How to Become an Engineer: What to Do While You’re Still in High School

Engineer on job site working with heavy equipment
December 20, 2023 7 min read Liaison

Taking the right academic steps while still in high school can make it easier to achieve your goal of earning an engineering degree and becoming a professional engineer.

Key Takeaways

Taking the most challenging STEM classes in high school may increase your chance of being accepted to your first-choice engineering program.

In addition to taking technical courses, you should also work on developing important "soft skills," including writing, teamwork, and presentation skills.

Getting a head start by planning your engineering school search while still in high school can help can you make well-informed decisions, reduce stress, and focus on potential career pathways.

Consider engaging in extracurricular activities that are specific to engineering or STEM studies, such as after-school or weekend engineering exploration programs, career fairs, and science competitions.

So, you think you want to become an engineer? Take the right steps in high school!

Regardless of what engineering specialization you think you might want to pursue during your undergraduate studies, there are several key steps you should take while still in high school to build a solid academic foundation that will allow you to make a smooth transition into your engineering education and career.

Focus on Academics

The academic choices you make in high school will have a direct impact on your ability to be accepted by — and successfully enroll in — an engineering program. Engineering education heavily relies on mathematics and science as well as your ability to think critically and approach problems from different angles.

When choosing your high school classes, always look to take the most challenging courses available (i.e., AP, IB, Dual Enrollment). Taking the highest-level courses will provide you with a more demanding, college-level curriculum and will also demonstrate your commitment to rigorous coursework.

In addition, it may potentially allow you to earn college credits that will give you more flexibility in your undergraduate studies. As you make your course selections, be sure to speak with your teachers and keep the following guidelines in mind.

Student ponders career as engineer


Best High School Courses if You Want to Become an Engineer

  • Mathematics Engineering is math-intensive to its core, so a strong foundation in mathematics is essential. You should consider taking advanced math courses such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. These courses will help you develop the problem-solving skills essential for engineering.
  • Science There are two key science fields for prospective engineers: chemistry and physics. Chemistry is key to understanding chemical engineering and materials science, while physics provides insight into the laws of nature and mechanics, which are central to many engineering disciplines. Other science courses like biology and earth science or environmental science are also great choices for creating a solid science foundation — especially if you choose to study biomedical engineering or environmental engineering.
  • Computer Science With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, computer programming and computer science are becoming increasingly important in engineering fields. Learning programming languages like Python or Java will provide you with a significant advantage when you start your engineering studies, especially if you decide to focus on areas like software engineering, computer engineering, or data science.
  • Engineering-related Electives Your high school may also allow you to sign up for electives related to engineering. More high schools than ever are offering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) electives such as robotics, CAD (Computer-Aided Design), and engineering design. You should consider these courses carefully, as they offer early insights into what engineering is like and the choices you can make in the future.

Finally, make sure you improve your communication aptitude, which encompasses both your writing and presentation skills. Yes, engineering is primarily focused on your technical ability — but being able to communicate complex ideas to technical and non-technical audiences will be essential to your long-term academic and professional success.

Choosing the Right Engineering Degree

Your decision to pursue an engineering degree is a testament to your thirst for knowledge and desire to make a difference in the world. Engineers are known for making a plan that will provide actionable steps to be successful. In much the same way, you need to plan on taking appropriate and manageable steps so that you can reach your goal of becoming an engineer. That begins with thoughtful high school course selection and thorough college research.

Taking the right courses, beginning your college search early, and evaluating institutions based on key factors will put you on a path to a bright future.


A bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline is generally a prerequisite to becoming an engineer. However, earning a master's degree in engineering may open the door to more lucrative jobs during your career.

It takes most undergraduate students four years of full-time study to earn an engineering degree.

Generally speaking, you need a bachelor's degree to become an engineer, but that's not always the case. For example, not all software engineers have a degree in that field.

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