Students studying at tables in Duffield Hall


We have compiled some tips for incoming new students from current engineering students here at Cornell.

What classes should I take and how many should I take?

The Engineering Undergraduate Handbook tells you about the requirements for all majors.  On average, first semester students take 14-18 credits, which is about 4-5 classes.  Most majors have roughly the same math, basic chemistry and physics requirements, an introduction to engineering course, an introduction to computing course, and First-Year Writing Seminars.  If you are undecided about your major or still exploring different options, don't worry! Your first semester will consist of general classes that will be required of all engineering majors so you have time to figure out what to major in.  Note that 12 credits is the minimum for good standing.  If you're considering dropping below 12 credits, you should discuss this with your Faculty Advisor and Engineering Advising.  This can be particularly complicated for students with financial aid, international students, and NCAA athletes.

I have Advanced Placement (AP) credit.  What do I do?

The Engineering Registrar has all the details about AP and transfer credit.  You can also refer to your Transfer Credit Report on Student Center.  Talk with Engineering Advising if you have questions about whether or not you should take a class for which you have received credit.

How should I schedule my classes?

Many students refer to the Class Roster ahead of pre-enrolling in Student Center. The scheduler option in the Class Roster is a great tool to make their schedules. If you're not sure about your schedule, ask your Faculty Advisor or visit with Engineering Advising.  To make the best of pre-enroll, be sure to plan your schedule ahead of time.  Try not to have late classes or labs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as tests are usually scheduled for the evenings of these days.  Also, don't forget to schedule a lunch break.  Make multiple possible schedules and be flexible in case a class you wanted fills up.  Make sure you have a good back up plan! Be sure to prioritize pre-enroll for the lab or discussion section first instead of the lecture, using course numbers found on the Class Roster to expedite the process.

How do I add or drop a class?

The easiest way is to go to Student Center and use the add/drop a class feature.  If you don't get into a class before the semester starts, don't panic! Contact the department office that offers the course and see if they can help you or if they have a wait list.  Sometimes departments will add more seats before the semester starts.  Important dates and deadlines for adding or dropping a class are published each semester on the Engineering Registrar website.

I am trying to plan ahead.  Is there anything else I should take note of?

Not all courses are offered year-round.  Be aware that some courses are only offered in the fall or only in the spring.  Keep in mind that a three-credit course might be just as much work as a four-credit course.  Also, two classes that have the same credit hours do not necessarily have the same workload.  For example, a three-credit class, such as ECON 1110, may have much less work than another three-credit class, like ENGRD 2210.  Look through the major flowcharts in the Engineering Undergraduate Handbook and take note of course pre-requisites.  You don't want to delay taking pre-requisite courses and then realize that you cannot graduate on time.

How are courses graded?

At Cornell, there is no standard grading policy.  Different faculty have different grading policies, but they will let you know the policy for their class at the first class meeting and will publish the policy in the course syllabus.  Some faculty will grade on a curve, which means that students receive grades based on how well they rank in a class.  As an example, if the mean score is curved to a B, a standard deviation above the mean would be about an A-, while one standard deviation below the mean would be about a C+.

How hard should I be working?

The difficulty of work varies.  Expect to spend about 50 minutes in class and 100 minutes outside of class per credit hour.  So, in general, devote about 7.5 hours total a week to a three-credit class.

What do I do if I am having trouble with classes?

Cornell has many resources to support you with any class.  All professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) have office hours several times a week where you can work one-on-one with them on questions and concepts that are unclear.  You can also enroll in Academic Excellence Workshops.  Engineering Advising is a great place to get started when seeking assistance.  You can also utilize many other University resources.

What should I do if I fail a prelim?

It might be ok if you fail or don't do as well on an exam as you would have liked to have done.  Speak with the professor about your struggles.  Your professor or TAs may have suggestions on how to improve your study habits or offer to increase the weight of your remaining exams if you improve.  Make sure to go to your TA office hours.  Some students find that forming study groups helps them learn from their peers in a less stressful environment.  You can also talk with your Faculty Advisor or Engineering Advising about other options, such as potentially dropping a class and making it up over the summer.  Most importantly, get advice.  Don't drop without asking about the possible repercussions.

What is the Liberal Studies requirement?

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the Liberal Studies requirements and review approved courses.  Some courses might not be your cup of tea, but there are tons of classes to consider.  Try something that is new to you!

Which Physical Education (PE) courses should I take?

Another great way to try something new is through Cornell's extensive list of PE courses.  Instead of taking a course in the same sport that you have always been playing since you were a kid, try backpacking, or squash, or ballroom dancing, or sailing, to name a few.  Find a sport that you really like? Get some friends together and check out intramural tournaments!