For most students applying to US universities, students are not required to declare a major until the end of their sophomore (second) year. However, there are a few fields of study where students need to decide before they apply if they want to study a particular subject and apply specifically to that school within the university. The most common fields for this are engineering, business, and architecture.

In this post we will highlight some key things that students interested in pursuing an engineering degree to need to be thinking about and doing in high school, in order to be a competitive applicant, and also meet the admissions criteria. In the next couple of posts we will explore the same question for students interested in undergraduate business and architecture degrees.


Engineering is a very specific, technical field, and the coursework is quite rigorous. Because there are so many courses to complete, most schools require students to apply directly to the school of engineering, and from freshman year, students beginning fulfilling major requirements. As such, students interested in majoring in engineering need to be sure of their focus and prepared for the application process.  Here are some things to help students prepare for pursuing an engineering degree.

1. Explore engineering through summer programs or internships – Many engineering schools at universities offer summer exploratory programs for students who are interested in finding out more about the field. These programs can be a great way to learn more about the field and decide if this is truly something you want to major in in college and work in as a career. The hands-on experience is also useful to show potential universities of your interest in this field.

2. Take rigorous courses in high school in related fields – Students who are interested in engineering should definitely take Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math (for IB Students, HL Math and one science at HL). While engineering schools will be particularly interested in your grades in these courses (and the rigor of the courses), this doesn’t mean you should neglect your other courses, as strong grades will be required to get into a competitive engineering program.

3. Learn about different engineering majors, and what types of jobs these lead to – Some programs ask you to declare a specific interest within engineering when you apply, whereas others allow you to explore your first year before committing. But knowing as much as possible before you begin university will help you select courses and a path through the program that best suits your interest. Great ways to do this include asking friends and family who are engineers what their jobs entail and why they chose a specific type of engineering, searching online to learn more about the different fields within engineering, or joining an engineering society.

4. Start researching universities with good engineering schools – Most engineering schools are found at larger universities (rather than liberal arts colleges, although there are a few exceptions). You will need to search for schools and fine those that have an engineering school. In addition, schools only offer majors in certain types of engineering, so if you specialty is not common, make sure you know which schools would be a good fit (i.e. have the major you are considering).

5. For students interested in a liberal arts education plus an engineering degree, consider 3:2 programs – These programs are offered by a number of liberal arts colleges. These programs allow students to attend a liberal arts school for their first 3 years (majoring in Math or Chemistry in order to fulfill many introductory engineering courses), and then if they meet certain requirements, go on for a final 2 years to an affiliated engineering school with a university. This allows students to come away with 2 degrees in 5 years, one in science or Math, and another one in engineering. Each school has different engineering schools they are associated with (and requirements for acceptance into the engineering program), so you’ll need to carefully research your options. This can be a great approach for students who are passionate about engineering and attending a liberal arts college, since it allows students to do both.