Q and A about the First Year in Engineering


This page is intended to answer many of the questions that admitted and incoming B.S.E. students have before beginning their engineering studies at Princeton University. If your question isn’t yet answered below, you should contact Dean Peter Bogucki, associate dean for undergraduate affairs, at BSEprogram@princeton.edu.


I was admitted as an A.B. student and think I’m interested in engineering. What do I do?
Great! Let’s talk. Contact BSEprogram@princeton.edu and explain why you would like to join the B.S.E. program and which B.S.E. concentrations interest you. Dean Bogucki will be in touch.

I was admitted as a B.S.E. student and I want to become an A.B. student. What do I do?
We’re sorry to hear that. Contact BSEprogram@princeton.edu and explain why you’d like to leave the B.S.E. program and which A.B. concentrations interest you. Dean Bogucki will be in touch.

I’m an A.B. student but I might be interested in engineering. How do I keep my options open?
Take Physics 103-104 or 105-106 (unless you have AP credit based on scores of 5 on both parts of the Physics C exam) and Math 103 or higher (depending on your preparation) in your first year. [NOTE: AP scores in Physics C taken in 2020 and 2021 must be validated by the Physics placement exam offered in August.] The other two courses can advance you toward the A.B. degree, so maybe a language course and a humanities or writing course. If you really want to take the full B.S.E. program, you could also take chemistry, but we can usually work that in later unless you want to do CBE. If you’re interested in Computer Science, take COS 126 or ELE 115 sometime in your first year. Come see Dean Bogucki as soon as possible.

I’m not sure about engineering. How do I find out more?
Check out the SEAS website and follow the links to departments and programs. Email BSEprogram@princeton.edu with your questions and concerns. Attend various majors fairs, including the Explore Engineering program every November. Come to the SEAS departmental open houses in the spring. Get involved in engineering student organizations.

Why do B.S.E. students have to take 36 courses when the A.B. students only take 31?
These numbers are a little misleading. A.B. students take 31 “taught” courses, on top of which they do two junior papers and a full-year senior thesis. Junior and senior independent work for B.S.E. students, whether it’s a project or a thesis, counts as courses among the 36. A B.S.E. student might do a junior independent project plus a senior thesis, so they would take 33 “taught” courses plus three terms of independent work. So if you calculate A.B. independent work as equal to courses, then the apparent difference between the B.S.E. and A.B. program shrinks considerably. The chart below presents this difference graphically.

A.B. degreeB.S.E. degree
31 taught courses, including writing seminar, language requirement, distribution requirements, departmental prerequisites, departmental courses, free electives36 courses, including writing seminar; basic math, science, and computing requirements (can be satisfied with AP); humanities and social science electives; departmental core courses; departmental electives; departmental independent work, of which each term counts as a course; and free electives
2 (usually) junior papers without course credit
1 two-semester senior thesis without course credit
Equivalent work load: 34-35 courses when the JPs and thesis are included36 courses, including each term of independent work or thesis


When I’m on campus, how do I make an appointment to see Dean Bogucki?
Please call Ms. Traci Miller at 609-258-4554 or send e-mail to BSEprogram@princeton.edu, and she will make an appointment at the next available time. You can also stop by his office. If he’s not busy, he’ll talk with you, but if he’s busy with other deanly duties or away, then Ms. Miller can book an appointment.

Where is Dean Bogucki’s office?
It’s room C207 in the Engineering Quad, next to the E-Quad Cafe. Here’s a map on which you should select “Engineering Quad-C wing.”

How do you say his name?
Try saying bo-goot-ski or bow-good-ski. You’ll find a sound file here. It’s Polish. Mówimy po polsku.


Who is my adviser?
Your adviser is a member of the faculty in one of the six engineering departments. You should consult your adviser with any questions you have about your program of study. Each adviser has been through an orientation program and has a detailed handbook. Many of them have years, even decades of experience. But don’t expect your adviser to know everything or to make decisions for you. Princeton has a lot of different parts and no one is an expert on every single one. That’s why there are a lot of other sources of advice at Princeton to which you can turn.

How was my adviser assigned to me?
First of all, we checked to see if you indicated an interest in a particular field in engineering. We get that information from the B.S.E. Confirmation of Degree Candidacy that you submit in June. If so, we checked to see if there was an adviser available from that field. The availability of an adviser in your field would depend in turn on your residential college, since each adviser is a fellow of a residential college. We can’t guarantee that everything will align perfectly. But that’s not a problem, since the first-year program of study is common among all six departments, and most students change their minds or vacillate between two departments in any event. So if you’re interested in CBE and have an MAE prof as an adviser, you would get the same good advice.

