A call for help from college FIRSTers...

Majors, Minors, Bachelors, Masters, wow…so confused.

I’m going in to my senior year in a little over a month and a half and I’m faced with picking which schools to apply to, and what to do once there. I’ve narrowed my choices down to electrical and mechanical engineering. I can’t seem to pick either and I’m a little confused about exactly what a major and a minor is, as well as the various degrees I could earn. Anybody have a nice outline of the college process for me? And any suggestions on picking my major?


If you want an outline, I will make one and email it to you. But this is how I picked my major and school.

  • I wanted to know what I want to study so I wouldn’t get bored or wouldn’t want to go to class. I wanted to study something that I will enjoy, that I will look forward to all the time. Thus… Mechanical Engineering.

  • When I wanted to pick school, I looked at my family as well as what I want. I wanted to see if my family needs me back here at home.

  • Once I had few colleges that I wanted to apply to, I went ahead and either visited that school or talk to students who has been there before. (The students had similar interests as I do.)

  • I called the schools, talked to admission, talk to advisors from the school, and professors I knew.

-After I gathered all the information, I sat down and thought about it.

  • And then the Final decision… What I want to do in my life.

Good luck Matt. :slight_smile:


I decided what I want to do with my life (ie how far i wanna go in school etc) and decided then what schools are best for that from reputation. I also looked into the fact that I’m going into aerospace engineering and the space center is right next door. So if location is important, then think about that.

If you are tied comletely bewteen the 2 majors (and bear in mind you still have a year) you can always start with one major and change to the other. or if you are really studious you could double major (but not too many people would suggest that with engineering). you could minor in one of them.

a minor is basically like studying the subject enough to get a pretty good understanding of it. but not enough to get a degree in it.

You also need to look at the price of a school. after financial aid and any scholarships you get (be them private or from the school) what is the cost to me or my parents? if it is too much then you need to rethink your plans.

But what is most important is when you narrow down your choices, tour the schools. you can get a feel for how much you would like being there by actually walking around the campus. talk to admissions and financial aid. if you can talk to career services and ask them the employment rate of the graduates with you future major. Once you’ve made a decision or even before, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call the school. They should be willing to help.

I hope that helped some. And have fun looking at colleges :slight_smile:

The best advice I can muster on choosing a major is to talk to people in the field to get a feel for what they actually do, it may or may not surprise you, but it is better to get any misconceptions out of the way early.
Choose a school(s) that has good programs in both. One of the nice things about most engineering schools is that the first year (sometimes two years) is virtually the same course load, so the time frame to make a decision also expands a little.
Visit those schools. Meet the professors, the students, and see what the campus is like. Make sure it is a place with people you dont mind spending a lot of time with.
Don’t burn yourself out early. Grad school is becoming more and more important, especially in the more advanced fields, and it gives great experience actually being involved in projects relating to your area of interest. It also gives great contacts for when you do start trying to find a job.
Good luck with what you may choose

The things that the other replies have said are very true. Make sure the school has a good program in engineering. Make sure you are comfortable on the campus – for example, I was dead-set on going to UofM for engineering. I went up there for a visit, and I couldn’t deal with its size. That was something I never expected to have a problem with. The note about classes being common your first couple of years is also very true. I was torn between the same two degrees you are, and I may still decide to add on the other prior to finishing school.

The other thing that’s become increasingly more important, especially in the engineering field, was mentioned indirectly before – you need to have practical experience. I know we get some from work in FIRST, but when you compare your work in FIRST with, say, work at General Motors or NASA, they’re really two different worlds. My school, though it is unique, requires 2 years of real-world experience in order to graduate. However, they know that the experience you gain from that, can only help in your career.

Good luck!! :slight_smile:

The national average shows that college students change their majors 2-3 times during their 4 (or more) in their undergraduate program. Most colleges are set up that if you don’t know right now, you should be OK and not have to spend 8 years in college.

Purdue has a Freshman Engineering Program where all prospective engineering students must complete before moving into their specialization field (which also gives you extra time to figure out which engineering you want to do/is right for you). I’m sure Purdue isn’t the only school like that. Depending on where you apply, the school might have a similar program…make sure you ask the councilors…thats what they are there for.

All engineering students at Purdue must complete the first-year engineering requirements before entering the engineering school of their choice. This core curriculum includes courses in math, chemistry, physics, computer programming and communication skills, as well as an introductory engineering lecture series.

The First-Year Engineering Program provides students with a firm foundation and initial understanding of engineering and career options to assist them in identifying the appropriate professional school. Our professional academic advisors, faculty, and student advisors are dedicated to assisting beginning engineers with the first-year experience.

They arn’t, infact I know that a few schools out there really don’t teach anything specfic in each concentration of engineering until the second year to help those that move around. Check with each college to see how they teach, some are ridged, some aren’t.

Freshman Year Courses:
Calculus II and III
Chemistry I and II
2 Semesters of Programming (I’m not a Comp Engr either :ahh: )

Maybe if you gave some ideas of where you’re looking at going, somebody here can hook you up.

BTW - From the summer before my senior year to now (summer after freshman year of college, so 2 years) I have seriously considered being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, engineering manager, business lawyer, aero engineer, pilot, mechanical engineer, engineering manager (again), politician, journalist, teacher, principle, superintendant, design engr., engr. manager, and president, in that order.

