Engineering remains one of the most popular programmes for students studying abroad in the UK. Besides being a dynamic and ever-developing field, engineering graduates often have a wealth of career options in R&D, finance, and technology. The degree itself gives those graduates highly transferable problem solving and quantitative skills, leading to high job stability as well – engineers in the UK reported a nearly 10% pay increase from 2020-20211 “The Engineer | News and Analysis from the World of Engineering.” The Engineer, 8 Apr. 2021, www.theengineer.co.uk. Accessed 9 Apr. 2021., despite COVID-19 causing pay freezes or even pay cuts in other industries.
What this means is that an Engineering degree is highly sought after among Hong Kong students planning to study abroad in the UK. But as admissions consultants in Hong Kong, we often see students struggling to choose between the many diverse options in Engineering degrees, as most high school students have limited opportunities to be exposed to the different facets of engineering. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common questions students have when deciding on whether or not they should pursue an engineering degree in the UK.
Science vs Engineering
But before we even look into Engineering, the first misconception that students often face is that Science students should naturally study Engineering – without understanding the distinctions between these two different but related fields. This misunderstanding, that Science equals Engineering, stems from two gaps in STEM education in Hong Kong: the lack of discussion regarding career paths for science, both academic and professional, and the lack of exposure to engineering as a discipline within schools. For a student strong in the sciences, deciding whether to pursue engineering or continue in the pure sciences can be a difficult choice without understanding both sides of this equation.
What is Engineering, and how does it differ from a Science degree?
Academically, degrees in the pure sciences have an emphasis on the theoretical and exploratory nature of academic research. On the other hand, engineering degrees focus on the practical applications that those scientists have discovered. These two fields work hand-in-hand, and while there will be overlap in the content taught within these courses, the end goal is different with scientists aiming to make discoveries, and engineers making those discoveries a practical reality.
Due to the exploratory nature of science as a discipline, most university science courses are more flexible with more optional modules. This allows students to spend their first year touching upon broader fields before picking their specific specialty, for example in the Natural Sciences programme at Cambridge. Engineering as a whole is far more rigid – the first and second years are typically spent learning all the mathematics and physics concepts necessary to create practical solutions. This also means that Mathematics is often a core requirement of all engineering disciplines.
After a degree, many Engineers opt to continue on to an M.Eng. degree in order to become accredited with full Chartered Engineer status in the UK. Reflecting the practical nature of the degree, nearly two-thirds of Chartered Engineers work as professional engineers or tech professionals after their degrees; business, finance and management is the next most popular career, comprising about 10% of graduate destinations2 “HECSU.” HECSU Aims, hecsu.ac.uk. Accessed 9 Apr. 2021., while only about 1% continue in academia. Science graduates, on the other hand, have more diverse career destinations, with about equal numbers entering into research & development (20%), business, finance, and management (24%). About 8% of science degree graduates continue in academia, a significantly higher percentage than engineers.
Choosing between these two similar but different options can be a difficult decision! But if you are still unsure, think about what your natural inclinations are when faced with a new situation. If you enjoy understanding the “hows” and “whys” of our world, and exploring new, unknown knowledge, science may be the right path for you. On the other hand, if you look at a new discovery or problem and your mind immediately jumps to looking for a solution, optimizing a process, or developing practical applications, then Engineering may be the better choice.
Engineering degree options
In the UK, Engineering is unique in having by far the widest breadth of degree options, when compared against other fields and even Engineering in other countries such as the US. Many students neglect to consider these options, which is an unfortunate wasted opportunity. As an admissions consultant, I urge students to understand what some of these options are, and how they can benefit you and your future career.
- B.Eng. vs M.Eng.
- Most UK universities have options for both the 3-year Bachelor of Engineering degree and the 4-year Master of Engineering degree. Because professional accreditation as a Chartered Engineer requires an M.Eng., the 4-year M.Eng. degree can be an excellent option. In the UK, most universities allow students to apply for the 4-year M.Eng both during their initial application and also during Year 3 of the B.Eng degree – which option makes sense for you depends on both your entry requirements and competitiveness.
- Engineering with a Year Abroad
- A common option among all UK degrees, this allows students to make use of the close connections within Europe and spend a year abroad at a different university. For engineering, this is especially beneficial as it can be an opportunity to gain a bit more breadth and flexibility in a normally very rigid degree. While the year abroad does require an extra year of study, the broader depth of knowledge, especially during the formative university years, can be well worth the investment.
- Engineering with Industrial Experience
- The so-called “sandwich” degree, many engineering programmes have extensive connections with the industry, giving their students an opportunity to work full-time (with a salary) at engineering firms as part of their degree. The sandwich year typically takes place after the second year and lets students experience up to 12 months of full-time employment. Considering how many employers expect to hire engineers with practical experience, the Industry Experience option can greatly increase your competitiveness in the job market – some employers even only give offers to their sandwich year interns too.
- Engineering with Management
- An option that is becoming more common at the top-ranking UK universities such as Imperial, Engineering with Management gives a broader skill set that can be beneficial to students aiming to lead changes in the industry. With the strong connections between business and engineering, this is a highly competitive degree option for those looking to excel in their field.
- Engineering with Integrated Foundation Year
- Some UK universities with good engineering programmes such as Manchester also have the option to do an Integrated Foundation Year for those students who may not have the ideal educational background to pursue an Engineering degree immediately, whether that is shaky predicted grades or inappropriate subject choices. However, it is also important to note that Engineering is a competitive programme by nature, and an Integrated Foundation Year does not mean that it will be a cakewalk – be prepared to work just as hard if not harder to remain in good standing to transition into the full degree.
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By Conrad Yu, Director of Development