Hello, whoever may be reading. I am currently about to finish my final (4th) MEng year in Mechanical engineering. And there is a lot you people should know about this course. I must stress that I write this attempting to remain unbiased and fair to the course I studied, to give a realistic view for prospective students. What I write won't be found in the sizeable UCAS book your college tutors have no doubt quoted at you ad infinitum.
First the good news. Mechanical Engineering is an excellent degree to have, as well as being a direct ticket into engineering careers - something many other degrees cannot guarantee regarding their own specific career orientation. To some extent, the degree can be very rewarding, with some of the better Universities offering very practical and interesting applications of engineering fields. Often the equipment and facilities (including computer access) in Engineering departments are second to none and are usually the most technological within the whole University. In addition, Engineering degrees are very respected in other careers; teaching, business, programming, software/hardware design, consultancy, finance, economics and trading, other design-related careers too, such as architecture. This is because a graduate of engineering has demonstrated a good work ethic, and is capable logical and advanced mathematical reasoning.
Unfortunately, there are many downfalls to this course. Brace yourselves....
The first thing you need to know is this course is among the most work intensive. In my first year, I had around 24 - 27 hours of lectures/workshops per week. This of course means mainly 9am starts and 5pm finishes. This is certainly true for all good engineering Universities - Sheffield, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Brunel, Southampton and Bath among others. It must be said this is a HUGE factor - and it doesn't get much better further down the line, either. Now, I am extremely conscientious, but it must be stressed that university is a time when you need to relax and enjoy yourself - work and play should be taken in equal measure. Engineering does not allow for this whatsoever- if you want to perform well, that is.
This means while all your new friends who study Humanities subjects, Arts, and even other sciences like Chemistry or Biology can relax in their first year - Getting to meet people, adventure and relish the opportunity of being an independent person for (probably) the first time, those studying engineering have plenty of hard work to grasp right from the start, and worse still, tend to stick to their own.
Another problem lies in the nature of the subject. Many core modules in the first years (in fact about 75% of the modules) are mathematical; others are physical or management/manufacture/application based. Now whilst this itself is not a problem (for me anyway), because the learning curve in the first two years is so steep, miss/skip one or two lectures from one module in a week and you will more than likely find it a Herculean effort to catch up. I did, and I got two A's at Maths and Further Maths at A-level.
Work cannot be 'blagged' either. Say an English student leaves it a bit late for an essay or report. He/she will suffer; but can lessen the impact by using reasoning, common sense or a previous knowledge of the subject matter. Many humanities students have a highly intuitive approach which can often pay dividends in discussion parts of their essays. Intuition goes out the window with Engineering. Yes, the first year builds on previous knowledge (and then some!), but after that, you simply have to study hard to do well. Sit an exam on specialised subjects such as Control and Instrumentation armed with only common sense and you will be torn apart - it is that simple.
It can be often soul-destroying that with so many deadlines and work, Engineering and Physics students often feel they have no time for extra-curricular activities, such as sports clubs, societies and in many cases, just socialising with new-found friends on a regular basis. But it is these pursuits that are among the most beneficial part of university life.
There are many other things I could bemoan, such as the huge division in all Universities between scientific and other students; the majority of people who study Engineering or Physics - highly interested in the subject, but with no appreciation of other things in life, and often no common sense. Many of my colleagues appear to be uninterested unless you are obsessed with cars, engines etc. Often in Engineering departments, there is little comararderie between staff and students; many lecturers are interested only in research so lecturing is not their priority. There simply isn't the easy-going relationship with staff that students of many other academic disciplines enjoy.
In short then, this course is fine if you are fully committed to it 100%, with a strong interest in the field or have had previous engineering experience. However, if you are unsure or have not looked into the degree fully, be very, VERY careful. People interested in this area of academia must be made aware that for the MAJORITY of your time, you WILL be working longer, harder and more intensely than many other students at University. You will have to sacrifice much of your spare time too if you desire to acheive high results. I apologise for the length of this opinion, but I have been so disappionted with my actual degree (everything else about University life has benefitted me immensely), that if my view helps just one person from making a decision that means they do not enjoy university life, then it was worth the effort to read.
Good luck with your time at University, whatever it is you decide to study.