Choosing a Major

Grace Montagnino '21

At Olin, we have three degree options: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Engineering (where students select and design their own concentration). Some common examples of concentrations are Robotics, Computing, Environmental, and Design. Thankfully, we don’t have to pick a major until the middle of our third semester. I say “thankfully” because I would not have been happy majoring in what I thought I would have as a high school senior.

When I was a senior, I was quite convinced I would study mechanical engineering. As someone who really enjoys art, I couldn’t help but see the connections between sculpture work and mechanical engineering. I love creating things with my hands, and I thought mechanical engineering would give me the most space to be creative. In the first semester at Olin, all students take an array of classes that loosely introduce us to several of our major options. Never before had I touched a circuit board, and after taking ISIM (Introduction to Sensors, Instrumentation, and Measurement) which is pretty much an intro to circuits class, I was suddenly interested in this whole world I hadn’t even known existed. After being introduced to circuits, I decided maybe I would be a Robo:E (Robotics Engineering Major). This way I could combine my interest in mechanical engineering and learn more about electrical engineering. But as I spent more and more time at Olin, and took different courses that introduced me to new engineering disciplines, I realized that while I had pegged myself as a Mech:E originally, I most certainly was not a Mech:E. In fact, I found that I had no interest in the shop at all, and absolutely dreaded using CAD (a computer modeling tool). As I opened myself up to the possibility of not being a Mech:E, I found that I was much more interested in being an ECE (electrical and computer engineer). In fact, I spent the summer working on software, something I never thought I would want to do, let alone have enough capability to do.

The actual declaration of your major itself is pretty straightforward. We all gather in the auditorium, listen to some reminders from relevant faculty, and then fill out a form with a loose four year plan. That’s pretty much all there is to declaring a major. We work out the exact details as we learn more about what we are interested in and talk more with advisors and professors. The area of interest to you within your major will also probably change and develop over time as you get exposed to new classes and ideas. At this point, I have no idea what within the ECE (electrical and computer engineering) space I will be most interested in pursuing further, but that open-endedness is not something I am worried about. Instead, I am excited to explore my major further as I take new courses and approach new projects. In a lot of my classes I’ve had the ability to direct projects towards different things I am interested in, which has also allowed me to narrow my interests.

Overall, you do not need to know what you want to major in to come to Olin - not at all. Take my journey as just one example of many. It is pretty common to come in thinking you want to study one thing and then change your mind. It is also equally common to have no idea what you want to study. I have friends who never did anything related to engineering before Olin. After 3 semesters of classes, you may not know exactly what you want to study, but you will have a much better idea than you did when you walked in the door. And even if you do declare in one major, there is nothing keeping you from diversifying and learning things that are more central to other majors. It is actually very common for Mech:Es (mechanical engineering majors) to take software design courses and vice versa. Olin wants us to be well-rounded, and capable of solving problems from a ton of perspectives, so no one is going to force you to pick a major and never take a single class outside of your major. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite!

Posted in: Grace '21, Class of 2021