What happens to engineering drop outs?

Curious about PLAN Bs…

I have a junior who will apply EA to as many schools as possible. He will take Calc BC and Physics C next year, so he is not yet certain how he will do in these classes or what exactly he wants to study.

If he chose engineering, I’m wondering what would happen if he hates it or fails? Are there parallel careers for math/Sci talented kids who don’t thrive in engineering?

How would the backup options compare at a large university, LAC, or tech school?

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I think this is a tough question but you are smart to be considering this now.

My D has one friend in her large group of engineers that changed major. She has totally shifted focus and is planning on going to law school.

My D goes to Purdue and they have a polytechnic program that is less math/physics/theory heavy but would still put kids in similar industries, albeit on different career paths. There were a number of parents posting in our parent group that their kids made the shift to polytech in the middle of their first semester.

At least at my D’s school, it’s very difficult to switch into engineering (or CS or nursing) but very very easy to switch out. Most LACs don’t have the breath of engineering majors that a university offers so if your son is thinking about engineering, he’ll limit his options by going to an LAC. Same in reverse with a purely tech school.

My vote would be for engineering at a university, and with a first year engineering course that exposes students to different engineering fields. (Purdue would be a good choice ; )).

If you know of any engineers in your circle of friends, see if they’ll talk to your son more about what they do day in/day out and if Covid policies permit, see if they’d be willing to let your son shadow for a a few days this summer. My D found that very helpful.


Oh @momofboiler1 I was hoping you would reply! My gut feeling was that large universities would offer more back up plans. Purdue has such a strong reputation in engineering, so I wasn’t sure if there are other interesting, parallel paths there. I mean, I highly doubt he would veer too far off course… he won’t jump rails into philosophy or Russian or something :wink:

I was looking at Purdue Polytechnic yesterday because I saw they offer credit for PLTW. (Not sure why Purdue Eng doesn’t offer credit?) Anyhow, I was trying to figure out how it was different from the other engineering programs. It looks like they have robotics, which I could see my son becoming more interested in doing.

If engineering is crossed off the list by decision time next year, I suppose LACs would also offer a breadth of possibilities.

Shadowing an engineer is a great idea. I can’t think of anyone off hand, but I’ve been trying to learn more about the various engineering fields. In listening to the students from CWRU, they are SO specialized… one wants to work with battery fluids, another is going to build prosthetics. Just knowing that my son likes to build and is as good at math and science does not warrant such a HUGE decision!


The great thing about CWRU is that you are not bound to the major you apply to. When you get into Case, you are free to pursue whatever you want to (the exception being the nursing school).

Hearing individual students current projects might deter you, but chances are they are working on these projects through research opportunities which are abundant at Case. Everyone has a starting place, when they are unsure about what they want to pursue, but going to an institution with abundant opportunities will steer your son in the right direction (whatever that may be).

Another great thing about CWRU is that it has the largest open-access makerspace in the country (yes, even bigger than MIT’s). Whatever it is your son wants to build or tinker with he will definitely be able to at Case.

(yes, I might have some bias)


Are there any engineering summer programs in your area hosted by local universities? My D did two programs while in HS and they were really helpful to get a taste of what engineering would look like in college. (She was also lucky to have pre-engineering courses in HS that spent the year exploring different engineering disciplines in a project based class).

Polytechnic degrees are technical degrees, not engineering degrees. Lots of industry overlap but actual jobs will be different along with the career paths. Purdue has lots of good data on their first destination survey. You can see industry info and salary data by college and major. Purdue CCO

I agree that Case would be a great school to have on your list. Strong in engineering and many other majors as well. Lehigh would be another to consider. Any of the big flagships should offer the same flexibility as well.


@g00dv1b35 Yes! Love the appeal of single door entry and ease of switching majors at Case. I’ve heard they do want kids to specialize early? Have you found this to be true?

On another note, have you found Case to be supportive? Is tutoring and advising easily accessible?


@momofboiler1 He has applied to a couple engineering summer programs so really hoping one works out!

Thanks for the COO link…will check it out. This could make a good plan B!

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Students have to declare their major at the end of sophomore year. It is also really easy to switch majors, what you want to keep a lookout for is taking the proper pre req classes. I would recommend taking the intro engineering classes, because most of those credits can transfer over if your son wants to major in something in the college of arts and sciences.

I think professors at Case are generally open to talk, office hours is a must if you want professors to know your name (especially in the big intro freshman classes). I am not sure about the tutoring side of things.


@g00dv1b35 This is great to know. Perhaps he starts with the most general courses (no matter where he goes) and considers which courses could transfer into other depts. Hopefully there’s advising early freshman year or even before school starts?!

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As a practical matter, for majors with high volumes of requirements or long prerequisite sequences, a student must start taking the courses for the major early in order to graduate on time, assuming choosing or staying in that major. Engineering majors typically have such characteristics – a student who decides in semester 4 to change to an engineering major, but has not taken any prerequisite math or science, will likely be in school beyond semester 8.

