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The Engineer’s College Primer Part One: How to pay

A lot of students enter the engineering academic world and do not realize what their degree is actually prepping them for, what jobs they can get (or even what jobs they WANT), or basically anything outside of they want the prestige that comes with “being an engineer”.

A huge problem that new engineering students have is that they smile wistfully and go “I’m going to be in RESEARCH! 😀 :D” without knowing what the hell they will be researching or what to specialize in. You need to be aware of what you’re going to school for. Again, just to say “I’m an Engineer” is really not a good reason to half kill yourself. It smacks of caring so much about your image that you’re willing to pay 40,000+ for the label “Engineer”.

That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I have two degrees, one in English Literature and the other in Biomedical Engineering Technologies. I wasn’t aware of the costs, or how to pay them back when I was getting that first degree in English Lit. I don’t regret it, but I am paying for it in that I was far too poor to afford school out of pocket. That’s part of the reason that I want to be as helpful as possible to new students, because there are costs involved in college and you will have to pay them one way or another.

Helpful Tip: Expect about 35-40k a year as introductory income with engineering in the midwestern United States (this is based on hiring info in 2011). This will change due to COST OF LIVING. (up to 60k for parts of the west coast of the United States, for example) Let me repeat. 60k in certain parts of the west coast is equivalent to 35-40k in the midwest. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO HAVE A “better” LIFESTYLE. PLEASE DO NOT PRETEND THAT YOU WILL. However, if you’re not stupid with your money, the amount needed to pay back even 50k or so in student loans will not put you under and make you live in a cardboard box. It’s less than the average car payment in this country.

The point I’m trying to make is that student loans/scholarships are pretty much necessity in the United States these days. The age where someone could work a part-time job and pay for school are gone. Unless you are wealthy, you will need student loans/scholarship funds to finish traditional university.

College costs have gone up about 480% since 1970. While the wages have gone up, cost of living has risen so that people in the United States are actually making LESS than they were in 1970 due to inflation. (Sources 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Just in case your parents want to argue the point) If you’re not comfortable with student loan debt, there are other options for you. They all, however, take a lot of work and dedication. But that’s something you’ll need to get an undergrad in engineering anyway!

Mythbuster 1: Scholarships are available for EVERYONE. And I mean that ~~EVERYONE~~. Fastweb is a great resource. This search engine kicks out scholarships based on the criteria you enter. IT IS A MYTH THAT WHITE MALES CANNOT GET SCHOLARSHIPS. AGAIN I REPEAT IT IS A MYTH THAT WHITE MEN CANNOT GET SCHOLARSHIPS. EVERYONE CAN GET A SCHOLARSHIP. There is no one sitting around handing out scholarship funds, however. You have to fill certain qualifications to earn them. Filling out a profile on sites like Fastweb allow you to pick and choose from scholarships that you meet qualifications to find. Again, you will have to do a lot of work to get these funds and there is no guarantee, however, you can use all the help you can get.

Mythbuster 2: You can use scholarships/loans for ALL OF YOUR EXPENSES. There is nothing anywhere that states you may only use the loans or scholarships for courses. You do not have to come out of pocket for food and housing. What will happen, is that the funds typically are disbursed to your educational institution. Once they pay off your alloted costs, they give the remainder to you in a check. This check should go in the bank and then be used to pay for food, living expenses, your life.

Mythbuster 3: Life does not end at 25,30,35, or any age. If you cannot get enough funds in scholarships and do not want to take loans, then you must downgrade the number of courses that you take. There’s nothing wrong with being a part-time student. Most people do not graduate in four years anyway. You’re going to run into scheduling snafus in college anyway. If you have to push graduation back a semester, a year, or more than that, you’re not a failure in life and it’s OKAY AND ACCEPTABLE to do these things.

The idea that “it’s too expensive” to get a degree is prevalent these days where everyone is worried about money and landing jobs. However, remember that college is an investment and depending on how you want to invest your time and money it could pay off big in the end. Nothing’s for sure or for certain, but don’t feel like something’s beyond your grasp just because you aren’t born with wealth to fall back on. The next segment is going to discuss programs and the pros and cons of picking a type of school (tech, traditional, commuter, community, or other).

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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LadyScience

Science, in and of itself is dear to me. I love math, and I’ve always been a good troubleshooter. But this question really made me stop and think because at about the same age I finally got it beaten into me that “math is for boys” and “talking is for girls”. A lot of times I would have a math teacher ignore me, or flat out tell me no, when I felt very right. I remember, to this day over 15 years later, my last high school math class. I had excellent scores, and in a lecture I found an alternate way of doing a problem. When I asked the teacher about it, he told me that it wouldn’t work. I asked him to prove it to me, and he told me that I needed to be quiet.

That day I could have registered for an advanced math course. I didn’t.

I stopped caring about science because I wasn’t valued by it. This wasn’t simply one time, this was constant. From a misogynistic father to people assuming something would be too hard for me, I was done with it. I never got funny looks for reading a book. I never was told that I was wrong for thinking about writing. But if I thought about mathematics? The thing is that I don’t feel that these adults in my life meant to crush something I actually have an aptitude for. I think that their own attitudes prevailed. Their own stresses caused them to rebuff the annoying student (I was mouthy, loud, brash, your basic normal teenager). Their own hardships or pressures caused them to subtly shape me into someone who left science altogether for many years.

My family is not highly educated. This isn’t to say that my mother didn’t value educating me. She simply didn’t have time or the ability herself. You can’t lead the way when the path isn’t known to you.

Like this little girl, I know I had figures that supported my love of math, but they were by far overshadowed by “you’re not good enough” or by indifference. There are thousands of articles out there discussing this topic, why women stray from the sciences. A quick google search can turn up a multitude of studies on the topic. But it goes to show that research and action are two different things. There are still people out there who want Engineering/Science to be something so lofty that lowly minorities and women cannot reach it. They have this burning urge to be super special snowflakes. If everyone can get an Engineering degree then what good are they? Then they will have to compete.

A strange conversation during my second undergraduate degree started by me complaining that fewer people were enrolling as engineering students. A young man laughed and said “less competition”. Without thinking I blinked and said that he must not be a very good engineer to think like that.  He was, understandably, insulted by the statement. I explained that I had faith in myself and my abilities, why didn’t he? But there’s the rub. As a woman you’re told in this field that if you try hard enough that something good will happen. For many of us “enough” never comes. Even after we’ve surpassed our male counterparts. This is changing. It’s slowly turning into a more even playing field.

But until then, we can’t really ignore it.

 

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