Choosing Your Major

You may be wondering, "If Olin is an engineering school, what can you major in?" You might think, Mechanical or Electrical, right? It's not quite that simple.

I came into Olin wanting to do computer science and only computer science. As I tried out Intro to Sensors, Instrumentation and Measurement (ISIM), the first year electrical prototyping class, my first semester, I was torn. I couldn't decide if I wanted to build computers or program them. I initially planned on the more rigid Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) major which would be easier to switch out of than to switch into. So that semester, I adopted the mindset of an electrical engineer. I took on all the electrical tasks in my team projects, and I learned that that's not all I want to do. Shortly after that, I realized that I had never tried mechanical engineering of any sort, so I took on the most complicated mechanical tasks for my team projects. From these little identity crises, I learned that I don't want to be constrained to any of these tracks and instead care more about the integration of mechanical, electrical, and software. That was my long journey to realizing that I wanted to major in Engineering with a concentration in Robotics. Here's some general information about majors at Olin and choosing a major if you are or will be an Olin student:

What are the majors?

While every major at Olin is some flavor of engineering, the way these majors work is slightly unconventional. There are three possible majors at Olin: Mechanical Engineering (ME), Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), and General Engineering. Here's a little bit about each major:

ME: The first of the structured majors, ME's requirements and electives include classes such as Dynamics, Transport, Mechanical Design, and the famed Mechanical Prototyping (or MechProto).

ECE: The other structured major, ECE requirements include things like Signals and Systems, Analysis of Digital Systems, Circuits, and Computer Architecture.

General Engineering: this is Olin's “choose your own adventure” major. Each General Engineering major chooses a concentration and defines their own plan of study which must be approved by an adviser. The most common concentrations are Computing (essentially computer science), Robotics, and Design. But that's not all you can do. Olinnauts have majored in topics such as computational biology and biological engineering.

How do you choose a major?

  • Take a breadth of classes your first year. It's hard to know what you want unless you try it all. The first semester classes offer a pretty even spread of computing (Modeling and Simulation), mechanical design (Design Nature), and electrical signal processing (Introduction to Sensors, Instrumentation, and Measurement), but keep trying new things in your second semester. I’ve known many a potential ME to take Software Design just to make sure they're ready to commit to their major.
  • Do what you like: you may have second thoughts about a major, like Robotics, that employers might not "get." The thing is, the projects you work on and the practical experience you gain at Olin is much more important to employers than what specific words are on your diploma, or your GPA, for that matter.
  • Talk to your adviser: always a safe bet. Your adviser, or another faculty member in the field you're thinking of going into, will have a lot of wisdom to share.

How do you plan your schedule to complete your major?

  • Have a 4-year plan (or a 3-year plan?): This is more important your sophomore year, but starting third semester, you'll want to think about completing major requirements that are prerequisites to your other requirements. Popular third semester courses are Computer Architecture for ECE's, Dynamics for ME's, Fundamentals of Computer Science for computer science majors, and Fundamentals of Robotics for RoboE's.
  • Keep in mind study abroad, if you're planning on studying abroad (which you should). Make sure you choose to do it in a semester that does not conflict with requirements only offered in the spring or in the fall.
  • Plan your AHSE concentration: Everyone at Olin needs to take 12 related credits of humanities. Here you have two options, an AHS (Arts, Humanities, or Social Sciences) concentration or an E! (Entrepreneurship) concentration. An AHS concentration is just three classes in one of these areas that are connected by a subject matter or department.

While I have landed on a Robotics major, the journey is not over yet. Since it is a self-designed major, I want to make sure it reflects my interests and goals for my education accurately. Because I am more interested in the software and human interaction side of robotics, my next step is to talk to faculty members in these areas to design a more personalized major that will help me accomplish my professional goals.

It’s scary to take the leap of deciding on a path for the next three years of your life because it can often feel like you’re deciding your whole life. Just remember: your major is not always what you’ll be, and Olin’s unique well-rounded education will give you a foothold in almost any field of engineering you want to learn.

Posted in: Sophia '20