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10 Ways that College Leaves You Unprepared for Real World Engineering

After going through several years of what can be considered a grueling engineering curriculum, you may believe that you’re completely prepared for what awaits you after graduation. I’m here to tell you just how completely wrong that idea is. Yes, you may have learned more than you ever imagined in the last four + years, and not to say that it was a waste, but all young engineers still have much more to learn beyond the classroom. Here are ten ways that your college education didn’t prepare you for Real World Engineering.


1) Don’t believe the lie that your perfect job will be handed to you on a silver platter.

Odds are that you’ve been sold the same story by all your professors that you’re guaranteed the 6-figure dream job the minute you graduate. Sound too good to be true? Well in most areas, it almost always is. It is getting harder and harder for recent graduates to find suitable employment, let alone that engineering dream job. So take all those promises with a bit of skepticism, work hard enough, and earn that dream job yourself.


2) Don’t be afraid to move away to find the right job.

Along with struggling to find the right job are more sacrifices that you may have to make. This can include moving away to areas with more opportunities. This may not be a problem for some, but for those with strong ties to home, it may be another hard pill to swallow once you graduate. However, this is the reality in some cases, so it’s better to prepare yourself ahead of time for the potential to leave home behind.

3) Forget everything you thought you learned about engineering. 

Once you’re able to land that job, you need to know how to be an actual engineer. Step 1: erase your mind of every preconceived notion of “engineering.” Working in the real world is extremely different from the textbook problems in a classroom, where the only risk was your grade. There are more things on the line like money, public safety, and your reputation. This places much more difficulty and stress on yourself than what you were up against during school, and it’ll take some getting used to.

4) Don’t expect to have a teacher guide you through every step.

Along with abandoning those textbook problems comes the absence of someone holding your hand through the entire process. 


Students often have lots of help and advice during school, so much so that they don’t learn to be independent. This can be a killer in the real world – the inability to do things on your own. Even if you’re working under some upper-level engineer, don’t except him/her to babysit you through the engineering process

5) Take it upon yourself to learn and excel, rather than waiting for that next “assignment.”

With the need for independence in the workplace comes the need for the worker to be proactive. You may be handed a huge project and have no idea where to start, and that upper-level mentor will only help you if you go to him/her with questions and a desire to learn. Use your situation to your advantage and seek out other ways of learning. Network with your peers, sit in on different projects, and find unconventional ways to learn anything you can – the more you learn, the more valuable you become.



6) Be able to adapt to any variety of projects or work environments.

Unless you majored in multiple disciplines of engineering, your time in college was probably very biased and one-sided. Not much varied during those few years of the same students, teachers, and variety of projects, unlike many job environments. You may have to work on all kinds of projects that you’re not used to – sometimes more than one at once. So it’s better to keep an open mind to the much wider array of challenges and environments engineers may be up against.

7) Learn how to work on and manage a real project.

Projects are often a part of the engineering curriculum, but usually end up with poor organization and management. This results with a few doing the bulk of the work while the others sit back with not much to do. Students aren’t always taught how to work with and/or lead a group – a skill of great importance in the real world. People that know how to work well in these situations are usually the ones that end up in charge.



8) Don’t expect to be working only with people of your own discipline.

It would be rare to find a company that only hires mechanical engineers, or only engineers in general. Yet this is how students make their way through school – surrounded only with their own discipline. This can create problems for those who don’t know how to work with other kinds of engineers, or people of any other profession. You might want to get used to it, because that’s how the real world is.

9) Be able to communicate effectively and professionally with anyone and everyone.

Communication is incredibly important in any profession, and even more so in engineering. Being able to successfully communicate your ideas to someone else can make the difference in getting that promotion. Yet this is something that most students don’t seem to understand or master while in school. Whether it’s face to face, writing a research paper, or sending a simple email, the way you communicate will determine your success at that job.



10) Don’t forget to value your education and use the many skills that you did learn.

All hope is not lost! Despite how much you still have to learn once you graduate, those long years weren’t for nothing. All of the theories and formulas you memorized can be put to very good use on many of the projects you may encounter. These, along with the responsibility and work ethic that was ingrained in you, are vital tools that will help you succeed at first getting that job and then mastering it. Your degree laid the foundation for you to become a real engineer – after graduation is when you learn to truly be one.

If you want to learn more about Real World Engineering, check out StoneWall's Free E-Book below! 

Unconventional Problem Solving - Practical Engineering