The most time-consuming major? Engineering, of course
BY MADELINE LOSHAW
OU News Bureau
Students who find themselves drowning in homework, skipping sleep to do calculations and spending excessive amounts of time studying are most likely engineering majors.
A recent study by the National Survey of Student Engagement found engineering the most time consuming college major — but not by much. The study showed thatprofessors expect their engineering seniors to spend the most time each week — 20 hours — on their schoolwork. Following engineering is: biological sciences, 19; arts and humanities, and social sciences, 18; and education and business, 15.
The data came from a survey of 48 institutions that the national survey said “generally mirror the national distribution of the Carnegie 2012 Basic Classifications,” a classification system that tracks diversity in U.S. colleges and universities.
In addition, the study also found that 42 percent of engineering seniors actually spend more than 20 hours per week preparing for class, followed by physical sciences at 36 percent; biological sciences at 34 percent; arts and humanities at 31 percent; education at 26 percent; social sciences at 23 percent; and business at 19 percent.
Lorenzo Smith is the associate dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Oakland University, which has about 1,500 students in its program. He said engineering students spend so much time on schoolwork because the work is just plain time consuming.
“Engineering involves not only just the technical aspects of working through equations and interpreting them, but writing them down and explaining, and writing reports —disseminating what they find,” he said. “So it takes time to write.”
Will Cyr studies engineering at the University of Michigan. He said the reason engineering majors put up with so much extra work is easy: “We actually learn applicable stuff.”
“We create everything that people rely on in their everyday lives, and to be able to learn how to do that in four years means you’re going to be spending a lot of time learning outside of class,” he said. “I spend more like 40 hours a week learning on my own, not 20.”
Partly because of the time involved, some engineering students change their major.
“In particular, we lose a lot of students who don’t get through the math. It’s not easy, and the students have to continually ask themselves, ‘Is it worth the sacrifice?’ ” Smith said. “Or, quite frankly, maybe they can do it but they just find out they don’t like it. It’s not for everyone.”
Making it worth it
Phil Zanotti, a senior majoring in engineering at Michigan State University, said he considered changing his major due to the extreme workload.
“The homework we do requires great attention to detail,” he said. “One wrong calculation can ruin a few hours of work.”
He stuck with engineering, though, and believes the hard work is worth it.
“Now that I’m close to graduating and see how much money my friends are making, I am sure that it’s worth it,” he said. “Also, outside of financial reasons, internship experiences made me see how what I was learning in class would be actually applicable when I graduated.”
“The extra work is a deterrent, it’s a reality,” Smith said. “Not everyone gets through engineering.”
Students who do get through can expect a reward in the end. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce’s website shows that out of the 10 majors with the highest median earnings per year, eight were engineering related. The major with the highest median salary was petroleum engineering at $120,000 per year.
Getting through it
OU has a few solutions to help engineering students survive their course work.
“We have an early alert program that we implemented last year, and that involves the professors identifying students who are starting to show signs of not doing well in the class,” Smith said.
Professors identify students who aren’t performing well, and that information eventually ends up on the dean’s desk. Smith will meet with the student.
“Most of the students are happy to have that intervention,” Smith said.
Smith also keeps engineering students on track by making sure they get involved early on in their college career.
“If we can get the students involved, they’re going to have more of a sense of connectivity, more of a sense of belonging, and that helps with the retention,” Smith said.
Smith suggested that engineering students get involved in research programs. Most professors have an almost open-door policy for undergraduate students who are interested in getting involved with research.
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