Granted you can’t just come out of college and be president, so I am continuing my engineering degree. Imagine, a president with an engineering degree. Championships in the WHITE HOUSE!

Also, Co-Op or Intern during college. Not only will it show you what to do, but what not to do.

Major - What your degree is in. Your “major” education focus. Usually require 120 total credits, with ~50 in the field.
Minor - Something you have a concentration in. A minor shows that you have had some education in something, but not enough for a full degree. Usually ~20 credits in the minor field.

For example, a Bio Minor at VCU is 19 bio credits. A Bio Major requires 120 credits, with more than 40 in biology.
Often times, a minor will share a lot of classes with a different major. For my Nursing major, I will only need 3 additional classes for a minor in Biology. However, I planned it this way and took harder bio classes than I needed for the nursing degree, but they count for both the nursing major AND the bio minor. I took Bio 151-152 (Intro Bio for Bio Majors) instead of Bio 101-102(Intro Bio). Both count toward my major (nursing), but 151-152 count for the Bio minor AND allow me access to higher level bio classes.

If you are not sure what you want to take, take classes in both, hopefully some that count for both. Most majors require x Humanities, x art and so on. Look at the different majors(degrees) you are interested in and try to pick classes that overlap the diffrent majors. This will allow you to look around early on and get a better idea what you want to do and the most flexibility later. If you have played Civilization, taking classes is a lot like the technology tree. If can be confusing when you first sit down to look at it, but a short bit of study will show you what counts where.

A bachelors degree is a 4 year college degree. A masters degree is typically 2-3 years of college after you get your bachelors. Different programs and schools are different. Some schools offer 5 or 6 year combined bachelors/masters programs.
As you can guess, a masters degree is more in depth and shows a “mastery” of a subject then a bachelors degree.

Any idea what you want to do eventually? That would be a good place to start when figuring out what degree to pursue. :slight_smile:

Good Luck,

The best advice I’ve ever heard is visiting the college. If at all possible, take a few weekends off and find colleges that have overnight visit programs. You’ll get an “unplugged” feel for the college, you’ll interact with many different students, and you won’t be given the somewhat fake, shiny, “Look what we can do!” aspect of a lot of admissions tours and official day-time school visits.

Be honest with yourself and decide how involved of a student you will be. FIRST students generally have an advantage over Joe College in that they’ve experienced project-based engineering, and a lot of them want to continue learning that way. If you really like how FIRST gave you a project-based education, look for project-based schools that offer projects in class, existing competitions outside of class, and the ability to form your own team/project without an absurdly high activation energies. Here’s a hint: ask the college’s admissions officer if freshman can be trained to work in the college machine shop.

If you’re absolutely sure you want to do engineering (and a little crazy), consider Olin (www.olin.edu). We have a student body of 300 (we just got 4 classes, we’re only 4 years old), tuition’s free (room & board ~ 10k), and I’ve been working in the Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory and have been on the MiniBaja off-road go-kart team since I stepped foot on campus (I just finished my freshman year). Make sure you’re going to be an engineer, however; we only offer Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and General Engineering.

On my college search, I researched a lot of different stuff online, narrowing down my selection to about 5. Those were MIT, Northeastern, RPI, Stevens Institute of technology, and University of New Haven (if I decided I wanted to stay home). I visited all of them, went on the campus tours, etc. and decided that I liked Northeastern and RPI the best. MIT was nice, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get in. I didn’t like the location of Stevens, and UNH was… not my thing. I applied to all of them except MIT and was accepted to all of them. Northeastern and RPI were my top two choices, and I had comparable offers of Financial Aid from both of them. Ah, that’s another thing. Start the Financial Aid Process EARLY! It’s a real pain in the anterior.

In the end, Boston and Coop and the University FIRST team ended up winning out over RPI.

I guess I’ll just give you an overview of stuff. Here at Northeastern University, all engineering students have a common freshman year.

First semester:

Calculus I
Intro to Engineering
Engineering Design
Chemistry I
Elective (one of the few you’ll ever get)

Second semester:

Calculus II
Physics I
College Writing
Engineering Computation

During the second semester, before registering for next fall’s classes, you have to declare what type of engineering you want to be. I don’t know how true this is of other colleges and universities (heck, or other majors at NU), but I found that freshman year was almost a disservice, because sophomore courses were just that much more difficult than freshman courses. I guess one of the key things to doing well is developing a good work ethic early, even though the class work may not be too difficult. That having been said, I definitely enjoy the harder classes more than the easier classes, especially once I got into courses for my major (I’m doing a dual Electrical and Computer Engineering major).

One big thing to consider is whether or not you want to go to a school with a Cooperative Education program. Essentially the way it works at NU is that, for six months out of the year, you’re in classes, learning the theory and whatnot. Then, for the other six months, you’re on coop, working in the field in your major, gaining valuable work experience, practical knowledge, and, (some would say) most importantly, a paycheck. All engineering coops here are paid, and most of them pay well; I can’t say so much for other majors. For example, my communications major friend had three coops, not one of them paid.

Of course, after your first coop, you could totally decide that you hate your major and switch to something completely different, I know a couple of English majors who started out as engineering.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me.


Oh, and be an EE. We have more fun.