Entry-level engineering classes don’t have to weed you out

I might not know you, and you’ve more than likely never heard of me, but if you’re wondering whether you can get past the engineering weed outs, I’m going to ensure you that you can.

It’s worth stating that I’m completing my sophomore year as a chemical engineering major at Penn State– in hindsight, I still have about three years until I complete my undergraduate degree.  Granted, I’ve found that the first 1.5 years of engineering school houses the greatest volume of engineering major switches– at least at Penn State’s University Park campus.  Your Calcs, Gen Chems, O Chems, Engineering Mechanics and Physics, and entry-level major courses are weed-outs.  The grade cut-offs could be similar to those of high school, and the 1 hour 15 minute tests will comprise most of your grade (I had a class where tests comprised 90% of my grade).  I remember walking into my Calc 1 class on the first day of my freshman year. “I took Calc my senior year of high school, and I really understood it,” I assured myself, “so I’ll be fine.”

I got a C. Barely.

I wondered how it was possible that I understood Calc 1 less the second time I took it.

I figured Calc 2 would be better. I dropped it after the first test.

How can I continue as an engineering student if I have so much trouble with introductory Calc?

It wasn’t until I took Calc 2, Mechanics, and Electricity and Magnetism over the summer that I realized the difficulty of program I’d thrown myself into.  They’re not joking when they call it a ‘sink or swim’ program.  After the summer of 2015, I returned to University Park, simultaneously terrified and ready to tackle my next math class– Differential Equations.

“Just so you know, this is a weed out for engineers,” my professor stated early in the course.  Great.

I didn’t want a repeat of Calc 1, and certainly not of Calc 2.  I studied Diff Eq every day for hours at a time throughout the semester. I’d prepare for tests at least 2 weeks in advance, and I’d attend office hours every week without fail.  Ultimately, I finished the class with an A, top 5 in the 55 person class.

I figured that I couldn’t complete a math class here. That I couldn’t handle the concepts, and that my peers were all more intellectually gifted than me.  That math was what would weed me out of my major.  Don’t think like that.

You can handle the math, or any entry-level course, for that matter– you were accepted into the program for a reason.  If your grade is slipping, put in an extra hour of studying per night towards it.  Always attend office hours at least once a month– no one goes, especially when there’s no test approaching, so it’ll allow you to build a repertoire with the professor of the course.  However, if you don’t think you can recover a less-than-great test grade, drop it and retake the class over the summer– you’ll almost certainly receive a higher grade than you would during weed out season, and it’ll boost your confidence in your abilities.

I had trouble with Calc 1 and 2, but math is now one of my minors. Don’t let anyone convince you that if you don’t ace your intro courses, then you’re not capable of more complex classes.  Advisors told me that if I had trouble in Calc, then I didn’t have the necessary abilities, and I should drop out of the program.  If an engineering degree is what you’re after, never listen to these people– they don’t know what you’re capable of.



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