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Non-stress culture engineering programs?

dla26dla26 162 replies22 threads Junior Member
edited July 8 in Engineering Majors
My 10th grade daughter is interested in bioengineering. One concern I have is that everything I've seen and read says that engineering programs tend to be very stressful pressure cookers. Are there any good programs that aren't like that? To be clear, she wants to learn and be challenged. I just don't want her to be in an environment where it's 4 straight years of stress. FWIW, some schools she's considering right now are Rice, Duke, JHU, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Washington (we're local). MIT sounds like it'd be a dream school on paper, but I've just heard too many horror stories where graduates describe it as 4 years of boot camp that toughens you up but you're miserable while going through it.

Geographically, I think she'd be open to pretty much anything. She's personally not interested in Greek life, but would be ok with it as long as it's not too culturally domineering. Cost/affordability isn't really an issue. Last but not least, she also loves painting and dance, so ideally a school where she'd have a creative outlet would be fantastic.

Any thoughts/suggestions?
edited July 8
36 replies
Post edited by CCEdit_Suraj on
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Replies to: Non-stress culture engineering programs?

  • diegodavisdiegodavis 113 replies20 threads Junior Member
    I would recommend looking into 'women in stem' associations within each target university. They can help reduce a student's stress through special mentoring events, coaching, tutoring, and class selection guidance.
    I studied electrical engineering twenty years ago at one of the universities you mentioned. [Please don't take my next comment as sexist, it was just a fact of the situation when 80% of the student body is male.]
    The women in engineering always had a line of men hoping for the opportunity to do homework together with them, or offer help understanding a subject. For the men in engineering it was much more cut throat.
    In my case, I lowered my stress by taking one class in the summer after freshman year and again after sophomore year. Upper class courses were not as stressful and the those instructors would get in trouble if the students weren't passing.
    So just make sure she knows it is a marathon, rather than a sprint, and to run in a pack.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 24854 replies20 threads Senior Member
    My daughter was in engineering and it was as stressful as she'd let it be. She played a varsity sport so had a lot of ways to release her stress. I think her first semester was the worst as she was petrified she was admitted to the school by mistake. Once she took her first exams (and got As) life was a lot more pleasant Once she had her first job and could complete the tasks, she relaxed more. Once she worked for a professor and liked it, she relaxed more.

    That said, the schools you have listed are highly competitive, and I think some students feel more stress. I knew a group of students at JHU and they were all very stressed about getting into medical school. All of them.

    If your daughter is really looking for less stress, there are schools that are more relaxed but still provide a very good education.
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  • lvvcsflvvcsf 2422 replies58 threads Senior Member
    Our D was a Chem E major. One thing that helped her was her coop. She did a 5 term coop and was working every other semester (summers included) during college. It took 5 years to complete her degree but she enjoyed her coop semesters and the intensity of the academic work was shorter. I think it kept her less stressed and more focused and motivated seeing and doing what she was studying to do.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10213 replies119 threads Senior Member
    Another chem e mom of a co-op student at Purdue.

    My D works her tail off for her grades but she says she’s not stressed. She is part of SWE, goes to all tutoring and office hours sessions, and has a great study group. IMO not going it alone is super important in reducing stress.

    She also is in a fun non academic club and plays her instrument to de-stress.

    I do think it’s different pressure for pre meds than straight engineering, and engineering is a tough track to take to med school.
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  • promom4promom4 107 replies2 threads Junior Member
    +1 for WPI! D doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body & it’s been a great fit. It is challenging but not overwhelming. Super positive collaborative climate among students & professors. Lots of extra curricular arts & all are invited to participate at their own pace. Also requires lots of humanities courses.
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  • Darcy123Darcy123 450 replies7 threads Member
    My D20 was also interested in biomedical engineering and is a dancer, so have a bit of insight on some of those schools from the dance angle:
    Rice - well known for being very collaborative - however the dance options there were very limited,
    Duke - this was my daughter's #1 choice as they have an extensive dance program and she really thought the vibe at the school was more fun than several of her other choices - she ED'd there and will start in the fall
    JHU - this was my daughter's top pick through most of high school. She ended up being concerned that the dance was through Peabody and disconnected from the main campus. The high percentage of premeds also makes it a pretty intense environment
    Carnegie Mellon - just did not love the school when we visited. Dance wasn't available to non-musical theater majors and in general there seemed to be too much division of people for her comfort.
    University of Washington - this came off the list purely as the bioengineering was impacted and you wouldn't find out if you could have that specific major until sophomore year.

