Differences between Engineering at Cambridge in comparison with other universities

Although there were many memorable moments during the Easter term which has only recently finished, I decided that in this article I am going to talk instead in the form of questions and answers about the rather different way that Engineering is taught at Cambridge (and Oxford). This is a topic that could help potential future applicants in finding their pros and cons when choosing a university.

What does „Engineering“ even mean?
This may sound like a trivial question, but each time that I had to explain to someone back home in Czech Republic what am I actually studying, the conversation got stuck on this for a long time. On Czech and also most of British technical universities the students apply directly for some specialisation (Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering etc.). However, the first couple of years are often at least partly common because of the broad background needed. At Cambridge the first two years are the same for all the students, an it is only at the start of the third year that they actually pick a specialisation. Thus for the first two years, the subjects are from all the fields, with an offer of elective modules in the last term of second year. From the third year onwards, students choose their focus area, but their choice of modules is still relatively flexible.

At what point is it necessary to have decided which field I want to specialise in?
The final choice of the 3rd year modules is done a week after the start of 3rd year, so anyone who has not yet decided between subjects can visit all the lectures in the first week and decide. At the start of year one, most students have an idea which kind of engineering they would like to do, but at least a half of them changes their mind during the first two years. They simply find out that another field is more interesting or comprehensible for them. Even the choice of the 2nd year electives does not need to have any correlation with our future specialization. The great advantage of this system is that students can really try out all off the areas before having to do the decision which one to study further.

Doesn´t the broadness of the course mean that the students will know bits of everything but nothing properly?
The amount of information digested within all the subjects is really enormous. It is not possible (unless you are a real genius) to learn all the subjects for 100%, but it is definitely possible to become excellent in the subjects that you are most interested in while gaining a solid background in the rest of the engineering areas. If someone does not have their favourite subjects, this is not a problem and their exam results will be perhaps more balanced. But there is certainly no reason to doubt the quantity and quality of knowledge gained.

How do the exams look in the first two years?
In first year there are 4 written exams in total from the four core subjects (Mechanics and Thermofluids, Structures and Materials, Electrical Engineering, Mathematical Methods). In second year there are 8 exams, of which 7 are from compulsory subjects similar to first years and the eighth is composed of two elective subjects.

What is the procedure for specialisation from the 3rd year?
Students pick 10 modules for their 3rd year, and if they wish to specialise in some of the offered areas, they must combine their choices to satisfy the criteria for a particular specialisation. It is also possible to not specialise and continue in studying General Engineering, in which case the combination of modules is unlimited. It is however fair to say that most of the students do want to specialise in something and picking an odd selection of modules could make the 3rd year very difficult.

What happens in third year?
In the first two terms the students have lectures from their 10 chosen modules, and immediately after the end of Easter vacation there are exams on these subjects. In the remaining term each student does two projects from their chosen fields. These projects also form a part of the overall 3rd year mark.

What happens in fourth year?
In fourth year the studies are more individual depending on the choice of modules/projects and co-operation with supervisors. The projects span the whole year.

What honors does the student receive after graduating?
After 3rd year the students get a Bachelor title (similarly to Czech Rep.), and after fourth year they receive the MEng (Master of Engineering) title with the chosen specialisation shown on the diploma.

These would be the answers to the most basic questions about the form of study of Engineering at Cambridge. If potential applicants (or anyone else) would like to know more, feel free to ask me via e-mail at dd480@cam.ac.uk.

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