Engineering can be a daunting major for many, especially at a rigorous academic institution like Virginia Tech. Incoming general engineering students may fear “weed out” classes, imposter syndrome, or the infamous Calculus I course. Not to mention the fact that high school teachers have preached the impossible difficulty of college classes since the first day of 9th grade. As a rising sophomore at VT, I’m here to provide the rundown I wish I had a year ago when I walked into my first physics lecture on wobbly knees. Don’t worry, general engineering classes seem a lot less scary when they’re not a mystery!
Upon starting your first year as an engineering student at Tech, your major will be general engineering, meaning you have not yet been accepted into your specific chosen field. Depending on whether or not a student has credits that carried over from high school (from DE, AP, IB, or community college classes), they may be able to declare their major after the fall semester. Otherwise, all students apply for their chosen engineering discipline after freshman year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; nearly every engineering discipline has the same course requirements for the first and second semesters. These requirements can be found on each major’s checksheet, which are located on the VT website and updated annually. Checksheets are crucial for planning out your undergraduate years and help make it easier to stay on track. While some engineering disciplines differ slightly in their first-year requirements, most of the checksheets suggest 16 credits per semester for freshmen. It is required to be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester to achieve full time student status, and I personally think 16 credits is a great number for freshmen to shoot for. Understanding your checksheet is important for making a 4-year plan of which classes you’ll take, as well as when and how you’ll distribute your credits. For example, a student might choose to take on a larger amount of credit hours sophomore and junior year so they can take as few classes as possible senior year, leaving time to work or research. A student might also want to rearrange their schedule slightly to create room for a minor (yes, you can absolutely handle it!). Regardless of your goals as a student, understanding what classes you’ll need to take to graduate early on can help relieve stress and ease the decision-making process down the line.
However, during the first month of the fall semester, I’m sure a 4-year plan is not keeping most students up at night; it’s more likely that their chem lab report is. There are 6 key courses that engineering students must complete freshman year: Calculus I, Calculus II, General Chemistry with Lab, Physics I with Lab, First-Year Writing, and Foundations of Engineering. The latter two are year-long courses that will be split into two sections, one in the fall and one in the spring. These 6 are required for nearly every engineering discipline, though some majors (computer science and electrical engineering, for example) have additional requirements. Don’t panic if you’re unsure which type of engineering you want to pursue. These 6 courses are a safe starting point, and you will have many opportunities to explore the different engineering disciplines. One such opportunity is your Foundations of Engineering course, where you will learn introductory programming skills in MATLAB and CAD skills in SolidWorks. This class also teaches students crucial skills needed in every single engineering field: problem scoping, iterative problem solving, and teamwork. The two science classes, General Chemistry and Physics I, are 4-credit classes that include a lecture and a lab. The labs take place once a week for 2 hours and require pre-lab and post-lab questions to be answered. You’ll be assigned lab groups, which provides a great opportunity to meet new study buddies or even make new friends, as most of the students in those classes will also be freshmen in engineering. First-Year Writing is a smaller class environment than the science lectures, and it focuses on building critical analysis of written pieces. The first section of the class will be mostly reading, analysis, and small projects while the second section focuses on a semester-long research project and paper. Communicating ideas is a key part of being an engineer, and these writing courses are important for developing those skills. Last but certainly not least, all engineering students need to complete Calculus I and II (or the equivalent credits) during their first year. Without sugarcoating it, these classes can be tough. Expect lots of practice problems for homework and about 4 exams per semester. The good thing is, since all engineers have to take these classes, it will be easy to find study groups and make friends so you can all help each other out. At the end of the day, the truth with any class is if you put in the work and seek help if you need it, you’ll do just fine in the end.
There will be a lot to adjust to during your first year of college, and the most important thing is to try and learn from everything that happens. Failing a test can teach you which study methods don’t work for you so you can make changes next time. Realizing you can’t function with 5 classes in one day will help you create a better schedule for yourself next semester. Forgetting to submit a homework assignment will force you to become more organized (and maybe get a planner). Engineering is a difficult major, there’s no doubt about that. So don’t give up on yourself when things get a little tough. Freshman year flies by faster than you can imagine, so make sure to try and enjoy every minute of it, even an all-nighter with your friends in Newman library!