10 Tips for Surviving Your Online Engineering Degree

Online engineering degrees are becoming increasingly available and accessible, but that doesn’t mean getting an engineering degree is any easier. Online engineering students face the same level of challenge and rigor as those attending class in person. In fact, in many ways, getting your engineering degree online can be more challenging. This is especially true if this is your first time pursuing a degree online. You may be adjusting to an education through an entirely new medium while also working to grasp the actual content of your courses.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to prepare yourself for both experiences. Whether you’re pursuing an online associate degree in engineering with plans to become a technician, you’re pursuing your online bachelor’s degree in engineering on your way to a becoming a licensed Professional Engineer (PE), or you’re working on your online master’s degree in engineering while balancing career responsibilities, there are some survival skills you’ll want to learn first.

If you’re still searching for the right online engineering degree, check out the very best degrees at every level:

1. Join an Engineering Society

Engineering societies are an essential part of the engineering discipline and professional sector. In addition to the numerous benefits that these professional associations provide to members, many of the leading engineering societies also play a direct role in granting accreditation to degree programs and licenses to professional engineers. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the engineering societies, professional associations, and student-run groups that represent the engineering field. This is especially true for online students. In the vacuum of an immediate classroom or campus community, engineering societies can help you form connections with others in your field, give you access to leaders in the field, and allow you to be part of a thriving professional community.

Top engineering societies include:

To learn more about engineering societies, check out our Guide to the Top Professional Engineering Societies.

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2. Check Out Online Professional Forums

In addition to member societies, there are numerous professional forums dedicated to general engineering as well as to the array of specializations that shape this diverse field. This is a great way to gain access to resources, to ask questions on an open forum of engineering professionals, and to learn more about certain subdisciplines. Eng-Tips.com offers a portal to a wide selection of professional forums that are dedicated to various popular and niche engineering sub-disciplines. This is a great way to explore the various paths you could take as an engineering student.

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3. Sharpen Your Research Skills

It goes without saying that the engineering discipline is science intensive. This means that you will need to have a strong understanding of scientific inquiry and the scientific process. Your degree program will require you to read and interpret research, incorporate this research into your own hypothesis, and conduct an experimentally-sound study around this hypothesis. As an online student, without immediate access to on-campus library, writing lab, and laboratory facilities, you should take some time to practice and refine your general research skills, from critical reading and source evaluation to data analysis and scholarly writing. Whether you take an outside course on research methods, ask a trusted educator for some tips, or teach yourself through regular practice, you will need these research skills to succeed in your online engineering degree program.

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4. Work on Your Transferrable Skills

You’ll need more than just math, science, and research skills to succeed in your online engineering degree program. Employers prize transferable skills, those which can apply in a wide range of professional settings. If you are pursuing your online engineering degree in relative isolation, you may need to take extra steps to refine your communication and leadership skills, to practice creativity and collaboration, to incorporate elements such as ethics and public service into your professional practice. Take some business, humanities and writing courses. The skills you acquire there will strengthen your approach to earning an engineering degree and make you a more dynamic job candidate upon degree completion.

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5. Look for Internship Opportunities

As an online student, you may not necessarily get the hands-on training that students receive in the traditional classroom. One great way to fill the void is to seek out an internship in your community. Engineering comes in a wide range of specializations, and an internship can be a great way to experience one or several areas of specialization first hand. Get a sense of what day-to-day life is like for an engineering professional, ask questions, get immediate feedback as you refine your technical skills, and explore the variety of possible avenues that you could pursue with your engineering degree. An internship may be the most direct path to making real-world inroads while earning a virtual degree.