Who are the Interactors?
Interactors are B.S.E. juniors and seniors who volunteer to work with the faculty advisers to provide additional knowledge about the Princeton curriculum, course load, and other aspects of being an engineering student. During the course of the year, they’ll get in touch from time to time to find out how things are going, and often they’ll get their group of advisees together for pizza or dinner. This program has existed for decades and helps create a community of students and faculty in engineering.

How can I contact my adviser after my initial advising appointment?
Your adviser should give you his or her e-mail and phone information. If you lose it, then you can search on his or her name from the Princeton University homepage. Eventually, Dean B will send you an e-mail with the list of advisers and interactors and their contact info.


What’s a typical B.S.E. first-year schedule?
Most B.S.E. students take physics, calculus, chemistry, and one other course in the fall, and physics, calculus, and three other courses in the spring. One of those “other” courses will be a freshman writing seminar, depending on the term you’re assigned to take it. Many B.S.E. students also try to complete the computing requirement (COS 126 or ECE 115) in their first year.

Why do I have to take physics, chemistry, and math now?
B.S.E. students take physics, chemistry, and math in the first year for several reasons: (1) the concepts you learn in these courses will probably appear in courses you take in your sophomore, junior, and senior years where it will be assumed that you know about them; (2) you will have a busy schedule in your sophomore year even if the math and science are not direct prerequisites for the sophomore courses in your major; (3) these subjects are essential elements of the general education of an engineering student.

What does that translate into in terms of specific courses?
For physics, the standard courses are Physics 103 (fall) and Physics 104 (spring) but some B.S.E. students might substitute Physics 105-106 followed by PHY 104. In chemistry, the main course is Chem 207, although Chem 201 is also OK. Calc depends on where you get placed. Math 103 and 104 deal with single-variable calculus, Math 201 with multivariable calc, and Math 202 with linear algebra. Math 203 is also multivariable calc from a bit more theoretical perspective (more proofs), and Math 204 is a similar treatment of linear algebra. There’s no advantage from an engineering perspective to taking 203 instead of 201. It’s more a matter of taste. Some students are comfortable with the more theoretical approach, some aren’t. You can figure this out in the first two weeks. For the real math fans, there’s also Math 216, 217, and 218, very theoretical.

What are EGR courses?
The School of Engineering and Applied Science offers a series of courses that are alternatives to traditional first-year math and physics courses. EGR 151 is entitled “Foundations of Engineering: Mechanics, Energy, and Waves” and is an alternative to Physics 103. EGR 152, “Foundations of Engineering, the Mathematics of Shape and Motion” can be substituted for Math 104. The goal of these courses is to teach fundamental principles in physics and calculus within the framework of developing engineering solutions to modern technological challenges. These courses are appropriate for students without advanced placement in physics and with placement in math at the level of Math 104. Students with AP in Physics or placement into multivariable calc should take Physics 103 and Math 201.

EGR 250/350/450 is the number given to Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS. EPICS courses bring together community organizations that need technical assistance with engineering students who provide their technical knowledge and A.B. students who provide their own analytical skills. Recent projects have included the conversion of a nature center into a “green” building and the restoration of a 110-year-old tower clock. For more information about EPICS, please visit http://commons.princeton.edu/kellercenter/courses/epics.html.

I got placed higher than Math 103. How much more math do I need to take?
To satisfy the general B.S.E. math requirement, you need to take as much math as gets you through linear algebra. So if you’re placed into Math 104, then you take 104 or EGR 152 in the fall, then 201 or 203 in the spring, and 202 or 204 next fall. If you’re placed into multivariable calc, you take 201 or 203 this fall, then 202 or 204 in the spring and you have it covered. Please note that most SEAS departments have a departmental math requirement beyond linear algebra of one or more 300-level courses (often involving differential equations, MAE 305, or discrete math, COS 340).

Since I placed into a 200-level math course, can I just skip math in the fall of my first year?
That’s a bad idea, so we will do everything possible to make sure you’re taking math from the very start. It’s in your greatest interest as a B.S.E. student to get through the math sequence as soon as possible. It gives you more flexibility in sophomore year and lets you understand what’s going on in your sophomore courses. And you won’t forget what you learned in high school. Don’t break your math sequence!

Why should I take nine courses during my first year?
We encourage B.S.E. students to take four courses in the fall of their first year and five in the spring for a total of nine. The reason for this is to get one of the five-course semesters done early so B.S.E. students don’t fall behind and find themselves with a heavy load in the junior or senior years.

