Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

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lu6cifer
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Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby lu6cifer » Sun Aug 08, 2010 9:33 pm UTC

As senior year approaches, I'm starting to research and apply for colleges, and I'm at somewhat of a dilemma.

My interests are primarily math/science based, and a bunch of the schools that I'm looking at have both schools of engineering and schools of science/art (E.g., to name a few, Upenn's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and College of Arts and Sciences, CMU's Carnegie Institute of Technology (College of Engineering), or Mellon College of Science).

Now, the engineering schools seemed like a good idea at first, but I don't want to just apply to an engineering school and take really specialized courses for four years. Although my future prospects will be STEM related, I also want to take courses in philosophy, music, maybe art. And I also have interests in different fields of science, so if I specialize in something like biomedical engineering, I don't think I'd have to freedom to take as many of the math, computer science or physics courses that I want.

Yet, there are also problems with not attending an engineering school: First, I've heard the job market is pretty good for engineering graduates right out of college (however, I plan to attend graduate school, so I don't know if that matters). Also, although I'd like a wide range of knowledge, I know that specializing in something is probably more practical, and something like biomedical/bioengineering would interest me. And lastly, a bunch of my schools, Upenn, for example, have a core curriculum, and although I want a liberal artsy taste of education, I'm afraid that taking too many undesirable non-STEM courses (namely history courses) will interfere with the courses I want to take.

But perhaps I have faulty information about the academic lifestyles of engineering and liberal arts students, and do I need to even consider these things at the moment, or can it wait until I'm actually in college?
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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby jmorgan3 » Sun Aug 08, 2010 10:43 pm UTC

These are definitely questions you should be asking before you decide on a college. You want to make sure your college will fulfill your academic needs.

The answers are going to vary substantially between different colleges. Here's what you'll need to do:

  • Go to the websites of the programs you're interested in and find a curriculum.
  • This curriculum will have a certain number of free elective hours. (In my program, we have 12 free elective hours, which is about 4 lecture classes). These free elective requirements can be filled with any classes the university offers, possibly with some restrictions (e.g. no freshman-level classes).
  • Look through the course catalog for the non-major-related classes you'd like to take. If the total number of semester-hours of these classes exceeds the free-elective requirements of your degree, you'll end up having to take more classes per semester or take longer to graduate than you would otherwise. Decide if that's worth it.
  • Find out how hard it is to register for classes outside your major requirements. This information is probably not available online, so if you can't find it, email the academic advisers from the department that offers those classes. At my (engineering-oriented) school, some CS classes are restricted to CS majors unless you get a permit from an adviser.

If you have trouble finding information about specific universities, there's a good chance some xkcdian goes there and can help, so feel free to ask.
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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby cv4 » Sun Aug 08, 2010 11:26 pm UTC

I realize that you just want to take courses that interest you, but you kind of have to decide if you want an engineering degree or not to start off with. If you do, then you are pretty much locked into your courses for 4 years, minus some tech and non-tech electives. While it would be nice to go to university and just take courses you want and get the degree you want, that is unfortunately not how it works.

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby not good at these things » Mon Aug 09, 2010 4:01 am UTC

I just want to add that for CIT at carnegie your first semester would be english, a math, a science, and some kind of engineering intro. But there are plenty engineers that want a music minor or an art minor or some other kind non-technical class option. After you handle the first semester they let you have more freedom in picking your classes but they just want you to take the first semester easy, even in first semester you can take some extra easier non-technical classes if they aren't too much and the advisor approves. Actually, they kept trying to get me to take philosophy my first semester and do my english requirement next semester since that class was filling up (I didn't, I just want english done with early). You have to take so many non-technical electives to get credit and if you want an art or music minor you can apply and set your plan that way. Engineering colleges love to brag about having students that are well rounded, students majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in music theory happen (my friend is in MCS majoring in math and minoring in music). I know Carnegie loves to bring up all their students who do such technical/art plans, the left brain/right brain edge. And we have a biomedical major if done with another engineering major so you'd graduate with 2 engineering majors in 4 years.

Sorry, feel like I'm a tour guide now. Just saw CIT and was like "YO I'M IN THAT!".

Also feel like I should add that you seriously get into your major around mid-sophomore year and over, so you have time to pursue and switch. I just think it sounds like majoring in your engineering field and minoring in one of your other interests would be best to get you your engineering specialization while getting you those liberal artsy courses.

And check with whatever liberal arts school. A lot do the whole 3+2 system. You go there for 3 years then go to another school they have the program with for engineering. Off the top of my head I remember Bowdoin having that with Columbia, you do something like 3 years at Bowdoins' liberal arts with some BS in physics and then go to Columbia for engineering for 2 years and in 5 years you have 2 degrees. But it seemed to me at the time of hearing that you had a lot of planning to do at Bowdoin to get that done right, very specific courses you had to take like at engineering schools and it probably limited your arts courses the same so it never interested me. But I was just a punk junior in high school hearing the presentation and I think I was doodling a whole lot at the time. But if you want more physics and math and liberal arts along with engineering than that might work also. I think if you specifically want more from music or from philosophy then go to an engineering college and minor in that while getting your engineering degree.

Rice and Lehigh are schools that are respectable for engineering and also have the whole liberal artsy feel, if you haven't looked at them already.

