The first-year advantage of UBC Engineering

A group of students standing and smiling

When you apply to study engineering at some universities, you have to choose your program – be that mechanical, electrical, biomedical, chemical or other type of engineering – before you’ve even taken a single engineering course. It can also be hard to change your course of study later on if you discover that your program choice wasn’t right for you. 

UBC takes a different approach. All first-year engineering students take a foundation year that teaches you to think like an engineer and gives you the solid grounding in math, physics, chemistry and coding you’ll need to succeed no matter which engineering path you choose. At the end of first year, you’ll be making a more informed choice about which specialization best meets your interests and career goals. 


Foundation year is a time to explore your options

Read through our profiles of students and alumni and a common theme emerges. Many students and alumni tell us that the over the course of first year they completely changed their mind about the engineering program they wanted to pursue. 

“If you’ve never set foot in an engineering classroom, it can be hard to make decisions about what path you want to take,” says Dr. Peter Ostafichuk, Professor of Teaching and Chair of First Year Engineering at UBC. 

“One of the things we offer at UBC is that year of exploration so that you have an opportunity to test out some options and reflect on what you like to do. 

“In fact, our data shows that of the students who enter first year certain that they know exactly which engineering program they want to focus on, only about one-quarter end up there. That means that three-quarters of these students find something that’s a better fit based on their experiences over first year.”

What you’ll study in first year

The first-year course requirements set you up for success. You’ll take math, physics and chemistry courses designed specifically for engineers. Like you, the students in these classes will also be in first-year engineering, and many of the examples and problem sets will be connected to engineering in some way.

The heart of first year is APSC 100/101 on the Vancouver campus and APSC 169/171 on the Okanagan campus. Over two semesters, these courses teach you to think like an engineer. You’ll be working on lots of team-based design projects and asked to come up with solutions to challenges that don’t have obvious or “right” answers. 

At UBC Vancouver, these include being asked to build a chair made solely of cardboard, create an assistive device for a client with a disability, build an automated claw, develop a proposal for a new protected bike lane in the City of Vancouver, and design a water treatment system for a remote community.

Each of the assigned projects will help you gain important skills you’ll need for a career in engineering, including learning how to work in groups, give oral presentations and communicate effectively in writing. 

First-year course requirements


Learning about your program options

Over the course of first year, you’ll have lots of opportunities to learn about the 14 program specializations on offer at UBC Vancouver or the five program options at UBC Okanagan through in-class visits from faculty or students in the program, open houses and program fairs, and program-specific social events that are open to everyone. 

This gives you a solid understanding of the options available to you and a much better sense of which program is best aligned with your interests and aptitude. 

14 program specializations at UBC Vancouver  5 program options at UBC Okanagan

What students say

Here’s what some students have said about the value of first year:

  • “I was deciding between Waterloo for mechanical engineering or UBC for the general first-year program. I’m so glad I picked UBC, because mechanical engineering would have been the wrong choice for me. The foundational first-year program helped me figure out what I wanted to do.” 

    Eve Sanker, Electrical Engineering with a minor in Ocean Sciences

  • “First year was very helpful: I discovered I definitely don’t want to be doing anything long-term related to chemistry! I was debating between computer engineering and mechanical engineering, and computer engineering won out in the end because I realized how much I enjoy learning about technology.” 

    Elio Di Nino, Computer Engineering 

  • “One of the projects we did in the first-year engineering class was to design a 3D-printed mechanical claw to help people with disabilities. I loved this project and realized I wanted to work in an interdisciplinary area that brings together my interests in software, mechanical and electrical engineering.” 

    Pan Tisapramotkul, Integrated Engineering

Eve Sankar

Engineering is an opportunity to make a difference


Read More

Elio Di Nino

Working on projects that have value and make a positive impact


Read More

Pan Tisapramotkul

Just say yes to everything!”                               


Read More



Setting the foundation in UBC’s first-year engineering program 

Towards the end of high school you’re making a lot of decisions about your future – about where you’ll go to university and what you want to major in. If you’ve narrowed down your choice to engineering, great! 

When you choose UBC, you’ll benefit from having a full year to learn the crucial engineering skills you’ll need no matter what engineering specialization you end up in. 

And you’ll also benefit from having a year to gain firsthand knowledge of many different engineering areas through team-based project work and through exposure to each of the programs on offer. 

It all means that when it comes time to choose your engineering specialization, you’re doing so from a place of far greater knowledge than was available to your pre-university self! 

An engineering student at the Design and Innovation day exhibit

Want to know more about UBC Engineering?

Sign up to receive emails from us, and every few weeks we’ll keep you up to date on topics to help you learn more.

Subscribe now

Design & Innovation Day, Kai Jacobson

Start Your Future at UBC Engineering

You may not know yet if you’re interested in leading an organization. But one thing is certain. Starting your future at UBC Engineering will give you a well-balanced education and sought-after skills – the first step and the foundation for a challenging and rewarding career.

Undergraduate Admissions


Latest Research in Action Stories

Learn from professors who are outstanding leaders in their field.

UBC Crest The official logo of the University of British Columbia. Arrow An arrow indicating direction. Arrow in Circle An arrow indicating direction. Caret An arrowhead indicating direction. E-commerce Cart A shopping cart. Time A clock. Chats Two speech clouds. Facebook The logo for the Facebook social media service. Social Media The globe is the default icon for a social media platform. TikTok The logo for the TikTok social media platform. Calendar Location Home A house in silhouette. Information The letter 'i' in a circle. Instagram The logo for the Instagram social media service. Linkedin The logo for the LinkedIn social media service. Location Pin A map location pin. Mail An envelope. Telephone An antique telephone. Play A media play button. Search A magnifying glass. Arrow indicating share action A directional arrow. Speech Bubble A speech bubble. Star An outline of a star. Twitter The logo for the Twitter social media service. Urgent Message An exclamation mark in a speech bubble. User A silhouette of a person. Vimeo The logo for the Vimeo video sharing service. Youtube The logo for the YouTube video sharing service. Future of work A logo for the Future of Work category. Inclusive leadership A logo for the Inclusive leadership category. Planetary health A logo for the Planetary health category. Solutions for people A logo for the Solutions for people category. Thriving cities A logo for the Thriving cities category. University for future A logo for the University for future category.