Pre-Engineering Advising

Adam and Clay

Adam Halverson (Reed College ’00) and Clay Stein (Williams ’00) programming Prof. Jeff Strait’s lab computer. The fiber laser is on the optical table in the foreground.

Pre-Engineering is an advising function designed to assist students choose courses and apply to engineering schools for study after Williams.  Although Williams College does not offer an engineering major, many Williams graduates enjoy rewarding careers in engineering, applied science, and technical management. Successful engineers need to be able to communicate effectively, reason logically, and understand both the technical and the social dimensions of a problem. Williams offers opportunities to acquire a strong grounding in science and mathematics, while also studying broadly in the humanities and social sciences. This well-rounded liberal arts education enables Williams graduates to succeed in engineering graduate study and in their careers.

A prospective engineer should major in one of the sciences and should plan to study at an engineering school after Williams. Williams students usually choose one of two routes to an engineering career:

B.A. in the Sciences, then Grad School

The most common route (9 out of 10 students) is to complete a B.A. at Williams in the normal four years, majoring in one of the sciences (usually physics, chemistry, computer science, or mathematics). Afterward the student goes to a graduate school for a master’s degree or doctorate in engineering. Our experience is that many of the best engineering graduate programs are eager to accept Williams students who have strong records in science courses. Graduate programs Williams students have attended in recent years.

Combined Program in Liberal Arts and Engineering

An alternative route is the Combined Program in Liberal Arts and Engineering, also known as the 3-2 program. A student can study at Williams for 3 years and then transfer to Columbia University for 2 years of engineering study. At the end of five years, the student receives both a B.A. from Williams and a B.S. in engineering from Columbia. Please note that a 3-2 student must complete the Williams distribution requirements and a Williams major, as well as take several prerequisite courses. Grades of B or better in all of the prerequisite courses and an overall GPA of 3.30 are required. Careful planning is necessary to complete all of these requirements in three years. With approval of the chair of the major department, the student may receive credit toward his or her Williams major for engineering courses taken at Columbia.

Neither of these two routes to an engineering career is easy. If one’s goal is to prepare for an entry-level job in engineering as quickly as possible, one should attend a four-year undergraduate engineering program instead of Williams College. Of necessity undergraduate engineering programs concentrate earlier and more intensely on engineering-specific topics. They also offer few opportunities to study non-technical subjects. A prospective engineer should attend Williams only if he or she wants to take the time to acquire a firm foundation in science and to explore the humanities and social sciences before beginning engineering-specific training. In the long run the extra time and effort required to combine a liberal arts education with engineering training gives an engineer valuable scientific skills and communications skills that will enhance his or her career.

Engineering includes a wide variety of subjects, ranging from traditional fields like mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering to newer fields like bioengineering and environmental engineering. Different engineering fields will have different prerequisite courses. For example, a prospective electrical engineer should take courses in electricity and magnetism (e.g. PHYS 201 and PHYS 405) and electronics (e.g. Winter Study PHYS 014), while a prospective chemical engineer should concentrate on chemistry courses. The following list of courses is recommended only as a starting point.

Williams alumni who work in engineering report that they use statistics extensively, so a statistics course, such as STAT 201, would be helpful. Furthermore, linear algebra (MATH 250), applied real analysis (MATH 351), and complex analysis (MATH 372) are useful courses for advanced work in some areas of engineering, such as signal processing.

For advice please contact the pre-engineering advisor, Prof. Jeff Strait. He can be reached by e-mail at or by telephone at 413-597-2008.