CBO - Winter 2019

Studying Engineering in the US

Engineering is one of the most in-demand careers in Canada. The employment outlook remains high as many openings will be created by the retirement of the baby-boomer generation.

The options for attaining a post-secondary education in Engineering are numerous. Universities in most provinces offer degree programs in Engineering, allowing students to study close to home if they wish.

Some students, though, may choose to obtain their degree from a US institution.

Marco Alvaro did just that. After graduating from high school in British Columbia, Alvaro decided to enroll in university in the US for Civil Engineering.

“The best advice I have about the application process is to stay on top of all of the deadlines. You’ll usually want to apply to more than one university so you’ll have a bunch of deadlines for different universities at different times and it can sometimes get confusing. I got a big white board for the wall in my room and checked off each task as I finished it. And there will be expenses that you don’t even think about. Getting official transcripts from your high school for each application, postage fees, taking the SAT, and even just the application itself all cost money. Depending on where you live, you might have to travel to another city to take the SAT so there are extra expenses there,” advises Alvaro.

The most important factor for US admissions in Engineering programs is a high GPA, especially in math and computer sciences. The student’s school of choice may also wish to see their career objectives with submission of a resume or CV. The application process is also the place to showcase any educational awards or honours the student may have received.

It is important for a potential international student to select their preferred school and get started on the application early and keep a detailed calendar outlining all deadlines for material submission throughout the process. Contacting the admissions department at the university of choice at least one year before the student plans to attend is recommended.

Canadians intending to study engineering in the US will need to remember that not every university will fulfill all of their needs. A degree from a big, prestigious university may look good hanging on a wall, but future employers will be evaluating the applicant’s level of work and determination, as well as their grades, when considering them for employment. Students should keep their minds open when considering which universities may suit them best.

Potential engineering students will have to take their SAT. It can take a long time to prepare properly for taking this exam, and it is only offered a few times a year in Canada, and only in certain cities. Again, early preparation is essential to obtain a good mark on the SATs.

Many US university admissions departments will require engineering applicants to write at least two SAT subject tests, usually in math and science. SAT subject tests are generally multiple-choice and will take about an hour to write.

The application process to most US universities also includes a personal essay. This is a very important part of the process as it is the admission board’s first opportunity to “meet” their potential student.

“I took a lot of time on my personal essay,” says Alvaro. “I wanted them to really get to know me and make myself stand out. I talked about the various clubs I joined in high school, my volunteer experience, and my extra-curricular sports, and how they contributed to making me the person that I am. It was helpful for me to get one of my writer friends to edit my essay. I am great at technical writing but when it comes to trying to make the emotions come across I’m like a robot. So they helped me with that.”

The application will also require the student to submit an education plan essay, letters of recommendation and a list of activities in which they participate to show they are well-rounded individuals.

Each step of the application process is usually done separately, at different times, and therefore requires several deadlines. It is of utmost importance that students understand each step in the process and present their submissions by the deadline date required. Many universities will not consider late applications for any reason whatsoever.

Once the applications have been received, the admissions board will determine who they select for enrollment. Canadian students need to keep in mind that most placements will be designated for students from the United States, so the competition will be much greater for international seats.

“I had amazing grades in high school,” says Alvaro. “I was on the Honour Roll, I took every single science and math course that I could, and did very well in them, and I still didn’t get into the university that was my first choice. The level of competition was way higher than I thought it would be. But I got accepted at my second choice and considering how high the standards were, especially for foreign students that still made me feel a huge sense of accomplishment.”

It is essential that a student who is considering an Engineering degree from a US institution understands the process for practicing engineering in Canada, as it differs from a graduate with a Canadian degree.

In order to call themselves an Engineer, university graduates are required to obtain a license to practice. Licensing of engineers is controlled by the provincial or territorial body of engineering regulators. To obtain a license, a graduate from a US university will need to meet certain requirements through a combination of testing, interviews, documents and assessments. Each province or territory requires different documentation so applicants for licensing will need to do some advance prep work to determine what they will need to provide for consideration. This process can be daunting without proper preparation so it is important for a student to begin this as soon as possible.

Alvaro shares, “After I finished university, I really didn’t know where I wanted to move. I really had no idea that I would have to jump through so many hoops to get licensed, especially with an American degree. I just wasn’t really prepared. I should have asked more questions but I guess I didn’t really know what questions to ask. I didn’t know that each province has their own unique requirements so it is sometimes better to get licensed in a province with the least amount of ‘red tape’ and then apply for an interprovincial transfer.”

An engineering graduate is able to practice in Canada without a license providing a licensed engineer is taking responsibility and signing off on their work.

While the process varies from province to province, in most cases, in order for degree-holders from American universities to be licensed, the first step is an academic assessment. The regulator will review all academic documents to determine if the applicant will need to complete any additional courses or exams. They will need to see degrees, certificates, diplomas, transcripts and possibly even course descriptions. It may also be helpful to include an official program syllabus along with the documentation. This step can be the most difficult to complete as some provincial regulatory bodies will easily acknowledge an American degree while others will require numerous tests to prove the candidates’ knowledge.

Next, the regulator will complete a work experience assessment. Work experience can be gained in the US, but most provinces will require completion of four years of engineering work, with at least one of those years being located in Canada, before a license is granted.

Instead of a work experience assessment, a candidate for licensure may be asked to take a “competency-based assessment” to demonstrate their qualification for registration by submitting specific examples of prior work.

In general, the regulatory boards are making sure the applicant possesses technical competence, project and financial management experience, good communication skills, professional accountability, continuing professional development and an understanding of the social, environmental, sustainability, and economic concepts relating to the area in which they are applying.

The licensing process also includes a character assessment. Licensed engineers are expected to maintain a professional reputation of honesty and ethical behavior. Applicants for an engineering license will need to answer questions that are designed to evaluate their character. They will also need to supply the board with a list of references from professional engineers who have directly supervised their work. In most cases, at least one of the references needs to be a licensed Canadian engineer.

Depending on the regulatory board, some applicants may be asked to come for an interview as a part of the assessment process. In most cases, the applicant is interviewed by a panel of professional engineers which serves as a peer review of the qualifications and work experience displayed by each potential licensee.

The last step is the Professional Practice Examination (PPE). To become an engineer in Canada, an applicant must pass the PPE which tests their knowledge of professional standards, ethical standards, laws that affect the engineering profession, copyrights, patents, trademarks and contracts.

The exams are administered by each provincial regulating body and can take the form of either online or in-person exam sittings.

Successful completion of these steps, as deemed by the provincial regulator, will then allow the applicant to register as an official engineer.

“I would have to say that I thought I got an amazing education at university in the United States. Not only did I get an education, I got to experience so many things I probably wouldn’t have if I stayed in Canada. I made some great friends from all over the world through the international student groups on campus. And I think moving away helped me grow up faster and learn more real life things like budgeting and planning. But unfortunately I didn’t follow through with the licensing part because I just felt overwhelmed by the whole process. Some people tell me that I wasted those four years of university but I still think that even though I’m not employed in that field, my time at university in the US was a great experience,” Alvaro says.

By Jackie Fritz

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