    Other schools that she considered/applied were Washington U St. Louis (this was probably going to be her Ed2) she really liked the friendly students and dance program; Case Western - the dance is contemporary focused; University of South Carolina, University of Rochester.
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  • colorado_momcolorado_mom 9443 replies83 threads Senior Member
    Engineering is hard - lots of required course sequences etc. But as you're seeing, there are lots of schools that are more collaborative than competitive. Of course it's still a major where dedication is required - most courses will have extensive problem set homework.

    Per biomedical interest, take advantage of the info in many other threads on that topic in this Forum. It seems to appeal to a lot of students, but employment opportunities may be limited (especially if she is not interested in grad school) . She could work in the biomed industry with other more general/flexible engineering degrees.
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  • RichInPittRichInPitt 2281 replies36 threads Senior Member
    Challenging work, stress, and a competitive environment are different things.

    There likely aren’t many engineering programs that are not challenging. Certainly not the ones you listed.

    Stress is dependent on how you react to the challenges. My D also attends all of the additional sessions, has weekly Sunday dinners with a group of friends, is an officer with an on-campus performance group and has both directed and performed in plays. Knowing how to get some non-school time and how to buckle down in the challenging times is key.

    Competitive is hard to determine. My D collaborates with many students at Purdue. When I went through CMU Engineering it was the same (but that was back in Paleolithic times....) Every info sessions at every schools says “our students are collaborative, not competitive”, so your best info would come from asking students at each school. And not just the tour guides.

    One of my D’s good friends from HS is loving MechE at MIT. The entire first year pass/no record program is aimed at easing the pressure/competition, along with other programs. Yes, the program is difficult, no doubt. But I don’t get the impression that stress/competitiveness is any worse than other campuses for students at an equivalent level of readiness.
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  • dla26dla26 162 replies22 threads Junior Member
    Thanks, everyone, for the feedback! I just logged in and read through everything. There's a lot to digest so I apologize for not responding to each reply. A couple thoughts on recurring/key points:

    1. "Challenging work, stress, and a competitive environment are different things." - I totally agree. My daughter is fine with working hard. (In fact, we keep pushing her to take breaks. She puts too much pressure on herself.) The thing I'm more concerned with is schools that deliberately give the kids more work than they could possibly handle. For example, I've heard that Harvey Mudd students have to choose among finishing all of their work, getting 6+ hours of sleep, and doing any kind of extracurricular activities. No way to do all 3. I read that students feel guilty for spending an hour with friends since that's an hour less they'll be able to sleep. I don't think my daughter would enjoy that kind of life.

    2. How to manage stress - @Diegodavis mentioned the idea of taking 1 class over the summer each semester. I really like that idea for her, though I'm not sure what her plans would be for internships, etc. Still, it could be a good way to make it so she could have a more manageable workload over the school year. Also great feedback about support programs within the school.

    3. WPI - That wasn't on her radar at all, so we'll look into that for sure. Sounds like it could be a great fit.

    4. MIT - I didn't realize that the first year is pass/no record. I always assumed it was a throw-more-work-at-students-until-they-break kind of place. Good to know.

    5. Types of engineering - Right now she's interested in bio-engineering, but the specific part she's interested in (advanced prosthetics) has a lot of overlap with mechanical engineering. That might be good for her to focus on as an undergrad, and if she's still interested in the bio- part of it, she can pursue that in graduate school. I don't want her to get too far ahead of herself at this point though! Still, one reason that Duke, JHU, and Rice are so high on her list is that they have great bioengineering programs.

    Thank you!
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  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering 7508 replies134 threads Forum Champion
    I'll put this as delicately as I know how: there is no such thing as a low stress or high stress engineering program. They are all going to induce stress. The key is how a given student handles it.
    dla26 wrote:
    The thing I'm more concerned with is schools that deliberately give the kids more work than they could possibly handle.

    I am not aware of any programs in which this is the case.
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  • HPuck35HPuck35 2141 replies17 threads Senior Member
    I agree with boneh3ad that there is no such thing as a stress free engineering program. But all the stress is primarily self generated and therefore can be self controlled.

    Engineering requires a tremendous amount of knowledge to accumulate. There will be a vast difference in academic abilities in high school; much less of a spread in college. Profs will move along much quicker than in high school. You can't fall behind and if you do, the amount of work to catch up will be staggering for some. Also, your study skills will be tested. I breezed thru high school because I didn't really have to study. I got blown away and struggled in engineering school until I mastered those study skills.

    You are also, typcially, used to being one of the better students in high school and you are now just average in college. Quite a blow to one's ego and it can induce stress in some people.

    Just about all the engineering schools I am familiar with would be considered collaberative. The working world is collaborative for the most part and colleges want to get you used to that environment.

