Universities in the UK are very strict with subject choices, and doubly so for quantitative subjects such as Engineering. To even be considered, you need to ensure that you make the right subject choices early on in your academic career, particularly in Math and Physics.
A hard requirement of nearly all Engineering courses would be Mathematics, and the top universities expect applicants to take the hardest mathematics classes available. For A-Level candidates, this would be Mathematics, with Further Mathematics being extremely helpful as well. For IB DP students, HL Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches (AA) is a must for Engineering, as many top Engineering universities such as Cambridge do not accept the Applications and Interpretations (AI) curriculum. Don’t be fooled into thinking that AI is the more “practical” mathematics option – even at universities that allow both options, such as Imperial, the admissions tutors greatly prefer candidates with HL Mathematics AA.
STEM subjects are common for Engineering applicants as well – Physics, in particular, is a hard requirement for the top UK Engineering programs. For IB students, you will need to take the subject at Higher Level, meaning you’ll need to take two of the hardest IB subjects together at Higher Level – Mathematics and Physics! Chemistry is a common additional subject to take as well, but it is important to note that it cannot be used as a replacement to Physics at the most competitive schools.
Academically, you should also prepare for standardized admissions tests, including the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) at Oxford, the Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA), and the Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP) at Cambridge, or even a slew of different tests at Imperial. What you’ll notice is that some universities test Physics, while others test Mathematics – so you will want to consider carefully which university you aim for when deciding to pursue Engineering. Once you’ve made the choice, prepare for the assessment tests early, as your results form a critical component of your admissions decision. While universities outside of the top typically don’t require additional tests, you will still want to highlight your quantitative skills through other means, including high subject scores in class and other external assessments such as Math/Physics Olympiad results.
A question we get often is whether or not an internship is required for an Engineering applicant, and surprisingly, the answer is no! While an internship can be extremely useful, universities understand that it can be difficult for students to get genuine engineering internships due to safety concerns and regulations. However, that means that aspiring engineers need to get creative and find other avenues to showcase their interest in engineering. With that said, if you have an opportunity to do an engineering internship, then do it! But remember that what you get out of the opportunity is more important than the fact that you did it.
In our previous article, we talked about how students generally don’t engage in engineering as a distinct subject at high school, but luckily there are plenty of other opportunities to get involved at a hobby level. Robotics, programming, digital design, and other similar hobbies can showcase your experience with the engineering process. However, don’t forget that engineering is an iterative process – rather than just building a one-off robot, consider the entire design process, from design to prototyping to testing to evaluating any improvements… and repeat! Universities want to see students enjoying the process, not just checking off items from a list.
Unlike other courses, it can be rare for engineering applicants to talk about books and articles they’ve read due to the nature of the field. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t help to be well-read on the subject. What I recommend to aspiring engineers is to identify and read about issues or problems in the world that concern you. Engineering is all about problem-solving, and being aware of current efforts to solve problems around you is what being an engineer is all about. This can all come out in your personal statement, which is one of the main assessment points for your application.
Deferred Entry and industry experience
Finally, one last consideration that we rarely see students consider in Hong Kong is deferred entry for Engineering, i.e. taking a gap year between applying and attending university. Engineering is one of the few subjects where this is not only considered but often even recommended, even at the top universities like Oxford. While not all universities or colleges allow this option, having practical experience in the field can be greatly beneficial, especially once you are of legal working age and can work in an industrial environment safely. Taking a gap year is seen differently from doing an internship for Engineering because students with year-long commitments usually have the time to be properly trained to do actual engineering work, unlike at a short-term internship.
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By Conrad Yu, Director of Development