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6. Build Your Portfolio

Speaking of internships, you’ll get more than invaluable exposure in the field. You’ll also gain credible work experience. Your internship could give you the opportunity to participate in research, contribute to real-world projects, and master specific technologies. These are among the various experiences to highlight in your portfolio. Your portfolio is a document or (more likely these days) a website that highlights your achievements and contributions as an engineering student, aspiring professional or working professional. This is a way to convey what you have accomplished to prospective schools, employers, or professional societies as well as a way to spotlight the areas of engineering where you might specialize. Highlights to include beyond the aforementioned may include engineering school projects, independent research undertakings, terms of employment, awards, scholarships, competitions, organizational affiliations, leadership roles, community engagement efforts, and more. Keep it relevant and focus on those achievements that have truly contributed to your engineering education and professional development.

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7. Nurture Relationships with Classmates

You may be online, but you aren’t alone. You have classmates who are working through the same remote channels as you. Do your best to establish friendships and even cultivate virtual study groups. And with an increasing number of students enrolling in online classes at colleges with campuses close to home, you may be able to connect in-person with some of your more local classmates. Whether you make contact with other students for academic support, or simply for the social aspects of education that you might otherwise be missing, opening these lines of communication can bring an infusion of insight and a bolt of energy to the learning experience.

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8. Make Connections with Instructors

Your classmates aren’t the only resource available to you. You have direct access to an instructor. In fact, online students often note that the remote format actually provides greater opportunity for one-on-one attention and direct support. It’s up to you to begin building a relationship with your instructor. Consider starting each course by sending a professionally-worded email introducing yourself and briefly discussing some of your goals in the class. This will help you stand out from the virtual crowd, and create a positive first impression. Your instructor will remember you when you ask questions, contribute to virtual class discussions, and when you ask for outside help. As an added bonus, you’ll have the freedom to ask questions or seek extra support in privacy if you prefer.

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9. Look for Helpful Apps and Tech

Another way to gain outside support is to make use of the evolving mobile technology around engineering. The field is highly challenging. There’s a lot to remember, from mathematical formulas and engineering principles to computer programming languages and technical procedures. Likewise, there are numerous textbooks, scholarly journals, professional societies, and exam prep tools that you’ll need during your degree program. Explore some of the top phone or tablet apps for engineering students, and students in general. Below are just a few of many noteworthy apps:

  • Engineering Cookbook: A guide that provides reference information for mechanical designers including online access to industry-specific information about air quality ventilation, sound and vibration, heating and cooling, and more.
  • Engineering Professional: An IOS program including more than 650 formulas for students and professionals in chemical, civil, electrical, environmental, hydraulic, and mechanical engineering.
  • Engineering Unit Converter: A tool that lets students calculate conversions based on factors such as electric charge, energy, and entropy.
  • FingerCAD: This iTunes app provides a computer assistant for engineers creating technical drawings by finger touch. Supports widescreen display.
  • Mechanical Engineering Magazine Online: The monthly flagship publication of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, this magazine is currently available for delivery through this app for Android devices.
  • OfficeLens: This Windows-based tool allows users to edit captured images of white board and documents and format them for PowerPoint and PDF files saved to OneNote.
  • WolframAlpha: A toolkit and search engine tool that focuses on valuable resources for engineering students and professionals.
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10. Get To Know the Influencers in Your Field

U.S. News & World Report ranks this as the top piece of survival advice for engineering students. This tip applies doubly to those who are studying in the relative isolation of online school. Spotting those who might have a profound influence on the direction of your career could be a great way to create a feeling of connection with the larger world of professional engineering. U.S. News & World Report says, identify the people who inspire you, and find out what makes them tick. If you love Apple products, Steve Jobs may be your idol, or perhaps you love the Segway and its creator, Dean Kamen. You can easily find out a lot of information about Jobs and Kamen—or just about any other prominent person in technology—so use it to look into what’s helped these people and their companies become so successful. Then emulate their good traits in your personal, scholastic, and professional life.

This is extremely valuable advice, and it can also provide a direct pathway to the very same educational experiences enjoyed by those in the field who you admire most. At AcademicInfluence.com you can search for an engineering degree program by checking out the Top Influencers in Engineering Today.

Or you can jump directly to our look at Online Engineering Degrees at every level:

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