What happens if I don’t take nine courses this year?
So long as you finish the year with eight, it’s not a big problem. All you’ve done is pushed off one of the five-course terms to the future. If you finish your first year with seven or fewer courses, then you have to switch to the A.B. degree until you make up the deficiency.

I’m interested in Operations Research and Financial Engineering but my adviser told me to take math, physics, and chemistry. Why?
That is the right advice. Study for the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree involves a lot of math and a working understanding of science. The B.S.E. first year program that includes physics, chemistry, math, and computing is common among all six engineering departments, including ORFE.


How do I obtain placement credit in Physics, Chemistry, and Math?

Physics:   Students seeking AP credit in physics in particular must take a departmental requirement fulfillment (placement) test this summer to place out of Physics 103-104.  You cannot place out of Physics 103-104 without taking the departmental requirement fulfillment test, no matter how great a score you got on the AP/IB/A-levels or any other preparation.   There is a separate exam for students who want to try to place into Physics 207, which is not a BSE requirement but which might be of interest to some students who really, really like physics.     Most BSE students will take the 103-104 exam if they want to try to place out of the BSE physics requirement.   

Chemistry: Effective in 2023, if you received a 5 on the Chemistry AP exam, a 7 on the International Baccalaureate Higher Level exam, or an A or A* on the British A-levels, you will receive one unit of AP credit without taking a placement test.  This fulfills the BSE general chemistry requirement without taking CHM 201 or 207.  Make sure the score has been reported to Princeton! 

Why should you take the placement test?  A few possibilities;

  1. If you studied chemistry at a high level but didn’t take an AP exam, or if you took the AP exam and got a 4 or equivalent (e.g. IB-H 6, A-level B), but you think you know more than that score shows; if you took the SAT2 subject test in chemistry and got a high score (like 760 or above), consider taking the placement test.
  2. If you think you know a lot more chemistry and want to try to get two units of AP credit in order to jump into Orgo or CBE 245, then you need to take the departmental placement test.   
  3. If you have any other preparation in chemistry other than that mentioned above, or if you scored less than a 5 on the AP exam and still think you know more chemistry than the score shows, then you need to take the placement test.  

Please note that per Chemistry departmental policy, taking the placement test is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.   You may not take it a second time.  If you have a 5 on the Chem AP exam but you take the test to try to get another unit of placement credit and fall short, we will still honor the 5 for the BSE requirement.

If you have taken any other exams (e.g. national school-leaving exams), or if you have taken college-level courses in physics or chemistry, but don’t have an AP/IB/A-level score, you must also take the departmental placement exam to receive AP credit and fulfill B.S.E. requirements.

Math:  Since all B.S.E. students will continue to study math, we can use your scores to make tentative placements which can be confirmed by Math Placement Orientation. There is no placement test in Math.   Math awards one unit of AP credit for a 5 on the BC Calculus exam, which is an automatic Math 104/EGR 152 placement, but you might have gone further in calculus and might be a candidate for Math 201 or 203.   Successful completion of 201/203 will result in exemption from Math 103-104.

Princeton didn’t get my AP scores.
ETS reports your AP scores to Princeton only if you make that request directly to ETS. The scores are sent electronically and Princeton downloads them into your records. Please make sure you tell ETS to report ALL your scores for all of the AP tests you took in high school, a cumulative report. Unless you specify this, we may only get a couple of your scores. In order to request a score report, you should go to the AP Grade Reporting Web site: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_rep.html. Follow the instructions to ensure that all scores, past and present, are sent to Princeton University. If you do not provide complete information to ETS, we may not get all your tests.

I took a college course in physics/chemistry before I came to Princeton. Can I use this to satisfy the B.S.E. physics or chemistry requirement?
No, if you want to try to satisfy the B.S.E. physics and chemistry requirement with any college level courses you have taken, then you have to take the Physics and Chemistry placement tests.

I completed high school in Freedonia and received the Magnificent Freedonian School-Leaving Diploma signed by President Firefly certifying that I have done university work in Physics. Can I get AP in Physics for this?
No, you must take the placement test, and it’s likely that you’ll be taking general physics along with the rest of the B.S.E. first-year class.

I took a college course in chemistry before I came to Princeton. Can I use this to satisfy the B.S.E. chemistry requirement?
You need to take the chemistry department’s placement test.

I already took multivariable calculus or linear algebra in high school. Can I get more than 2 units of AP in math?
You should have a conversation with the Math Placement Officer. Bring examples of graded work such as exams and a syllabus showing the topics you covered. If he or she agrees in writing that you have mastered the subjects of multivariable calculus or linear algebra, you may be permitted to satisfy the B.S.E. requirement in this subject and begin studying math at the next appropriate course.

