Rising Sophomore FAQ


I’m still a freshman.

Not much longer. That’s why you’re a “rising sophomore” if you’re in the Class of 2025.

How do I join a department?

You officially join a department by having your Pre-Concentration Advising Form approved by the departmental representative or another faculty member assigned to advise rising sophomores in the department that you have chosen. In May, you will confirm your choice of department by entering it on the Registrar’s website (you will receive notification about how this works.)

Why do I have to choose a department now?

There’s a lot to learn as a B.S.E. student, and it has to be done in a certain sequence. Affiliating with a department makes sure that you follow this sequence and stay on track toward the 36 courses required for your degree. Joining a department now also pays off in junior and senior year, when you will already know many of the other students and departmental faculty. This makes working on projects and independent work much easier, as well as developing associations with faculty, staff, and fellow students that can benefit you immensely later on.

What if I don’t like the department I have chosen?

If you change your mind over the summer, it’s a fairly simple matter to change at the start of the fall term. Just stop by the Undergraduate Affairs Office in C209 E-Quad and pick up a sophomore change-of-department form and obtain the signature of the departmental rep of your old department, then of your new department, and bring it back to C209 E-Quad. The further along you go, changing departments gets trickier, but it’s usually possible to make a change after the fall term, even sometimes after the spring term. Of course, it helps if you’re as on track with the courses in your new department as much as possible. After a certain point, it usually doesn’t make much sense to change. Many students have found that they often can take courses in other SEAS departments and have them count toward their major as technical electives.

How is the departmental program of study organized?

A typical departmental program of study consists of core courses, technical electives, and independent work. Some departments have additional requirements such as an upper level math course. Most SEAS departments have organized their programs in the following way:

Sophomore year: courses that cover the general principles of the field, things that you can apply in many different situations and which will enable you to pick up new material easily later on, even decades in the future;

Junior year: more in-depth courses in specific topics as well as a course or two in engineering design, in which you take the general principles and learn how to make useful things;

Senior year: further in-depth courses in your particular areas of interest, plus independent work or a senior thesis in which you take an engineering problem and devise a way to solve it by carrying out the necessary observations, experiments, designs, and calculations, then present it in a professional manner.

How is B.S.E. independent work organized?

In four departments – Chemical and Biological Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Operations Research and Financial Engineering – independent work is done as a full-year senior thesis that counts as two courses (junior independent work is also available, and ORFE has a one-term senior option.) In Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, students do either one-semester senior independent work or two-semester senior theses or senior projects with design (one-semester junior independent work is also available.) In Computer Science, independent work consists of one or more one-semester projects, although it is increasingly common for students to connect two semesters of independent work to make a full-year senior thesis. Each department has a system for matching students with independent work advisers. Often faculty members list topics that they’d like to have a student work on, but if a student has a personal interest and there is a faculty member willing to supervise it, and it doesn’t cost an immense amount, it’s usually possible to do. Funding is available from SEAS for modest expenses connected with junior and senior independent work and theses.

Can I study abroad as a B.S.E. student?

Yes, and an increasing number of students are doing so. Recently, B.S.E. students have studied in Denmark, France, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Chile, Argentina, Hungary, Kenya and Switzerland. English-speaking countries are most popular, for although your language skills may be adequate to learn history or literature, learning about the derivation of Navier-Stokes equations in an exotic language may be more than you can handle, but that’s only a practical limitation and we’re happy to consider any reasonable program. Early planning is key, even a year or more in advance. A year-long exchange program with Oxford is open to ECE, MAE, and CEE students with possible expansion to COS, other exchanges with CentraleSupélec in Paris, University of Cantabria in Spain, ETH-Zürich, and Hong Kong U. Many other destinations are open as well, such as Edinburgh and Melbourne. Consult with the associate dean for undergraduate affairs and the director of the Study Abroad program. See http://www.princeton.edu/oip/sap/.

Can I pursue a certificate program as a B.S.E. student?

Almost all Princeton certificate programs are open to B.S.E. students, not just the engineering-related ones like Engineering Physics and Engineering Biology. Careful planning is key, but engineering students have recently done certificates in Visual Arts, Musical Performance, Theater and Dance, language and area studies (e.g. Latin American Studies), Environmental Studies, and the many others.

How do B.S.E. students spend their summers?

Engineering students often find that their summer jobs are valuable complements to their academic work at Princeton, especially after sophomore and junior years. Usually, they look for opportunities to work for a company where they can get some professional experience or do research at a university or another research establishment. Finding summer opportunities takes persistence; don’t get discouraged. Students do research with faculty members at Princeton by knocking on doors or sending e-mails to professors. It’s usually helpful to visit the departmental websites and learn about faculty research interests, so you can profess to have a passionate interest in working on that particular topic. Other students are involved with research at other schools through programs known as REUs, or Research Experiences for Undergraduates, funded by the National Science Foundation. Visit http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/reu/ for a list of REU sites. Many of them are for rising juniors and rising seniors, so you’ll start getting e-mail about these next year. Working for companies requires persistence and early attention. Start with the Science and Technology Job Fair in Dillon Gym, this coming fall on Friday, October 12, 2018. If you attended last fall, you remember that most companies weren’t much interested in freshmen. They’re more interested in sophomores, and even more interested in juniors. Remember that there are many more companies out there besides those that come to campus. Try to identify those that do things you’re interested in and visit their websites. You can usually find a link to “careers” or “jobs”. Follow that link to things like “college relations” or “co-ops” and you’ll find out whom to contact for summer employment. Savvy students are doing this in November and December. Career Services at 36 University Place has information on various internship opportunities.

Should I take summer courses?

Many B.S.E. students do, although it shouldn’t be necessary unless you’re catching up after changing majors or making up a course deficiency, or if you have scheduling conflicts that get in the way of taking premed requirements, for example. B.S.E. students may count up to four summer courses toward the 36 required for the B.S.E. Few take all four, but some take one or two. What courses can be taken elsewhere? Generally, you want to look at courses within the liberal arts and sciences or engineering. Princeton won’t accept courses in areas like communications, marketing, leisure studies, agronomy, and other such fields. What makes sense to take? Usually, it’s best for students to fulfill either general requirements that are offered in a fairly standard way or subjects that are within the liberal arts or engineering that aren’t offered at Princeton (e.g. prehistoric archaeology.) Usually, departmental core courses can’t be taken elsewhere. Also, it makes more sense to take your humanities and social science requirements at Princeton to balance off your technical courses. Approval for summer courses must be obtained first from the department at Princeton where the course would be offered, then from the SEAS associate dean for undergraduate affairs. See https://engineering.princeton.edu/undergraduate-studies/sophomore-senior-advising/summer-course-information for more info.

Can I work a summer experience into my independent work in the following year?

Sometimes. Consult with your adviser in your department. Some departments have limits on the degree to which work done outside Princeton can be brought into independent work. Also, remember that continuing to work for a company during the academic year may cause problems for Princeton’s tax-free status if you use University equipment or computers. Finally, any work you do for a thesis or independent work has to be completely open and available to public scrutiny. Companies working on cutting-edge technology usually like to keep things secret, and we can’t have you working on independent work that you can’t talk to your adviser about. If you have any questions, consult your department.


Consult your director of undergraduate studies or the SEAS associate dean for undergraduate affairs, C-207 Engineering Quad, 609-258-4554. Information on B.S.E. departments and programs can be found at https://engineering.princeton.edu/.