Struggling in Math - Civil Engineering or Architecture


OK A little background about myself I'm 26 and joined the Marines straight out high school when I turned 18. I served 8 years total in active duty. I'm using my GI bill to major in Civil Engineering. I haven't attended a math class since high I barely made it through last semester’s pre-calculus class with a C. I'm struggling in Calculus so many of the problems seem like I’m reading Greek. I was doing my calculus homework and tried jamming away at a single math problem for 45 minutes until I just threw my book at the wall in frustration and anger.

Part of my life's purpose is to become a real estate developer. I figured I would get my BS in Civil Engineering and my Master's in Real Estate Development I plan on getting experience at a real estate development firm as a Project Manager (they usually require a Civil Engineering or Architecture major for these jobs) and start my own development firm. I hate math but I love creating things and coming up with new ideas. Should I switch my major to Architecture and still get my Masters in Real Estate Development. It’s not too late to drop my classes and switch.

Do you think I should drop the Engineering route and take the Architecture route instead?
Thanks for your opinions everyone.

Aug 28, 11 7:19 pm

Civil Engineers don't do much work on buildings. They do infrastructure like roads and highways, bridges, sewage, and so on.

Architecture degree seems like an overkill if your final plan is to become a real estate developer. If your goal is to become a commercial real estate developer, then understanding the ins and outs of architectural profession will be helpful. If your goal is residential real estate, then you are better off working for a carpenter or a builder. You will learn more.

Also, getting into an architecture school is an unique process (portfolio, interview, etc...) so not sure how easy a switch would be.

Aug 28, 11 8:22 pm  · 

As someone who took a bachelors of architecture, worked a bit in architecture, and is now taking an engineering degree, I can tell you that they are so different it's hard to even compare them.  Struggling through math is a big deal if you're taking engineering, though.

Personally in this economy I'd go the engineering route, but I don't have a problem with the math so my decision isn't your decision.  Even though I have work in architecture, I've seen a lot of friends and acquaintances struggle to find jobs.  Worse, as a first year engineering co-op student this summer I was making more money than as a newly minted architectural intern.

It's a tough call because of the math, though.  Maybe you could get a tutor?  Another great resource is the Khan Academy.  I love the videos a lot, and its the only reason I passed some chemistry related stuff (I hate chemistry!).  I highly recommend it.  Link here:

Aug 28, 11 9:11 pm  · 
Token AE

The frustration you are feeling with math and is perfectly normal for engineering. Many of your classmates are going through the same thing as you- whether they show it outwardly or not. I'm far from a neuroscientist, but I'd like to think it is your brain being 're-wired.'

The jist of the math classes in engineering is to give you a series of problems that you have no idea how to solve and gradually teach you how to recognize something that you don't know. When you are young in engineering, you don't know a lot- it can be a bit intimidating.

With time, you will be able to further articulate what confuses you about a given problem. The more articulate that you can be, the easier it will be to address the unknowns.

There are two pieces of advice that were invaluable to me as a young engineering student:

1. If you hit a problem that you have no idea how to solve, don't grind away fruitlessly trying to solve it. Try to list as many things about it that you do not understand, and try to address those problems individually- by addressing the small issues first, you will ultimately be able to solve the initial problem. This is sometimes referred to as 'breaking it down.'

2. When you do your practice tests that have an answer key, try to break down the problems that you are getting wrong by type. For instance, on a test of 25 questions you could miss 1 question on limits but 5 on differentiation- you are clearly consistently weak in this area and need to improve.

Engineering school (in the beginning) has a lot less to do with solving specific problems and a lot more to do with breaking them down, knowing what to focus on, and knowing where to look to find instruction on how to solve it.


Aug 28, 11 10:49 pm  · 
Token AE

And rusty is correct. A slight majority of CEs will not work on buildings from a design perspective directly from undergrad. A MS Structural is more or less a tacit requirement for being able to do so- and even with that, firms are often looking for a very specific type of person.

Architectural Engineers are a bit different and will more or less only work on buildings. If your school has that option, you may want to consider it- but make sure it isn't some weak hybrid of construction management and architecture. It should be a fairly rigorous mix of structural, mechanical, electrical, and construction engineering in conjunction with architectural design.

Also: Don't expect to have much of a social life while doing it. 80-100+ hour weeks can be normal depending on your courseload and curriculum. Your paycheck and job security afterward tend to make it worthwhile, however.