Does AP credit reduce the number of courses required for graduation?
Usually not. B.S.E. students still have to take 36 courses over four years. But if you have a lot of AP credit, which must include AP credit in Physics, then you may be eligible for a program called Advanced Standing, which will allow you to graduate in 3 or 3.5 years and take fewer courses. Although a number of B.S.E. students are eligible for Advanced Standing each year, not very many elect to take it. Our view is that the B.S.E. degree is best done in four years, using the flexibility afforded by placing out of general requirements to expand your Princeton experience.

Should I take Advanced Standing?
This is a personal decision that is based on many factors. Princeton’s academic and social structure assumes that a student will be graduating three years and nine months after matriculation. You should consider whether you will be prepared to do upperclass courses and independent work sooner than the other students with whom you entered Princeton and whether you’ll be able to handle being a college graduate a year sooner. By reducing your course load, you will have fewer opportunities to take the wide range of courses that probably drew you to Princeton. On the other hand, there is a significant financial saving. You need to decide whether the saving is worth the reduction in curricular opportunities.

Why wasn’t I eligible for Advanced Standing?
There are a couple of possibilities. Here are the basic rules:

  • Candidates for the B.S.E. degree who have eight advanced placement units, among them two in physics, two in mathematics, and one in chemistry, will be eligible for a full year of advanced standing.
  • Candidates for the B.S.E. degree who have four advanced placement units, including two in physics, one in mathematics, and one in chemistry, will be eligible for one term of advanced standing.

So take careful note of the subject areas. You must have AP in Physics. The Physics AP has to come from the  Physics department requirement fulfillment test.   You also must not forfeit the use of the AP credit toward Advanced Standing by taking Physics 103 or 105 or EGR 151. Another reason for not being notified of eligibility for Advanced Standing is that Princeton hasn’t received scores transmitted electronically from ETS.


Where are the E-Quad, Computer Science Building, Sherrerd Hall, and the Andlinger Center?
The E-Quad and the Computer Science building are located on the eastern side of the campus, along Olden Street. Sherrerd Hall is along Shapiro Walk nearby, while the Andlinger Center is on the corner of Olden and Prospect. Please see the interactive campus map and search for Engineering Quad or Computer Science Building or Sherrerd Hall. Note that the E-Quad has various wings designated by letters. This will give you an idea of where a room is. For example, A224 is in the A-wing.

What is the Friend Center?
The Friend Center for Engineering Education is the location of classrooms and computing clusters used by both B.S.E. and A.B. students. It is located on the corner of Olden and Williams Streets. Please note that it is the Friend Center, no “s” on the end of Friend.

What kind of calculator should I get for engineering?
None.. Calculators aren’t allowed in the calculus courses. Many students use the calculator they used in high school for the occasional times when they need one. You will have computers available for solving serious engineering problems using programs like MATLAB.

What kind of computer should I buy?
Whatever you are comfortable with. We make no specific recommendation. If you prefer Windows, get a Windows computer. If you prefer Apple, then get a Mac. If you need to use any special software that requires more power than a personal computer or a specific site license, these will be provided in public clusters.

I want to take a course next summer, AFTER my first year. How do I do this?
First, figure out where you might want to take the course. Princeton will consider all four-year accredited schools, but you want to take a course that is worth taking and will give you the best preparation for future needs. Major state universities often offer solid summer courses in math, science and engineering. Next, obtain information about the course. A syllabus can usually be obtained by contacting the department at the school where you want to take the course. Information about scheduling is also important: when does it start and end, what days does it meet, and for how long each day. Summer courses also need enough weeks and hours to meet Princeton standards and substantial assignments and assessment. Next, download a summer course approval form from your residential college’s website. Follow the steps on the form. Take the information on the course and the approval form first to the department under which the course would be offered at Princeton. For example, if you are taking differential equations, which is taught at Princeton as MAE 305, then you go to Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and present the material to the director of undergraduate studies. See https://engineering.princeton.edu/undergraduate-studies/sophomore-senior-advising/summer-course-information for more information.


Help! I’m in over my head in physics and it’s only the first week!
Don’t panic, stay calm. No matter how good a physics course you took in high school, making the transition to Princeton physics can be really hard and has rattled the confidence of B.S.E. students for decades. Most of them made the adjustment – some faster, some slower – and are now successful in all walks of life. A few tips for dealing with physics: work lots of practice problems (don’t look at the answers in the book!) from start to finish; if you finish working problems, work some more problems; take the problems on which you get stuck to your instructor’s office hours; work some more problems; take the problems on which you get stuck to the McGraw study halls in Frist.