    The best thing is to go into the college experience with your eyes open. Learn to work with others and take some time to enjoy life while you're there.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10213 replies119 threads Senior Member
    @HPuck35 - you would think that all engineering programs would be collaborative but I think there is a difference between being forced into project teams and actually having a collaborative spirit.

    At one school we visited, the students rolled their eyes when the admin was talking about their collaborative environment. On our tour, we asked the one student and she said there was so much competition amongst students for everything from research to competition teams that it was not at all collaborative. Sure they had to work on teams but it was everyone for themselves. Not a positive visit for my D and that school came right off the list.
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  • OhiBroOhiBro 610 replies9 threads Member
    10th grade and she is thinking about Rice, Duke, JHU, Carnegie Mellon?

    Engineering is a pretty level playing field. Take MIT and Purdue, for instance. One is 10 times easier to get accepted than the other. But is there really a difference in education quality? I say absolutely not.

    You have a great local option. I wouldn’t stress too much about it. Especially this early.
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  • AlmostThere2018AlmostThere2018 1905 replies62 threads Senior Member
    Wake Forest has a relatively new engineering degree and seems to be attracting a lot of women. Seems to be very collaborative, and I'm pretty sure they want success for all students since it's new. And it's small so lots of attention.

    It's not going to have the full array of facilities and research opps that bigger and more established schools offer. My S was not interested so I stopped investigating, but I think it's worth your time to research.
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5785 replies124 threads Senior Member
    As others have said, engineering is hard. There's no way around it. That doesn't mean it has to be cutthroat though. That largely boils down to grading styles.

    The program my son attended (Cal Poly ME) is well known for tough grading. Like HMC, they graduate a 4.0 in the whole college of engineering roughly once a decade. They don't grade on a normal distribution curve though. The grade one student pulls has no relationship to how well others do. They might have classes where no one gets an A and others where quite a few do. Since there's no normal distribution of grades (i.e. the same number of As and Fs centered around C) there's no reason not to be collaborative. That lowers the stress even though it's hard. I believe Purdue is that way too.

    As for classes where students cannot complete the work because of the volume, I can attest they exist. One of my son's upper division classes (I think it was Thermo II) had a weekly 100 page homework assignment where only one problem was chosen to be graded. In the lab, they could actually get negative points. Yes, walk out with fewer semester points than they walked in with. He died a little that term, but he hails that professor as the best he's ever encountered and the one who taught him the most about how to think like an engineer. It was done with the intent that they learn to make conscious decisions on how to marshal resources.

    Caltech has this reputation for the whole UG program.

    One of my son's friends went to HMC and loved it. He said it was hard, but that they had a group survival mentality that bonded them.

    Good luck!.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 83491 replies741 threads Senior Member
    edited January 25
    Extra stress (beyond that inherent to academic rigor) or competition could exist at colleges where students enter undeclared or engineering undeclared but need to attain high college GPA (significantly higher than 2.0) or enter a competitive admission process to declare the major.

    Unfortunately, bioengineering is often one of the more popular majors, so at such colleges, it may be the most competitive or require the highest GPA to declare.

    Look for colleges where declaring or changing major is non competitive and does not require more than C / 2.0 grades / GPA, or which give direct admission to major (however, the latter may be difficult to change to another popular major, and popular majors will be more selective than the college overall).
    edited January 25
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  • colorado_momcolorado_mom 9443 replies83 threads Senior Member
    We toured a lot of schools, and Harvey Mudd did seem unusually intense. However the students there are are having fun together when slogging through the challenging workload. (Having said that, I'm still glad DS didn't attend Mudd. The decision at the time was financial, but his years at another challenging school had more opportunity for his musical interests, Music was a good counterbalance for his academic workload.)

    School tour memories - The Mudd students were playing a morning kickball game, offered to let touring families join (we declined). I thought the dorms were the most dismal we'd seen. DS didn't notice - he just loved the geeky vibe.
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  • Houston1021Houston1021 Forum Champion Rice 1291 replies29 threads Forum Champion
    edited January 26
    Try to visit Rice between now and her senior year. it is a small university with a focus on undergraduate education. It has great engineering programs. Rice does not have Greek life, It has the residential college program instead. It also gets high ratings for quality of life. Students must take some classes outside their major area so she will have time to fit in the arts. There is a fine arts major and lots of arts classes open to all students at Rice but not a dance major. Rice has a dance group Rice Dance Theatre that performs several times a year and a Rice dance team that performs for football and basketball games. The groups hold auditions.
    edited January 26
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  • mommdcmommdc 11906 replies31 threads Senior Member
    University of Pittsburgh might be a school to look into, students take first year engineering curriculum and then are exposed to different specialties from which they can choose.

    Having the UPMC healthcare system nearby is a plus.


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