Q and A about the First Year in Engineering


This page is intended to answer many of the questions that incoming B.S.E. students have before beginning their engineering studies at Princeton University. It also provides a chart of some of the most prominent interests in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and how they connect with the programs of study in the six engineering departments. If your question isn't yet answered below, you should contact Dean Peter Bogucki, associate dean for undergraduate affairs, at BSEprogram@princeton.edu or call him at 609-258-4554.


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.

I was admitted as a B.S.E. student and I want to become an A.B. student. What do I do? 
Why would you want to do that? Contact BSEprogram@princeton.edu.

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 freshman year. 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 CS 126 sometime in freshman 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. Come talk with Dean Bogucki. Attend various majors fairs, at which there is usually engineering representation. Come to the SEAS departmental open houses in the spring (watch for ads and posters.) 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.


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. Listen 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 any particular field in engineering. We get that information from the B.S.E. Program Sheet 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 these 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 (CS 126) in freshman year.

Why do I have to take physics, chemistry, and math now?
B.S.E. students take physics, chemistry, and math in freshman 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 or EGR 191 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. EGR 192 also covers multivariable calc and leads into Math 202. 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 217 and 218, very theoretical.

What are these EGR courses?
EGR 191-192 is an integrated presentation of multivariable calculus and physics, sometimes referred to as "EMP" for "Engineering-Math-Physics." In the fall, EGR 191 and 192 substitute for Physics 103 and Math 201. For more information, see http://www.princeton.edu/kellercenter/courses/emp.html

In 2017-2018, several new first-year EGR courses are being introduced. EGR 151 is a course in the physics of mechanics, energy, waves, and introductory thermodynamics in the context of global engineering challenges. It is an alternative to Physics 103. EGR 152 is a course in single-variable calculus that illustrates how mathematics serves as a language for addressing engineering problems. Covering differential and integral calculus, series and sequences, and Taylor series, it is an alternative to Math 104.

Starting in the fall of 2017, the School of Engineering and Applied Science is introducing on a pilot basis a series of new 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. In the pilot version, enrollment is limited to 30 students. These courses are appropriate for students without advanced placement in physics and with placement in math below the level of multivariable calculus.

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 AB 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 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 freshman 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 great 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. If you're asking this question, then I detect some ambivalence about math. Look, if you eat the lima beans on your plate first, then you can enjoy the mashed potatoes more, and when you're all done with both, then there's dessert.

Why should I take nine courses during my first year? 
We encourage B.S.E. students to take four courses in the fall of freshman 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 problem. All you've done is pushed off one of the five-course terms to the future. If you finish freshman 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 and science. Why?
That is the right advice. Did you perhaps notice that you are a candidate for the Bachelor of SCIENCE in ENGINEERING degree? That 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, and that includes ORFE.


How can I use my AP credit? 
The most common use of AP credit by B.S.E. students is to fulfill general engineering math and science requirements or to place into more advanced courses. AP credit at Princeton is awarded as 1 or 2 units in a subject area. AP credit in physics (2 units) and chemistry (1 unit) can be used to fulfill the B.S.E. requirements in those areas. AP credit in Math can be used to place into the second term of introductory calculus (1 unit) or into multivariable calculus (2 units). You have several options for taking advantage of this AP credit. You can take a course in your intended major. You can take another humanities or social science course.

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.

Do I receive AP credit for International Baccalaureate (IB) scores and/or completed British A-levels?
A score of 7 on the IB (higher level) or a grade of A on the completed British A-levels is considered the equivalent of a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement test in most subjects; an IB score of 6 or an A-level score of B is generally considered equivalent to a score of 4 on the Advanced Placement test.

I took a college course in physics before I came to Princeton. Can I use this to satisfy the B.S.E. physics requirement? 
No, if you want to try to satisfy the B.S.E. physics requirement without AP/IB/A-level scores, then you have to take the Physics department's placement test during Orientation Week. It is very rare for students to succeed in placing out of 100-level physics with this test. Your previous physics course has prepared you well to take freshman physics at Princeton.

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. freshman 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 in Orientation Week. Unlike the test in physics, the chemistry test has been known to yield AP credit.

I just missed the cutoff for AP in Chemistry. Can I please have a unit of AP in Chemistry?
No, please take the placement test.

