Study Engineering and Design

What kind of job combines the creative satisfaction of a designer with the computing power of the space programme and a potential salary of £50K per year?

Study Engineering and Design
Design is what most engineers are trained to do, and are engaged in for much of their working life. Most will be working with computer systems and software totalling close to a quarter of a million pounds. As a profession, it is not only highly rewarding in a creative sense, but carries an extremely good salary package, with graduates starting on £16-22,000 pounds, with current adverts for experienced personnel in the region of £40-50,000.

So how do you move into this interesting and lucrative career? This needs a little explanation, as there are several degree qualifications offered by universities, including BSc, BEng and MEng. All of these may have a full-time route, or contain an extra year spent in employment where you can gain experience in your chosen discipline (known as a sandwich route). BSc and BEng courses are usually three years full-time, four years sandwich, while the MEng is four years full-time, five years sandwich. In the current climate, all of these courses will suffice to obtain employment in this sector.

What can you expect from a typical course? Most departments believe that engineering is predominantly a creative subject (hence my comments about design). Students are challenged at every level with practical projects, beginning in the first year with a slightly less aggressive version of 'robot wars', moving through group projects based on industrially-generated problems in year two, and culminating in individual or group projects in the final year. Most courses will provide an element of choice or specialisation in a particular aspect of the discipline, usually in the second or final year.

Students are challenged by not only having to absorb and apply engineering principles, but also to develop an understanding of management and interpersonal skills, including written and verbal presentations. Interaction with students of other disciplines, such as Multimedia Production and Multimedia Technology, are encouraged.

Departments have always prided themselves on graduate employment rates, with most believing that the industrial placement year is an important developmental element in the maturity and effectiveness of graduates. Students are therefore encouraged to take up this option, supported by the university arranging placements with a wide variety of national and international companies.

This has several benefits to the students; for example, over half of those placed in industry return with substantial financial support for their final year, and most returning with a firm offer of employment upon graduation. In addition, it has been noticeable that those taking up industrial placement tend to be in the upper classifications when graduating.

Most students will have accrued some financial debt during their studies. Industrial placements are typically on full salary, allowing students to earn in the region of £12-14,000, which goes some way to alleviating the situation.

How can you be assured of the quality of the courses? Well, it's rather like buying an egg! Some eggs carry a quality 'lion' mark, which guarantees that they have been checked and are fresh; others do not have the mark, but may be just as good.

The Professional Engineering Institutions, which represent the engineering sector, regularly check university engineering departments for quality and appropriateness of their degree courses, a process called 'accreditation'. This guarantees that the degrees will count towards the educational element of the professional qualification of Chartered Engineering (CEng). Although not essential to employment, this chartered status may be important to certain sectors of the industry - mainly defence contractors and construction - but is also recognised in Europe as the primary professional qualification. The BSc and BEng route require an additional professional development programme equivalent to one academic year, which is normally carried out within employment, plus suitable industrial responsibility. The MEng programme only requires the industrial responsibility to qualify for Chartered Status.

Remember that you will be spending three years or so at your chosen university, so take any opportunity to visit prospective departments and choose somewhere that you feel comfortable. Talk to current students, look around the campus, check the facilities, speak to academic staff, ask questions, take your time, try to get a good idea of what the place is like. Unfortunately, Admissions Tutors usually have contact with applicants after they have made their choice through UCAS, so are unable to invite interested students prior to application. Consider this an invitation! So just phone up and ask if you can visit before you fill in the UCAS form. Be pro-active!

How do you apply? All UK universities are required to recruit undergraduates through the UCAS organization, which restricts your applications to six. Finally, your choices are narrowed down to one 'firm' and one 'insurance' offer. For accredited engineering degrees, the normal entry requirement will be at least CCC at A-level or equivalent, including mathematics (normally two full A-level plus A/S levels are required; EDEXCEL certificates and diplomas, and AGNVQ equivalents will be quoted in prospectuses).

Be realistic in your aspirations, but also be tenacious - if you do not quite achieve the grades asked but really want your first choice, then contact the university. Remember that admissions tutors will be bombarded with clearance applications by phone, and would prefer to make an offer to an applicant considered previously than an unknown one.

Finally, remember that engineering is a highly creative and vital element in business and society. It is about ingenuity, has a major impact on the social order, and is a highly rewarding career.

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