way longer than they did in high school (I would average 4 hours on a weekly assignment). I also end up reteaching myself most of the material outside of class because my professors didn’t explain it clearly enough or it was just too hard to understand the first time!
I hope this post was helpful to y’all, and like I said feel free to ask any unanswered questions in the comments or by email!