No, you must take the 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 can only earn a maximum of 2 units of AP in a subject area, but in this situation you should have a conversation with the Math Placement Officer during Orientation Week. 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.

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 have to have AP in Physics. The Physics AP has to be on the basis of the AP Physics C exam or the British A-levels or the International Baccalaureate higher level. You also must not forfeit the use of the AP credit toward Advanced Standing by taking Physics 103 or 105 or EGR 191. Another reason for not being notified of eligibility for Advanced Standing is that Princeton hasn't received your scores transmitted electronically from ETS. If you think you have AP credit in these areas that wasn't reported, check with your residential college office.


Where are the E-Quad, Computer Science Building and Sherrerd Hall?
The E-Quad and the Computer Science building are located on the eastern side of the campus, along Olden Street. Along Shapiro Walk is Sherrerd Hall nearby. 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 as well as the Engineering Library. 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. You will use a calculator for figuring out your phone bill and balancing your checkbook. Calculators aren't allowed in the calculus courses. Many students use the graphing 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 a Mac, then get a Mac. Most computers these days are powerful enough to run most general-purpose software. If you need to use any special software that requires more power than a personal computer, then there are powerful workstations in the E-Quad for you to use.

I want to take a course next summer, AFTER my freshman 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. It's not worth taking a watered-down differential equations course, if you'll need to use differential equations at Princeton in your studies. Major state universities often offer solid summer courses in math, science and engineering. Next, obtain information about the course. A syllabus is best and 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: minimum of four weeks, minimum of 30 hours of class, with 30 more hours of lab if it's a lab course. It needs to have a live professor and live fellow students in a classroom -- no distance learning classes accepted! It needs to have substantial assignments and assessments. Next, pick up a summer course approval form at your residential college office, or download one from their 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 departmental representative. He or she will examine it and if it's judged to be acceptable, will sign indicating that the course is worthy of credit. Subsequent steps on the form include at stop at the office of the SEAS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs, and the form winds up back at your residential college office. See http://www.princeton.edu/engineering/undergraduate/current/departmental/summer-course/ 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, this time without the iPod; take the problems on which you get stuck to your instructor's office hours; work some more problems, this time without IM; take the problems on which you get stuck to the study halls in Frist. Sleep, eat, rinse, go to class. Repeat.

What are office hours?
Every Princeton instructor is required to set aside some time each week to meet with students. Take advantage of this! 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?
No, this isn't high school. 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. Savvy 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. Come talk with Dean Bogucki and departmental faculty. Attend various majors fairs, at which there is usually engineering representation. Come to the SEAS departmental open houses in the spring (watch for ads and posters). 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. If you don't already have a pocket calendar, then it's a good idea to get one and use it. 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 early. If you wait until May, then you might might have missed the bus. But if you start looking in January, then you stand a chance. In all honesty, as a freshman, finding an engineering summer job is very much a matter of luck, but that is not to say don't give it a try. But if you don't land one, it isn't a problem. Earning some money and learning how to deal with people in the workplace are worthwhile things whatever you are doing. After the sophomore year, companies will be more interested in you, and you'll also be eligible for programs like Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). After your junior year, companies will be keenly interested in you, since they hope you might want to work for them after graduation. But here's what you should be doing now: (1) come to the Science and Technology Job Fair in October and find out how companies present themselves and to get an idea of how to present yourself to them; you will also come away with your year's supply of pens, post-its, highlighters, etc. with company logos; (2) visit the Career Services website and office to see what companies are hiring, to sign up to get e-mail information, and to compose a resume; (3) spend time on the Web, particularly looking at companies near you and following links to careers...internships...college relations...and similar; (4) start sending your resume with a nice cover letter wherever possible; (5) consider all alternatives; even if a job isn't exactly what you want to be doing long-term you will certainly pick up useful knowledge. For example, even if you don't want to be a lawyer, you're going to be dealing with lawyers all your life, so a job in a law office now will show you how they organize their work and how people interact with them.

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 the freshman 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 Ecole Centrale Paris, University of Cantabria in Spain, and Hong Kong University in most departments.

I want to spend a semester at Smith College.
You're in luck, because Princeton also has an exchange program in engineering with Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts! This program provides a unique opportunity for both women and men to spend a semester studying engineering in an environment in which women are in the majority and which has specific strengths in bioengineering, environmental engineering, and engineering and public policy.