Pre-Engineering is an advising function to assist students choosing courses and applying 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.
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Williams has an excellent Computer Science Department whose graduates are well prepared for employment as software engineers or for further study in computer science. Please consult that department for advice on how to prepare for careers in the software industry.
A prospective engineer should major in one of the sciences and should plan to study at an engineering school after Williams.
B.A. in the Sciences, then Graduate School
The most common route to an engineering career (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). Afterwards 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.
Many students are curious about 3-2 engineering programs and other engineering transfer programs. Occasionally a Williams student chooses one of the following programs:
- Columbia University Combined Plan in Liberal Arts and Engineering
This plan can be completed as a 3-2 program or as a 4-2 program.
- Dartmouth College Dual-Degree Program
This program normally is completed as a 2-1-1-1 program. The student starts with 2 years at Williams, attends Dartmouth during the 3rd year, comes back to Williams for the 4th year, and finishes off with a 5th year at Dartmouth.
None of these routes to an engineering career is the most direct. 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.
Courses Recommended to Students Interested in Engineering
Mathematics and physics serve as the foundation of most engineering disciplines. First-year students who might be interested in engineering should take mathematics and physics courses as early as possible.
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 13), while a prospective chemical engineer should concentrate on chemistry courses. The following list of courses is recommended only as a starting point.
- PHYS 141 Mechanics and Waves
- PHYS 142 Foundations of Modern Physics
- or PHYS 151 Seminar in Modern Physics
- PHYS 201 Electricity and Magnetism
- PHYS 202 Vibrations, Waves, and Optics
- MATH 130, 140, 150 Calculus I, II, and Multivariable
- PHYS 210Mathematical Methods for Scientists
- or MATH 309 Differential Equations and Vector Calculus
- CHEM 151 or CHEM 153 Concepts of Chemistry
- CSCI 134 Introduction to Computer Science
- ECON 110 Principles of Microeconomics
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.