Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience. Relating to engineering education, this could take the form of internships, co-ops, capstone projects or research. Basically, experiential learning bridges the gap between theory and practice. It provides a hands on experience to learn and understand specific practices in engineering. For example, it is one thing to work on the textbook problem of how to achieve better flow to produce a greater output of Chemical A at processing Plant X, and another to be an intern at Plant X seeing first hand where the issue lies in the piping and raw materials and speaking to the workers involved in the production process to find the best solution to get more output.
Internships and cooperative education programs (co-ops) are learning experiences where the student actually works for a company in a given field. Internships are shorter (a summer or a semester) and could be both paid and unpaid, part time or full time. Co-ops are longer and involve a more in depth work experience. Students stop taking classes to work full time (usually 3-6 months at a time), and are typically paid. The longer work experience of a co-op can give students an edge over their peers when they are looking for jobs after graduation.
Capstone projects and research are other ways to gain valuable experience and knowledge in your field. Working on a research project is a great way to apply the theories learned in your studies and explore a topic in greater depth. Similarly, capstone projects combine theory and practical experience to solve a problem or issue.
Not all engineering programs offer experiential learning opportunities. Many have it built into their curriculum. Others do not offer these experiences and the student has to look for them on their own.
Experiential learning is a valuable way to increase your understanding and knowledge of a subject through hands on experience. In addition, experiential learning will increase the student's value in the job market upon graduation. When looking into engineering schools it is beneficial to find out if the program you are considering offers experiential learning.
Many colleges are now offering virtual information sessions due to COVID-19. These sessions are a great way to get information about a school when you can't actually visit the campus. The sessions are often conducted in a webinar format with interactive chat so you can ask any questions you might have. Some schools offer just general info sessions, while others have general sessions as well as sessions on specific majors. Many also offer virtual tours of their campus. This is a great resource to look for to help with the college search. In addition, many colleges look for demonstrated interest in their school from their applicants. Traditionally, this would be shown by college visits and interviews, but with today's changes, signing up for virtual info sessions are also counted. Virtual info sessions are often found on the Visit Campus Page of a college's website. Here are links to a few schools with engineering programs that currently offer virtual information sessions.
After deciding which engineering field you are interested in, it is a good idea to visit schools that have that program. Every college has its own personality and all schools do not follow the same programs of instruction. This is something every student needs to consider when deciding if that school is the one for them. When you go on some college tours, you will start to see what aspects of schools you like, or do not like. This is the best way to start narrowing down choices of schools. By going on different campuses you will get a feel of what each school is like. The size and look of the campus, what the facilities and classrooms are like, and what the class sizes are will give you an indication of what is best for you. Try to take the engineering school tour at each school, if possible. An engineering tour will give more insight into what the curriculum is like and what life as a student in their program will be like. In addition, talking to current students and speaking to administrators about the specifics of the program you are interested in will give you more information. The administrators can also provide more specifics on the requirements for admittance to their program.
If you are not sure where to begin, first start exploring colleges that may be a short distance from where you live. This is a great way to start narrowing down what type of schools you are interested in without spending a lot of time and money.