Although the MechEng course is pretty intense, it is a good idea to be involved in at least one extra-curricular activity. Personally, I found unlike school, studying all the time at university tends to be counter-productive- you end up spending more time making less progress than if you had just taken a break and come back to working. Especially if you are moving away from home, it is incredibly important to have some sort of extra-curricular unrelated to your degree to keep you sane.
One way you could do this is by taking a ‘Horizons’ course. For MechEng, in ME1 & ME2 (first and second year) any Horizons course you take will be for extra credit, though in ME3/4 (third and fourth year), it can count towards your degree.
But what is ‘Horizons’? It’s a university wide programme that offers a wide range of courses, unrelated to the technical STEM modules everyone is used to. So, this ranges from a whole host of languages at different levels (German, French, Korean, Japanese, Russian…) to humanities based modules, from Economics to Criminal Minds: The Psychological & Social Causes of Crime (you can look at the whole list for this year’s first years here, bear in mind this is likely to have one or two changes when you join.)
Last year I took German, at the level for post-A Level (Level 4). The recommended time to invest I believe is about 10 hours per week. In reality, course loads often mean you end up spending a little to a lot less than that per week. It’s important to remember with both Horizons and normal society extra-curriculars that although there can be a recommended amount to participate, it’s perfectly fine to do enough that you understand enough to pass without driving yourself crazy with an insane workload. The teachers will usually recommend ‘essential’ lessons which are more important than general wider reading on a week to week basis. Also, the time you spend depends on how quickly you can pick up concepts and if you have any prior familiarity- if you committed a lot of time at A Level in a language you will probably be able to keep for longer with less hours per week as you likely already have a lot of grammar/vocabulary experience.
The sessions are usually 2 hours long per week and each department is instructed to keep these hours free for you. Even for those who are remote, it is also good to know that Horizons have tried to accommodate with this with organising a second class more suited to time zones +6/8/12 hours so if you are abroad at the start of next year, you should hopefully still be able to participate. The courses are of course completely optional, so if you don’t end up taking it you’ll just have 2 hours free on that day.
What’s the point of an extra module though? Aren’t 10 MechEng modules enough? Well, as the name suggests, it does indeed broaden your horizons and you may end up changing your career or next step in life as a result of it- the languages are taught to internationally recognised levels, so you could take placements/internships abroad. Or if you really enjoyed an ‘Economics’ or ‘Analysing Data’ it could steer you towards careers in Data Analytics or Finance. So definitely worth checking out, but if not to your taste there’s plenty more to discover in 300 + societies at Imperial as well.