Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Exactly three years ago, I was in your shoes. It was the beginning of my freshman year and equipped with a campus map and overpriced textbooks, I was ready to start the exciting journey I had spent the entire summer anticipating.
This fall, I am starting the fourth leg of that journey. Not everything has changed -- my roommate and I still go on countless shopping trips to coordinate room accessories and I managed to get lost on campus twice during the first week of class. However, looking back, out of all the decisions I have made in the past three years, one particularly changed my life.
I declared computer engineering as my major.
STEM education, if you haven't heard, is becoming a really hot discussion topic. There are entire organizations for it and quite a few people who hate on it. But as I meet up with my college friends and hear their summer internship adventures, I realize how fortunate we are.
I spent the summer working at Apple in perfect 70-degrees-all-year-round Cupertino. Despite the legions of people who would work there for free, Apple (like almost every other tech company) pays their interns. Along with that, they have numerous cushy perks -- trips to the beach, baseball games (much to our dismay, we had to share the stadium with Facebook interns that day) and other intern outings. As The Internship (or this article) may have rightly (or wrongly) portrayed, Google interns have a lot of fun too.
Don't get me wrong -- STEM majors aren't all in playground-looking offices and free lunches. The work engineers and programmers do requires a great amount of skill, perhaps the reason those perks are so justified. But the good news is that those skills are definitely not impossible to acquire.
The process begins with you simply declaring an engineering or computer science major.
Honestly, I struggled a lot with engineering in my first year of college (enough to write an entire book on it) but it is absolutely worth it. Here is my upperclassmen stance on why you should consider declaring engineering.
Do It For The Financial Security
The economy isn't that great -- but you won't feel it in the tech industry. STEM careers repeatedly dominate the 10 best-paying college major lists and because there is such a shortage of good technical talent in the United States, they say that every engineering graduate is guaranteed to have an average of 2.5 job offers.
This kind of assurance has made us a bit conceited; we are slightly arrogant when it comes to job opportunities (see whartoniteseekscodemonkey). My friend Michael took a Marketing class last semester and was called out by the professor to engage in the class more. "If you can't market yourself properly," the business professor said, "you will never get a job." "I am an electrical engineer," Michael responded, "my degree markets itself." It was a cheeky response, but it's also true. There is such a shortage of good technical talent that almost every office in San Francisco has something equivalent to a "Come Hack With Us!" sign outside it (that's Silicon Valley for "We're hiring.")
Do It For The Innovation
Engineering companies are building the coolest things. I have had the opportunity to experience it three times at different internships. Being an undergrad intern gives you a hands-on experience to practically apply the concepts you learn in school while creating solutions for people. My friend interned at Facebook last year and worked on the Android Home before the rest of the world knew about it. Another friend spent the summer working on the California High Speed Rail project, designing the technologies that are going to make travel much more efficient.
Being an engineering student perfectly positions you to be at the forefront of such innovation.
Do It Because You Can
As Steve Jobs said, "everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you." Although STEM majors may look cold and difficult from the outside, I assure you, you don't have to be born a certain way to become an engineer. I took my first programming class in freshman year of college. I got a C+ in it (and was way too proud), but that is beside the point. Companies have devised ways to test talent, making engineering GPAs just an accessory. It is all about completing the courses and having the willingness to learn through them.
Colleges provide tutoring services to help through this process; I feel that my tutor, and now friend, Bharadwaj, a PhD student, should be credited for single-handedly getting me through my first three circuit theory classes. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, "you will find that help will always be given (/*at Hogwarts*/) to those who ask for it." If you don't find yourself a Bharadwaj though, there are enough tools on Khan Academy, Codecademy and Udacity to solve a lot of problems you may have. You just need the willpower to do it.
For the high-paying jobs. For the innovation. Or just the fulfillment of creating things that haven't existed yet but have the potential to impact many lives.
So, freshman, as you decide on your major in the next few months, think about what is valuable to you. College is a great time to learn about anything -- my friend Adam's favorite class was History of Rock -- but make sure that when you decide what your major is, you pick something that can be more than a hobby. I can introduce you to many engineers who DJ on the side or can discuss Atlas Shrugged with you over coffee. But their day jobs of "Tech Hustler" (which probably means Front End Developer) or "Growth Hacker" (Business Development!) are the ones that make social impact.
My story is highly biased but only because my friends and I have experienced the rewards that come out of this decision. If you are extremely passionate about something else, by all means, go for it -- there are rockstars in every industry and you may have the skills and luck to make it. But for everyone else, engineering and STEM careers provide the opportunity to make an impact in the world while experiencing perks out of your wildest dreams (free dry cleaning and in-house spas!). And you never know, freshman, you might just find that your passion lies in building things as an engineer.
Good luck and best wishes for an incredible college experience,