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Aug 09, 2010 11:59 am UTC

I'm probably not the best person to talk to about liberal arts things as I go to an engineering/science school, with pretty much nothing else. (Ok, there are a few humanities and there's a business school, but those are thought of as the place where all the people who couldn't hash it in engineering drop to.)

I just want to reiterate that in an engineering degree, you have little to no freedom. In my degree, we have 3 free credits (one class) 9 technical elective credits (3 classes) and 12 general education requirements (4 classes). The technical electives and the general education must be chosen from a list. They're both fairly expansive, and the general education does include things like philosophy and history, but it is somewhat restrictive. There's a reason engineering is seen as difficult - it is! I don't mean to belittle humanities degrees, but often you can choose the majority of your classes in a humanities degree so it's bound to be a bit easier, and a bit more catered to your tastes. In engineering, the material you have to learn is set - no if ands or buts.

I am going for a German minor, but that’s mainly because I only had to take 2 more German classes to get the minor due to a placement test. A minor is something you should consider, but know that unless you’re coming in with a boatload of credit already (that actually pertains to your major/minor) it will take at least another semester, probably two, to finish college.

In your circumstances, I would suggest going to a school that has the whole package - engineering and liberal arts - just like you're planning. It sounds like you're not positive about wanting an engineering degree, and that's perfectly fine, so you want both options. Just some food for thought - generally, the liberal arts part of colleges are easier to get into than the engineering colleges (the example that comes to mind is University of Michigan). If you're concerned about getting into a school, you may want to apply to the liberal arts college, but it will be more difficult to start an engineering degree if you are not in the engineering college to begin with.

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby sikyon » Mon Aug 09, 2010 2:59 pm UTC

I'm in Canada, but I'll give you my experience:

Engineering is alot of work. It's alot of fixed courses, and even the courses you get to select are limited (but the options vary from management to history of music). If you want to take courses outside of this, you'll have to do it on your own time.

I think most enigneering schools have strict course lists because engineering is a professional degree which has professional accrediation requirements. Therefore, courses cannot be picked willy-nilly unlike science or the arts.

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby DarkLordofSquirrels » Mon Aug 09, 2010 3:42 pm UTC

I've just graduated from a liberal arts school with a physics degree, and while it's definitely got ups and downs, I wouldn't trade it for anything. More than just receiving technical career training, I can really say the University was my alma mater.

But it's definitely rougher for the sciences. I've been accepted to grad school, but it was a rocky ride because I wasn't able to take as many physics classes as people at larger or more technical schools, and also because about one person a decade goes for a PhD from my physics department so the faculty wasn't an awful lot of help. 3-2 programs are NO GOOD, just to warn you; most of the kids I knew doing that have ended up having to do 3-3, even at the schools we supposedly have arrangements with. Depending on what kind of engineering you want to do, it's often OK to major in physics (or chemistry/biology depending) and then go for a masters, then looking for work after six years when you would otherwise, most likely, have just finished your undergrad. I've seen this work fine for kids wanting to do Mech.E or Chem.E, and not work so well for Electrical. It all depends. At the schools you want to go, talk to the upperclassmen students as well as the professors.

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby Windmill » Tue Aug 10, 2010 12:57 am UTC

Also, don't think you need to specialize in biomedical engineering or something just to be involved in that field. My current job is at a medical device company, and my boss and co-workers have told me time and time again they are glad I am an ME because I have the technical expertise a biomedical probably wouldn't. Not to say BioE would be a bad thing, but you can always get a Masters in order to specialize.

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby Dark567 » Tue Aug 10, 2010 1:35 am UTC

Windmill wrote:Also, don't think you need to specialize in biomedical engineering or something just to be involved in that field. My current job is at a medical device company, and my boss and co-workers have told me time and time again they are glad I am an ME because I have the technical expertise a biomedical probably wouldn't. Not to say BioE would be a bad thing, but you can always get a Masters in order to specialize.


Off topic, but I know of at least one Biomed firm that won't hire Biomedical engineers and always favor ME's, not the norm, but it isn't completely uncommon either.
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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby lu6cifer » Tue Aug 10, 2010 11:19 am UTC

Thanks for the responses guys! It's given me some stuff to think about.

It's not that I want to do biomedical engineering specifically. I want to study something that will encompass biology, physics/engineering, computer science, and mathematics, and I figured biomed would cover most of those in my courses.
lu6cifer wrote:"Derive" in place of "differentiate" is even worse.

doogly wrote:I'm partial to "throw some d's on that bitch."

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Re: Engineering school vs general science/liberal artsy?

Postby lu6cifer » Tue Aug 17, 2010 10:36 pm UTC

Sorry for bumping (and for double posting), but I had another question sort of relating to this--

Will the department you apply to affect the school's decision on whether or not to admit you? Because another reason I'm deciding on engineering vs general science/liberal arts is that for many colleges, the engineering school is more distinguished, and thus much harder to get into.

Just as an example, I'm planning to apply to Johns Hopkins, and I know that they have a very selective biomedical engineering program there. Now, on the commonapp, I'm allowed to select an alternate school, so if I put BME as my first choice, but I select something from their school of arts and sciences for my second choice (ie, something not as prestigious), will putting BME as a choice at all affect my chances of getting into JHU?
lu6cifer wrote:"Derive" in place of "differentiate" is even worse.

doogly wrote:I'm partial to "throw some d's on that bitch."


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