What are office hours?
Every Princeton instructor is required to set aside some time each week to meet with students. Take advantage of this opportunity! If you have a class at the same time as your instructor’s listed office hours, then usually it is possible to make arrangements to meet at a different time.

Won’t the professor think I’m stupid if I come for help to office hours?
If you’re having problems mastering the material, the instructor will have great respect for your interest in improving your understanding if you come to office hours. Successful students take advantage of office hours!

What are the study halls?
“Study hall” is a term used at Princeton for on-demand tutoring in math, physics, chemistry, and economics. Free tutoring in introductory-level mathematics, chemistry, physics, and economics is offered through the McGraw Study Halls @ Frist, located directly outside of the McGraw Center on the 300-level of the Frist Campus Center. Experienced, trained undergraduate tutors are available to guide students through learning course material, thinking through problem sets, and preparing for exams.

The Study Halls are open Sunday through Wednesday evenings from 7:30-10:30. No appointments are necessary.

Can I get an individual tutor?
Yes, individual tutoring for students who need help in math, science, econ, and language courses is available through your residential college office at no charge. It is done by sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have done well in introductory courses. Note that this is the only tutoring allowed at Princeton; no outside tutors are permitted.


Which engineering department should I choose?
Check out the SEAS website and follow the links to departments and programs. Talk with Dean Bogucki and departmental faculty. Attend USG majors fairs, at which there is usually engineering representation. Attend the Explore Engineering majors fair. Come to the SEAS departmental open houses in the spring (watch your e-mail). Get involved in engineering student organizations.

I’m worried that I won’t have time for engineering courses and extracurriculars.
Many B.S.E. students are involved in athletics, theater, writing, student government, service activities, and many other things. As with all serious undertakings, it requires careful time management. Pick a few things that give you the greatest satisfaction and reward. Make a weekly schedule so you know where you need to be and what you need to do. Academics always come first, but you’ll also find that all other students are balancing similar competing demands on their time. They will understand if you have to miss a meeting because you have a test the next day. Coaches should also be understanding of academic obligations.

I don’t see myself working as an engineer. What else can I do with a B.S.E. degree?
You can do anything you want. B.S.E. graduates from all departments go into fields like investment banking, management consulting, law, medicine, teaching, professional sports, military service, and just about any other career they would like to pursue. Knowing about technology and having a liberal arts education is an unbeatable combination.

You mean I can be premed AND study engineering?
Yes. You’ll want to talk with the Health Professions Advising office to make sure you’re on track, but there are premeds in each of the six engineering departments. The only problem might be some unavoidable scheduling conflicts between required departmental courses and organic chem, so you might need to take orgo over the summer.

First-year math and physics are hard. Won’t my courses just get harder when I’m a sophomore and junior?
Not necessarily. We often find that once students get their feet on the ground academically and get used to the workload their performance improves. Hang in there!

Do B.S.E. students do independent work or a senior thesis?
Yes. The requirements and arrangements vary from department to department, but just about every B.S.E. student does some form of independent work. It can be a full-year senior thesis, or one or more semester-long projects, depending on department requirements. A senior thesis is an individual undertaking, while sometimes groups of students get together to work on projects. The SEAS record is six terms of independent work, which seems a little excessive, but two or even three terms of independent work is closer to the norm.

How do I get a summer job?
Start looking in November and December, after attending the Science and Technology Job Fair and HireTiger events earlier in the fall term. Search on the internet for companies whose interests correspond to yours and follow links like careers/internships/college relations. Network with family friends and relatives. You can learn about hundreds of internships offered through Handshake, which is managed by the Center for Career Development, and watch for email broadcasts from the Undergraduate Affairs Office. Also, be sure to check out the Undergraduate Academic bulletin board for a list of campus resources that may help you in your search as well. It is located in the C-wing hallway. Look into the International Internship Program offered through the Office of International Programs.

I want to study abroad. What should I be doing now?
Start planning. Come to study abroad information sessions and fairs during the fall term. Think about where you might want to go. Speak with the SEAS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs during your first year and eventually with the staff of the Study Abroad Program. B.S.E. students have recently studied in Australia, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Hungary, Denmark, and Sweden, and we are open to other proposals. Take note of the exchange programs with Oxford University in EE, MAE, and CEE; ETH in Zürich in COS; and with University of Cantabria in Spain, and Hong Kong University in most departments.

If your question is not answered above, please write to BSEprogram@princeton.edu with your specific question.