Prospective Students FAQ

The Princeton Distinction

What is distinctive about engineering at Princeton?

There are several outstanding characteristics of Princeton’s engineering program:

* The faculty and students are among the best in the country. Not only would you be taught by faculty members who are among the most accomplished in their fields, but you would also learn through interaction with fellow students as talented as you.

* The scale of Engineering within Princeton University is very important. Our school comprises about one quarter of the undergraduate student body, and Princeton’s exceptional strengths in the liberal arts play a large role in the B.S.E. curriculum. The School of Engineering and Applied Science embraces six departments to create a community of students and faculty with shared interests.

* The program of study emphasizes engineering’s scientific principles. With a solid command of fundamental principles, practice and application become natural extensions of engineering thought, enabling graduates to adapt to a wide variety of professional situations.

* All engineering students carry out independent investigations as part of the curriculum, either in the form of a full-year senior thesis or in semester-long projects.

High School Preparation

What is Princeton looking for in an applicant?

There is no “ideal type” of Princeton engineering applicant. We are especially interested in students who have done well in the most challenging program of courses that was available at their high school, who have particular strengths in math and science, and who have a sense of intellectual curiosity about technology and its role in the modern world.

What classes should I take in high school to prepare for studying engineering?

A solid academic program of study is the best preparation for studying engineering in college. Math is central in all engineering fields, so you should go as far as possible in your high school’s math program through senior year. Ideally you will begin the study of calculus before finishing high school, but do not rush through geometry and pre-calculus, for the math you learn in the sophomore and junior year will continue to be important. Completion of at least an algebra-based physics course in the 11th or 12th grade is essential to the study of physics in college. Do not neglect English, social studies, foreign language, and history, for all these subjects are important in engineering education, as well. Read widely and write often.

Course Information

How many courses are required for the B.S.E. degree?

36 courses are required for the B.S.E. degree. Among these are SEAS general requirements, departmental core and elective courses, departmental independent work, at least seven social science and humanities courses, the University writing requirement, and free electives. Independent work in the School of Engineering and Applied Science carries course numbers and is counted among the 36.

Who will teach my courses?

Princeton courses are taught by professorial-rank faculty. Graduate students play a supporting role by assisting in labs and grading and sometimes by leading precepts in the larger lecture courses.

How large are classes?

Princeton’s classes are quite small when compared with classes at many other research universities. The departmental courses that you take in your junior and senior years will probably have about 20 to 50 students – sometimes fewer, rarely more. Independent work is, of course, done individually or as part of a team of 2 to 4 students. In your sophomore year, the foundation courses in your engineering department will have about 30 to 60 students (more in Computer Science and Operations Research and Financial Engineering due to their current popularity). The largest required courses that you will encounter will probably occur in your first year. The general chemistry lecture may have about 200 students meeting three times a week. A weekly Physics 103 lecture may have about 150, but this course is taught primarily in smaller classes of about 15 to 20 students three times a week

What is a typical first-year schedule?

A typical first-year engineering schedule includes four courses in the fall and five courses in the spring. In the fall, engineering students usually take physics, math, chemistry, and either a writing seminar or elective. In the spring, they continue physics and math and add computer programming and two electives (or one elective and a writing seminar). Students take the University writing requirement during either the fall or spring of freshman year.

What about advanced placement credit?

Princeton students may receive advanced placement in a variety of subjects. Calculus, chemistry, and physics are directly relevant to the B.S.E. curriculum, and advanced placement credit in these areas may be used to satisfy the SEAS general requirements.

What is independent work?

“Independent work” is our name for undergraduate research projects. In independent work, the student defines the question to be investigated and the data required to address the problem, devises the approach to solving the problem, and presents the results in a professional manner. Independent work is normally done in the junior or senior year. Civil and Environmental Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Operations Research and Financial Engineering require a full-year senior thesis project. In Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science (B.S.E.), independent work is done in semester-long projects (senior thesis options also exist in these departments).

Will I have room for electives?

Engineering programs includes technical electives, humanities and social science electives, and free electives. Although there are a number of school-wide requirements and core departmental courses, there is also a lot of room for choice and breadth. Most engineering students have room for at least three and usually more free electives, not counting the required seven social science and humanities electives and whatever technical electives are part of the student’s program.

What are Freshman Seminars?

Freshman Seminars are small classes in which a group of students and a professor work together on a topic of special interest to them. Each year, over 70 Freshman Seminars are offered. Students apply to enroll in the seminars, which are regular University classes that count as one of the 36 required for the B.S.E. degree. Most also fulfill University distribution requirements. A number of engineering students take Freshman Seminars each year, and the engineering school encourages their participation in the program.

Will I be able to participate in extracurricular activities?

Most engineering students participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. They can be found on the rosters of Princeton’s intercollegiate and intramural teams, playing in the University orchestra, on the mastheads of campus publications, and taking part in community service activities.

Can I take part in research?

Research opportunities are built into the Princeton curriculum during the junior and senior years in the form of independent work. As a practical matter, you will find that time constraints due to coursework and extracurriculars will preclude significant research involvement during the first two years. Many students are able to arrange summer employment at Princeton doing research with faculty members, and some departments (e.g., MAE and CS) offer structured summer research programs for freshmen and sophomores. Other students participate in NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates at other universities, while several each year work abroad under Princeton’s International Internship Program.

Selecting a Major

How do I decide on an engineering major?

During freshman year, information sessions and open houses introduce students to various engineering disciplines. Undergraduate guides for each department are available online. Students consult with advisers and Interactors, who are juniors and seniors in the B.S.E. program.


Can I study abroad?

Yes, you can. Recently, B.S.E. students have studied in Denmark, France, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Chile, Argentina, Ghana, Sweden, and Israel. Princeton has engineering exchange programs with Oxford University, CentraleSupélec in Paris, University of Cantabria in Spain, TU Delft, and Hong Kong University. Early planning is key, even a year or more in advance. Consult with the associate dean for undergraduate affairs and the Study Abroad Program.

Can I learn about entrepreneurship?

The Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education provides a range of courses and many co-curricular activities that permit students to explore entrepreneurship.

Additional Information

Is Princeton’s engineering education theoretical or hands-on?

The principles of engineering science are not theoretical. We know that the laws of thermodynamics and Maxwell’s equations work. A Princeton engineering education starts with the principles of engineering science, then shows how those principles are validated through application, culminating in the student’s own application of those principles to an engineering problem in independent work.

What kind of computers are used at Princeton?

Students, faculty and staff use both Windows and Apple computers. A variety of computing environments can be found in student clusters throughout the campus. The University’s campus-wide network permits access from many locations, including the dormitories, Frist Campus Center, Friend Center, and the E-Quad, to academic software, on-line information and the Internet. The E-Quad, Friend Center, Computer Science Building, Andlinger Center, and Sherrerd Hall have full wireless access.

What do B.S.E. students do after graduation?

There is no single career path for a Princeton B.S.E. graduate. Many go to work in business or industry upon graduation, some intending to return to graduate study eventually. Others go directly on to graduate study with the goal of pursuing careers in research or education. Some become teachers, doctors, lawyers, or astronauts. The B.S.E. degree from Princeton provides a solid technical education and the breadth of serious study in the liberal arts, so the wide variety of post-graduate plans among our students comes as no surprise.