A lot of the world’s top ranked colleges are located in the United States. Schools like MIT and Stanford are many students’ dream places. For the Chinese students that are more into math and science at high school, Engineering is a very popular choice when picking a major. American schools would not only look at your technical skills and grades, but also your comprehensive soft skills. Every school pretty much shares the same big picture: to help their students learn how to apply the knowledge from the textbooks to real-world practices. Most of the professors do some sort of researches and projects, and the schools always try to provide students with all types of learning resources. In college courses, it is very likely that you’ll get case studies in classes, and you’re encouraged to participate in real projects outside of the class because it’s encouraged that you build your technical skills and professional manners early before you join the workforce. Sometimes you might even get a chance to work on real projects in some businesses!
The admission processes are the same. Just like any other major, you would need to take SAT and TOEFL, fill out the application, ask for recommendation letters and write your own essay. There are two common myths associated with Engineering, which I’m going to address in below and give you my suggestions:
1. You’re not going to get accepted just because you have a high score in math or physics.
We all get it that in order to be an engineer; you do have to be sensitive about numbers and modern mechanics. However, colleges are looking for well-rounded individuals who have the potential to have an impact in their industry after they graduate. In the application you need to show them your leadership and communication skills. Those two are essential even for majors like Engineering.
2. Avoid talking about “big dreams” in your essay. Don’t talk about how you are going to make a life-changing invention like Edison or you’re going to discover some mind-blowing theory like Newton. Instead, focus on the little things you’re interested in, and be more specific about your opinions on those topics and write out your own story. By doing this you’re showing the school you can think critically, and you are a person who is choosing a college and a major based on your own goals, unlike most of the students who just go with the flow. This will help you stand out from others.
Some students might get into top schools; some might get into the second-tier ones. No matter which school you decide to go, you need to set long term and some short term goals for yourself. College campuses are filled with energy and different opportunities. If you are just going to spend all your time going to classes and taking exams, you’re not investing your time well. Many people believe that the college experience can be life changing. Below is a list of the activities that I would highly recommend you consider, and I hope it’ll help you get some general ideas on how to get involved while in college.
1. Co-op or Summer interns
Most of the American universities provide Co-op (cooperative education) opportunities. Especially in engineering departments, co-op is very popular. This type of program is collaborated by both the school and the company. It allows you to switch between classes and job experiences: you usually go to school for one semester, and go to a company to work for one semester, and then come back to school to continue studying… Different universities have different schedules and different sets of restrictions, but usually you’ll get some flexibility when arranging your terms. Co-op students have a competitive advantage when applying for jobs because compared to other average students, they’ve already have a lot of work experience which employers value a lot.
If you think Co-op sounds too complicated and might delay your graduation date, another option would be summer internships. Internships are very important for engineering students! If you cannot find any internship opportunity in the United States, you could also look into the internship opportunities in China.
2. Student Clubs
There are numerous clubs on each college campus, and sometimes in bigger colleges there could be hundreds of them. Before you join one, think about what you want to get out of it, and then get involved with purpose in mind. If you want to keep a healthy lifestyle, you could look into sports related clubs such as soccer, volleyball, or yoga club. If you want to develop your professional skills, you could join clubs that are related to your major (engineering associations). If you want to expand your social network, you could look into some bigger sized clubs that require a lot of interaction with people.
3. Sorority or Fraternity
The terms (in Chinese) might sound a little strange to you at first. However, Greek life is a huge part of the college culture, and you would only get this experience in the United States. Since there are many different types of Greek organizations – social, professional, service, honor, cultural and more- you can always find something that fits your interests. After you get initiated into the sorority/fraternity, you’ll get to live with your “sisters”/”brothers”, help each other learn, improve your social skills, plan and participate in many on-campus events, and get to meet sisters/brothers from other chapters. Some well-established engineering sororities and fraternities are ΑΩΕ (Alpha Omega Epsilon) ，ΘΤ (Theta Tau) 和 ΣΦΔ (Sigma Phi Delta). And there’s also a well-known fraternity for Electrical and Computer Engineering students called ΚHΚ （Kappa Eta Kappa).
4. Part-time jobs
Many Chinese students never had the experience of working part-time while going to school, but for American students, part-time jobs are probably the most common thing to have. Not only does it gives you an extra income, but you’ll also grow as an individual. It challenges you to learn how to manage your time, how to take responsibility, and how to interact with co-workers. For international students with F-1 visa, the maximum hours you could work per week is limited to 20 hours, and you could only work on campus. Some common on-campus part-time jobs are: student associates at dining courts, on-campus restaurant servers, associates at the gym, lab assistants, etc.
5. Research Labs
Ask your professors if they are conducting any research that in which students may assist. A lot of professors post announcements on the website or send group emails to their students regarding the research opportunities. As an undergraduate student, you might not get to contribute a lot, however you should feel honored to assist an ongoing research. You would get to learn many theories and find out your strength and weakness based on your understanding of the project. Yuqi Zhang, a junior in Chemical Engineering who is currently working in an research lab for particle analysis, gave her piece of advice: “Find a project that sounds interesting to you and a research team with the right atmosphere, you will find that what you can learn from the research experience is way more memorable than the stuff you learn from classes. At some point you’ll be able to connect the research topics with the materials covered in classes, and you will love your research experience!”
6. Be a student leader.
Every student organization has a leader. Every project has a team leader. Leadership and teamwork skills are the keys to success in the modern society. If you want to stand out from others, participation is not enough. You would need to be a leader in your classes and organizations: take charge of a project, initiate to start a team for a case competition, run for positions in your organizations’ elections… No one will tell you what to do, because it all has to come out from your own will. When you put those experiences in the resume, it can easily catch attention because you’re showing the employers that you’re a leader who is self-motivated. When I interviewed Haoran Wang, a Mechanical Engineering student who is the senator of the School of Engineering at his university, he talked about his experience in running for senator, and said “ During that period of time I learned things that would be life-long beneficial. I created web pages to promote myself to the student population, and every day was just filled with inspirations and motivations while meeting other excellent student leaders. After I got elected as the senator in the student government, I got to experience the American way of thinking and executing, and that became an important stage of my life when my critical thinking started turning mature.”
7. Study Abroad
Colleges encourage their students to study abroad for short terms. You can transfer the credits to your school, and a lot of schools even combine study abroad and foreign internship programs together. Most of the colleges in America have their global partners, and chances are, if there’s any country you would like to visit, you could always find programs that meet your need. You might think that as international students, we’re already studying abroad in the U.S., but it never hurts just to explore more cultures. Plus, with an U.S. student visa on hand, getting a visa to visit other countries here in the states is much easier than applying for visas in China. In study abroad programs, you’re very likely to go with a group of students from the same school as yours. This provides another chance for you to make American friends and build friendships.
Last, I want to talk a little about myself and give you advice based on my own experiences. I’m a junior majoring in Industrial Engineering (IE). IE is a major that combines both engineering and business. Besides the engineering technical skills, it also requires students to understand businesses operations and have the ability to lead project teams. So far I’ve been in a sorority, studied abroad in Italy for a 3 credit course, interned in South America for one summer, worked part-time in a dining court, participated in case competitions, and performed on stage for Greek events. I think every experience has its beauty, and it all shaped my personality in so many ways. From my experience, I would suggest you to at least get involved with two student organizations, or one organization with a part-time job. In my freshman year I was only involved in my sorority, therefore I had some spare time where I would just stay home and do nothing. At that time I wasn’t very productive with my studying hours either. Later on I added more things to my schedule, and I had a much higher efficiency and became more confident in what I do.