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@ucbalumnus That makes sense. I wonder if the same would hold true going the opposite direction. If an engineering student who has taken some intro level Calc, physics classes wants out of engineering into, say, Biology… could it be a little easier?

I’m exploring all the escape hatches :slight_smile:

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Failing out of engineering is unlikely for a strong student (from your other threads, it looks like he is a strong student, particularly in math and science).

However, not all students find engineering to be of interest, due to lack of experience or knowledge in the subject while in high school (although PLTW courses in high school can help determine interest if they are available). Engineering is about solving design problems using math and science principles. Compare that to math and science, which is studying the natural universe and how it works. Computer science and engineering, in terms of actual work, is more like engineering for most, although theoretical research can be more like math and science.

Strong-in-math-and-science students who find engineering design to be of less interest may switch to math or science. Not-so-strong students may be more likely to switch to business or social science majors after struggling in prerequisite math or science.

Engineering technology majors (such as some of the Purdue Polytechnic majors; they are also offered at RIT) are less common, and more suitable for those are not as strong in math and science but are still interested in engineering processes. RIT has a page comparing engineering and engineering technology: Engineering Technology or Engineering | RIT


Switching from engineering to math, statistics, or physics up to semester 3 is typically easy, since engineering majors commonly take the same math and physics courses as physics majors (however, some colleges do have different sequences, where the physics major physics courses are likely harder and more theoretical).

Switching from engineering to chemistry depends on when the engineering major stops taking chemistry courses – engineering majors (other than chemical engineering or biomedical engineering) may be required to take 0, 1, or 2 semesters of general chemistry, while chemistry majors continue taking chemistry (e.g. organic chemistry) beyond that. There may also be different chemistry sequences for chemistry majors and other majors who need to take chemistry.

Switching from engineering to biology has the same issue of organic chemistry as for switching to chemistry. Obviously, biology also needs to be taken.

When there are multiple sequences of introductory courses in math, physics, chemistry, etc. for different majors available, a student considering the different majors is likely to find that the one for students majoring in the subject is better accepted by other majors than the reverse.

Note that job and career prospects in the sciences for BA/BS degree holders are not good; math, statistics, and physics majors often go into finance or computing, making use of their quantitative skills. Biology and chemistry majors often show poorly in post-graduation career surveys.

@ucbalumnus He has been strong in math and science, but I worry about jumping to the next level. Any one of the options you mentioned could be a suitable Plan B depending on the reason for leaving engineering. A school like Purdue may be big enough to accommodate these alternatives. I’m not sure how he would fare leaving engineering at RPI/WPI/Rose and of course Olin. Trying to avoid a transfer situation- at all costs.

Former eng majors can become very good Econ majors.
At some universities, former engineering majors may have GPAs too low for admission to business majors. But at CWRU anyone can major in business.


I know one engineering student who recently switched to a physics major. I considered engineering as a freshman in university (years ago) and switched to math as a major (having also considered physics). I think that some engineering majors may switch to computer science. I also know a few people who graduated with degrees in engineering, and then went to law school.

However, in this I am talking about people who did well in engineering classes (mostly A’s) but decided that they did not want to do engineering as a career. I do not have any experience with people who failed engineering classes. My recollection is that engineering classes were a lot of work, but getting good grades to me did not seem any more difficult than any other classes for someone who is good at math and spatial reasoning.


So all the ones I know that dropped engineering went into Economics. Lessor Math and all doing well but… You never go into a field thinking failure. Plus most students don’t even know what engineering really is till Junior year… Lol. True…


Just 2 programs my son did. They live in dorms and do lots of fun stuff that introduces them to engineering.


I’ve been wondering this for my son as well, so this thread is helpful to read. He thinks that he wants to major in biomedical engineering, but so far he seems drawn to schools that admit freshmen into “First Year Engineering” where they take some of their general classes and learn more about different engineering paths (Purdue and Virginia Tech for example). Getting into your first choice major after freshman year isn’t a guarantee though (especially for biomedical) but seems like a good choice for kids like mine who are unsure.



My kid wanted to be an engineering major but didn’t apply directly to that…did undeclared. BUT she took all the same courses a first year engineering student would take. She declared her major at the beginning of her sophomore year and was switched to the college of engineering.

But wait…by the middle of junior year, she realized engineering was very interesting to study, but she never wanted to work in the field…ever. She added a double major in biology. The only rub was that biology was college of arts and sciences and she had to satisfy those core courses requirements (she had done most, but arts and sciences required foreign language and engineering did not). She was able to complete her degree…double major in bioengineering and biology.

She went to medical school.


@thumper1 Thanks for this story! The path from point A to point Z is never exactly linear. Some kids change their mind, discover other interests, or experience failure in college. Others discover aptitudes and interests post-college and end up switching careers. You just never know!

If your daughter knew medical school was the destination, she might have looked at the college search differently. It sounds like it all worked out and there were alternate paths available!

Just curious… what kind of school did she go to?

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