Aug 28, 11 10:55 pm  · 

Token, your observations are fascinating.

During first three years of my architecture degree, my roommate was a high school friend who went into civil engineering, so I got a good view of what he had to go through.

We were both really good at math. I think I was better at algebra, while he rocked calculus. We'd sit next to each other during high-school exams confirming each other's (in non obvious ways, of course) results. We typically got 100/100.

Fast forward to college, and only a semester in, whatever he was working on flew completely over my head. The level of abstraction was intense. He pulled off just as long hours as I was doing, yet my work seemed cartoonish in comparison. I was busy learning ways to glue together balsa wood in creative ways at 4am. He was plugging away at formulas.

Only in later years did he finally get to work on real life problems that required practical solutions. I was still learning how to glue together balsa wood.

Fast forward another 10 years, I have to say projects I worked on were a lot more interesting than what he has done. On flip side, he has amazing job security, and he's (at least compared to me) stinking rich!

I still hate balsa wood.


Aug 28, 11 11:32 pm  · 

Skip engineering.  I can't see how it will benefit you, at all.  

Business.  RE development is about business.  It is about money, marketing, decisions, understanding markets, financing (money).  If you look at successful re developers, especially for larger firms, they'll all have business degrees.

Architecture is handy, but far, far from being a true asset.  The developers I know well that are architects don't have any more input to the design than someone that has never taken a design class.  


It is not 100% necessary to have a business degree, but you still have to learn the business stuff (you can learn on the job, etc., if you can get in at the base and work up).  Or, as many do, you come from money (or are a retired lawyer, etc.) and you can basically learn while you do it.  That's nice, but I don't know if you have that money (guessing not if you are using your GI bill - we are talking at least several hundreds of thousands, at least, in liquid assets).


Suggest:  start reading re dev books.  You'll get a good idea of what it is about.  Not a good time to be looking for internships, but you might find some developer that would let you do some grunt work.  You'll learn a ton just being around them.

Architecture - I'd also look into what architecture is all about.  You don't need to dedicate half your life detailing bathrooms to be a re developer (or even as a re developer design the building).  

Needed:  understanding basic financial formulas, terminology, pro formas, etc.  RE dev is a little of everything, but the one part that you cannot avoid is the business side.  If that part doesn't work, nothing else matters.


Do.  Get a business degree in something related to re development.  Could be financing, could be something specialized.  Work while you are going to school for a developer.  Once you get your degree, if you still think you need the education or diversity, you can get a Masters of Architecture/MSRED combo degree, if you want.


Good luck.  Good you are asking the questions now.  And calculus sucks. Get a tutor (or two) and you'll get by.

Aug 29, 11 12:06 am  · 

Trace you gave the most insightful post thank you. At one point I decided to skip engineering altogether and go with a business degree. The whole reason I’m getting an engineering degree is because I’m looking forward to landing a job with a developer as a project manager. In that role I can learn the development business and work with the developer first hand day in day out. I would get a chance to learn the project management software, the formulas, terminology, spreadsheets and make some contacts in the business. With time, experience and leveraging other people’s money I plan on jumping into multi-family real estate development.

Aug 29, 11 1:45 am  · 

I second what trace said. Screw engineering I was looking around on Monster and there are jobs out there for Finance majors to get involved as project managers with a development firm. I just can't see myself doing homework for 80-100 hours a week and jamming away at calculus problems fruitlessly at 2 in the morning when I could be working on marketing for my real estate wholesaling business.

Aug 29, 11 2:15 am  · 

Kregowiz and everyone else, this is the best discussion on archinect in awhile.

I too have been interested for a couple of years now in going back to school and getting a MRED. I still can not decide,but just the other week I made an appointment with the Director of the MRED at U of Maryland. I asked tons of questions and got good answers about the program and about MRED degrees overall. So my advice to you is to call up and  personally talk with a Dean/Director of a MRED program.

Also, most programs have student clubs such as the one below at UMD. Talk to a student  and get a different perspective on the school and the degree. MRED are typically more expensive then a Masters of Architecture degree and tuition is some times  as high as a MBA. 

Anyway, here are some links that can get you started.


Aug 29, 11 9:44 am  · 

Interesting you brought UMD I was just at George Mason today talking to the head of the MRED program. I've been in contact with Mrs McFarland over at UMD. More than likely I'll chose UMD over Mason

Aug 30, 11 2:12 am  · 

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