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First year studying Mechanical Engineering at UP

by Daniel Basel

Is Mechanical Engineering down your alley? Daniel Basel, a first year wannabe engineer gives us the low-down of what to expect in first year studying BEng Mechanical Engineering at UP.

Acceptance into mechanical engineering at the University of Pretoria seemed surreal upon first finding out. After spending my matric year studying the bare minimum, a multitude of questions rushed into my head. Did I have the work ethic necessary? Was math going to be too difficult? After not taking Engineering Graphics and Design (or equivalent), how would I cope with the technical drawing? I had been warned by every online forum and university-help site that all engineering disciplines are extremely hard work and any candidate needed to be totally committed. Despite all the warnings, I went ahead and started my first year with all the doubts and questions that lots of first years surely have. Now, coming to the close of my first semester, I have the answers to the questions I asked myself 6 months ago.

MechEng – What does it entails?

First semester in Mechanical Engineering at UP entails five core modules, namely: Physics, Electricity and Electronics, Calculus, Graphical Communication, and Humanities and Social Studies. Whilst the first three modules are fairly straightforward, the other two are less so. Graphical Communication is essentially technical drawing as well as the theory on manufacturing processes. Humanities and Social Studies covers various humanities topics such as ethics; and gives a prospective engineer a grounding in basic humanities. A major concern amongst first years was the university physics. Engineering physics in first semester merely builds upon physics learnt at school level and as such should not be something that should be feared. In second semester; Physics, Electricity and Electronics and Graphical Communication fall away. In their place comes: General Chemistry, Materials Science, Linear Algebra and Mechanics (as well as humanities and calculus).  High school students should be comfortable with titrations, stoichiometry and electrochemistry as preparation for chemistry in engineering.

Check out the Mechanical Engineering department’s website at UP.

Work ethic

So, did I have the necessary work ethic? The true answer, no. Upon commencing lectures, I was lulled into a false sense of security. 

The modules seemed too easy, so despite my intention of working hard from the beginning, I immediately reverted to my old high school ways. Within a few weeks, the content became far more complex and the workload came in far higher quantities. I got a shock with my first bout of tests; although I passed them all, it was far too close for so early in the year. Now, after my second bout of tests and a week away from June exams, my studying has to include work I should already know from previous tests. This brings me to Tip Number 1 for prospective mechanical engineering students: work hard from the start. This means not only attending ALL your lectures, but going back at the end of each day to consolidate the day’s content.


University math is often a point of concern for many prospective students. From my experience so far, the math is by no means excessively difficult. With a decent grounding in high school core math and a positive attitude towards it, the calculus module for first semester is perfectly manageable and even enjoyable. Having taken AP Math (Advanced Program) in high school, I had already done most of first semester calculus. So regarding math, my Tip Number 2 is: take AP Math or any extra math course available (Alpha math etc.). Although not a necessity, calculus is now one less thing to worry about.

Technical drawing

One of my major concerns was regarding the technical drawing component of mechanical engineering. I had not taken EGD in school and considered myself to be quite incapable of spatial reasoning. As it turns out, my worries were in vain. The module taken in first semester covers everything I needed to know. Also, at TUKS, the practical aspect is quite prominent which helps a lot with the actual drawing side of things. The theory is all covered in lectures, along with the manufacturing processes. I had always been against technical drawing, but now, I find it quite fun. The course also covers working on computer programs like Solidworks which has now become something of a hobby. My Tip Number 3: develop a positive attitude towards drawing technically and put your concerns aside. Not taking a drawing type subject in high school should not dissuade you in any way from taking Mechanical Engineering.

Lessons learnt

Looking back now at my short time thus far studying mechanical engineering, it’s easy to see what needs to change to move forward. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it won’t be possible to simply ‘get by’ in engineering. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but with the right people around and the end goal in mind, a mechanical engineering degree is highly attainable.

In summary, if you are considering mechanical engineering and you enjoy math, do not let any doubts or unanswered questions hold you back. Get in the right mindset and go for it!

EduConnect 2cents

Learn to use a diary of sorts! With the amount of work engineering students get given, diarizing becomes infinitely helpful. Either on your cellphone, tablet or on paper, a diary works wonders for prioritizing and staying on top of tasks at hand.


Requirements for Studies in Mechanical Engineering at TUKS

  • High School Subjects Required: Core Mathematics, Physical Science, English or Afrikaans
  • High School Subjects Recommended: Engineering Graphics and Design (or equivalent), Advanced Program Math (or equivalent)

Entry Requirements at TUKS:

70% or higher for Mathematics

60% or higher for Physical Science

60% or higher for English or Afrikaans

50% or higher for second language (English or Afrikaans)

50% or higher for four NSC subjects

35 APS points

2nd year Mechanical Engineering at TUKS

Check out the faculty Undergraduate Brochure for more information.

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