Do you have a talent for disassembling and reassembling things? Are you good at figuring out how things work? Or maybe you have a knack for math, or physical sciences. If so, engineering might be a great way to make your living. Either way, if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already decided to look at a career as a consulting design engineer.
What’s a consulting design engineer? That’s an engineer who’s been contracted to design a new complex system, whether it’s the wiring for an office building, a new fire suppression system for an aging school, or a new set of interdependent factory machines. Usually, a contracting firm or a municipality will hire a consulting design engineer whenever a major engineering project needs to be done.
If you’re looking at a career as a consulting design engineer, you’ll likely need to specialize in an engineering sub-discipline, like mechanical, electrical or communications design engineering. Here’s a quick primer on what you’ll need to do in order to become an engineering consultant.
Learn the basics. If you’re in high school, now might be the time to choose the elective classes that’ll help you learn the scientific basics necessary to learn the skills fundamental to becoming a consulting design engineer. Take advanced math and physics classes, as well as chemistry and biology as well. Also helpful will be art classes — drawing and drafting are essential skills. And don’t downplay shop classes; vocational-technical schools have great resources for budding engineers.
Pick the right college. This is where you make a list. Find all the colleges and universities with great engineering programs. Visit campuses. Make appointments to meet professors. Look at facilities. List your top schools, and your safety schools. The top engineering schools in the US are Cal Tech, UC-Berkeley, MIT and Stanford. Other great schools: Penn State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In Canada try McGill University, The University of Waterloo or the University of Toronto. If you can’t get into a top school, think about whether it’s worth waiting a year to try again, or contacting the admissions office to see how you could do better on a second try. You can take classes at a local community college in the meantime, or try for an internship at a local engineering firm.
Get an Internship. Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you can’t get great work experience. Visit your college internship or career counseling office to find out about local engineering firms that offer internships. These are a great way to get onto a staff as soon as you graduate.
Work! You won’t become a consulting design engineer right out of college. You’ll have to spend a long time working in your chosen field before your command of the trade is strong enough to strike out on your own as a consultant. Don’t worry, though — it’s very rewarding work.