Info for students interested in engineering
Although Amherst does not have an engineering major, many Amherst graduates
have pursued successful and rewarding
careers in engineering, applied science, management, and related disciplines.
Success in these disciplines requires strong foundations in science and
mathematics, the ability to reason logically about technical and non-technical
aspects of problems, and the ability to communicate clearly in speech and in writing.
Engineers benefit from a broad perspective that allows them to consider technical,
aesthetic, economic, social, and humanistic facets of the real-world problems they
encounter. The well-rounded liberal arts education you can obtain at Amherst
can included both a strong and deep training in the sciences as well as breadth
in the language and culture, social sciences, arts, and the humanities. This is
excellent preparation for engineering graduate school and an engineering career.
Below is some information about engineering careers, provided in the form of
answers to frequently asked questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Amherst College offer an engineering major?
No, there is no engineering major at Amherst College.
Neither of these options is easy, nor are they the quickest way to become a practicing
engineer. If your goal is to prepare for an entry-level job in engineering and to
begin working as an engineer as quickly as possible, you'll be better served attending
a school with a four-year engineering degree program. Those programs will allow (indeed, require)
you to focus your coursework on engineering-specific preprofessional topics, and the time
available to study non-technical subjects will be limited. If your career goal is
engineering, you should attend Amherst only if you are willing to both acquire a
firm scientific foundation and to explore the arts, humanities, and social sciences
before pursuing more technical, profession-specific coursework. Note that while you can
do some kinds of engineering work with a bachelors degree, a masters degree
is the terminal working degree for most engineers. Getting to a masters degree in
engineering by going through Amherst adds about a year onto your total time in school relative to
going through a four-year engineering degree program. You should attend Amherst only if
you value the type of education that additional year will afford you.
I know I can enroll in courses at other schools in the Five College system, and
some of them offer engineering courses. Can I take engineering courses that way?
While there is no engineering program or major at Amherst College, here are engineering
courses in the Five College area. Both Smith College and UMass Amherst have engineering schools.
However, very generally the Amherst College Registrar will not give Amherst College credit for courses taken at another institution if those
courses are not consistent with the curriculum of a liberal arts college. In particular, this means that
courses deemed to be pre-professional, e.g. courses in business, engineering, nursing, cannot be taken elsewhere for Amherst College
credit. However, there is a certain flexibility of interpretation that makes this rule a bit less restrictive than it sounds.
If an Amherst College academic department will certify to the Registrar that a comparable course could, at least in principle,
have been taught in that department, the Registrar will usually award credit for the course even if it's taught in
an engineering department. The content of a great many undergraduate engineering courses is similar to
that of science and math courses (although the emphasis and some of the techniques may differ), it is often the case
that an undergraduate engineering course can be certified by some related Amherst College academic department.
For example, fluid dynamics has (to my knowledge) never been taught in the physics department
at Amherst College but is regularly taught in the UMass
mechanical engineering department. However, since fluid dynamics could in principle be taught in the physics department, since it is physics
broadly construed, the Amherst College physics department will usually approve it for Amherst credit. On the other hand, the Introduction to
Engineering course taught in many UMass engineering departments will not be approved for Amherst College credit (the same it true for
most business courses). In all cases the final discretion whether to grant Amherst College credit lies with the Registrar.
OK, so I can't major in engineering at Amherst College. How can I pursue a career in
A prospective engineer should major in one of the sciences, math, or statistics, and should plan to study at
an engineering school after Amherst. Amherst students usually choose one of two routes to an engineering career:
- Undergraduate degree in science, math, or statistics, and graduate school in engineering
Most Amherst students who pursue careers in engineering do so by completing an Amherst major in
one of the sciences, math, or statistics. Afterward the student goes to a graduate school for a master’s degree or
doctorate in engineering.
The success rate for applicants from Amherst is high---many of the best engineering graduate programs
are eager to accept Amherst
students who have strong records in science courses.
Regardless their majors, as preparation for engineering graduate school
we recommend students take math through multivariable calculus
(differential equations is good, too), a year of physics (the PHYS 123/124 is best), a semester of
chemistry (CHEM 151), and a semester of computer science (COSC 111) or learn to program on their own.
If you have particular interests in engineering, it would be sensible to take additional
science courses in these areas (e.g. biomedical engineering? take some biology). It would also
be good to do a senior thesis, so you gain some experience with research. Beyond the curricular
aspects, you might want to explore your interest in engineering by participating in clubs at Amherst (e.g. the
electronics club) and by doing engineering-related internships over the summer. Finally, if you
like building things (and many engineers do), consider taking the machine shop course offered
by the physics department over interterm and during the summer.
- Engineering dual degree programs
An alternate route is to enroll in the dual degree program, which allows participating
students to earn a BA at Amherst and a BSE from Dartmouth College in a total of five
Tell me more about the engineering dual degree program...
The College has an arrangement with Dartmouth College which
permits Amherst students to take a year away from Amherst College (akin to
a junior year abroad) to study engineering. Amherst College
students can take their junior year at Dartmouth, graduate
from Amherst with an Amherst College BA, and then complete one more year at
Dartmouth College to obtain a Bachelors of Science in Engineering from
Dual degree program with Dartmouth College (Dartmouth website)
Linked below is a copy of the proposal, approved by the CEP and the Committee of Six,
to formalize Amherst's participation in engineering exchange program with Dartmouth. This document has
a few more Amherst-specific details of our participation in the program. One or two of our
students have participated in this program each year for the past several years.
Engineering exchange program with Dartmouth (Amherst details)
Other useful links:
American Society for Engineering Education
This site has useful links both general and specific.
Picker Engineering Program website has
some useful links and some information about how engineering can mesh
with a liberal arts education.
National Engineering Week
IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
part of the student resources section is a particularly nice
Society of Physics Students (SPS) has many resources aimed at the undergraduate physics student. It's not
directly related to engineering, but there are many useful general resources.
In addition, the
Careers Using Physics
section has profiles and advice from people with all levels of physics
education who went on to do all manner of things, including obtaining
a physics bachelors degree and moving into engineering.