Best High School Classes for Engineering College
It takes hard work and a knack for math and science to become an engineer. High school is a great place to start preparing for an engineering education. While you're in high school you can select courses that will challenge you, expose you to concepts in engineering to help decide it's the right degree for you and help you get into a great engineering school.
Checkout your options for classes to take in high school and evaluate their impact on your engineering education.
Engineering college admissions will at the very least want to see that an applicant took all 4 years of math in high school. In addition, taking a Calculus course is highly recommended if at all possible.
Many U.S. high schools only offer calculus as an Advanced Placement (AP) course. Students will need to jump right into Calculus in their first semester studying engineering, so either a passing grade in an AP course or at least a basic familiarity is very helpful.
Engineering students will take at least one Probability and Statistics type course before graduation. Statistics is a specific application of a small set of math skills and introduces students to a new way of thinking about problems. This is a good choice for a high school student looking to challenge him or herself in math but is not completely a requirement for succeeding in college.
Physics is the real-world application of math, which is the very foundation of engineering! This course is very relevant in engineering.
Types of Physics Classes
In the United States, high school physics classes are divided into two varieties: calculus based physics and non-calculus (or algebra) based physics. Obviously, the calculus based physics course will be more challenging and requires that the student has already completed, or is concurrently enrolled in, a calculus course.
AP Physics for Mechanical Engineering
A calculus based AP Physics course is one of the best ways to give students an idea of whether they can handle studying engineering and whether they will like the available work after graduation. This course is especially relevant for Mechanical Engineers and Civil Engineers.
Taking "regular" or algebra based physics in high school is not a huge disadvantage for an aspiring engineer. If your other coursework is challenging or your school doesn't offer an AP Physics course then this will still prepare you for college.
Important Physics Concepts Relevant to Engineering
Students will learn a few major physics concepts that they will revisit in engineering coursework and build upon:
- Newton's Law's of Motion
In general, getting practice using math to model the real-world is the big take-away from high school physics. This includes skills like:
- Translating a problem to an equation
- Managing long, hand-written computations
- Applying calculus and algebra to complex problems
Computer Science Classes
More and more high schools are offering classes in programming and computer science.
AP Computer Science Principles
This provides an overview of the applications of computer science. This can be a great course to get a student excited about studying engineering, especially software engineering. Even if you don't expect your focus to be computer science, this is a great course for someone looking to study general engineering in college.
AP Computer Science A
This course teaches Java, a commonly used language, and object-orienting programming, an important concept for software engineers or any engineer working on a project requiring complex software. This course is certainly challenging but will give the student a good idea of whether they want to study computer science in college.
Other Science Classes
Besides physics there are other high school science classes that students can elect to take beyond the basics.
All engineering students will need to take basic chemistry in college even if they on to pursue a degree outside of Chemical Engineering. Starting with a solid base in high school will serve you well. AP Chemistry is a great introduction to the coursework you can expect in high school and is a good option for a student looking for a challenge.
Expect at least one economics class required to get your engineering degree. A high school economics class won't be calculus based but will give you a good introduction into some concepts you will use more in college.
Other science classes offered as electives in high school like Anatomy, Astronomy, etc can be useful to learn to study but aren't as essential to the engineer as physics and chemistry are. If you really love studying these, that's a good isgn you want to look into being a scientist, not an engineer!
High GPA or Challenging Coursework?
Many high school students and their parents face the same dilemma when registering for courses: do I sign up for easy classes to get a high GPA? Or the harder classes to challenge myself but risk getting a lower GPA?
It's true that your overall GPA is an important factor in college applications. But if you worked hard for the first two years of high school and can get reasonable grades in your other classes then two or three challenging courses will not tank your GPA even if you don't do well in them.
Also, if your GPA puts you on the edge for admission into a difficult program showing the difficulty of coursework is the top mitigating factor for applications.
Keep in mind that challenging classes not only teach you more in-depth material but they force you to learn better study skills, time management and how to seek out help. These are skills that smart students won't be forced to develop in classes that are too easy for them. These students are set up for a rude awakening their first semester of college when they can't get by course load.
That's why engineering college admissions look at the caliber of classes you take. Someone not willing to push themselves in high school is not likely to find the motivation to do well studying a difficult degree at their university.
AP Exam Score for College Credit
A high score on the AP exam for the higher level AP courses (AP Calculus BC, AP Physics C) often allows students to skip the first course in college. Engineering colleges may be more strict than less technical programs when it comes to accepting AP exam grades for course credit.
Only a student with a firm grasp on the course should use the AP credit to skip a college course if pursuing engineering. Starting out an already tough education in an even more difficult math course than their peers often means that student starts out college with a failing grade. So even if you do great on the AP exam consider retaking the course in college for an easy A your first semester.
That doesn't mean that taking the AP exams doesn't have value for an aspiring engineering student! Just studying for the AP exam and learning to solve problems in the ways required by the scoring guidelines prepares students for college coursework.
Extra Curricular Engineering Activities
Even if your school doesn't offer an engineering specific class or you can't fit it into your semester plan you can still get exposure to engineering concepts outside of the classroom. These can be more fun and relevant than taking a class and are great supplements to any high school transcript.
Look for activities like an engineering club at school, local robotics competitions, or outreach programs from local engineering colleges.
More Research on Engineering College Prep
Still have questions about the application process to an engineering school and what you can best do to prepare?
Look on a local engineering college's website for a course schedule. This will give you an idea of the coursework in math, physics and other sciences necessary for a Bachelors of Science in engineering.
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