There are a lot of paths to pursue engineering as a Hamilton student, and a lot of “correct” sets of first-year courses. Here are some guiding principles, but you will want to apply them to your particular interests. Your advisors are here to assist, but we can be more helpful if you have thought about the issues raised below.

Before picking courses you should do some soul searching. Ask yourself, for example, what topics interest you enough that you might want to take 10 courses in that subject? Five courses in that subject? One course in that subject?

Choosing First-Year Courses

Despite the number of different paths toward engineering at Hamilton, picking first-year courses usually boils down to the same two decisions for all incoming first-year students: What fields might I want to major in, and what else do I want to explore. Start by considering the following mix of courses.

Your first priority is to pick one or two courses in subjects that you consider possible majors (we often refer to majors as concentrations at Hamilton). For most of our engineers, this choice includes a physics course plus a computer science or chemistry course, but there are lots of options.


College courses may be very different from their high school equivalents, so your favorite course in high school may not be the best major for you. Explore courses in two or three possible majors to see how they feel at the college level. You will spend a lot of time in your major, so you want to consider several possibilities before you commit to one (or possibly two). In addition, you have not had courses in most of the fields offered at Hamilton such as sociology, philosophy, art history, or creative writing.

The natural sciences (and languages) tend to have sequential majors. For instance, you must start physics and chemistry in the fall semester, you have to take your first physics and math courses in order, and some courses are only offered in specific semesters. Math and computer science are a little more flexible than physics and chemistry because their introductory courses are offered in both semesters, but you still must take the first few courses in order. Biology, geosciences, and psychology allow you to start in either semester and are less sequential than the other sciences. Having said that, we typically have one or two physics majors per class who start in their sophomore year, so it is possible to pursue a slightly different path.

If you are considering engineering, you probably like math, so calculus would be a natural choice even if it were not required.

Take a course outside of the sciences that sounds fun. Ideally, this would be a field that you might want to explore in several courses. This course might even turn into a major or minor. If the course is writing intensive, so much the better, because you will be required to complete three writing-intensive courses!  Hamilton’s strength is in the liberal arts; you want to be able to explain physics to literature majors, and to explain art to physicists. One reason engineering schools partner with us is because our students can communicate with many different audiences. 

Don’t fall into the trap of eating your vegetables before your cake. When you get to college you probably don’t know what you will consider cake. In your first year or two your main job is figuring out what interests you while keeping several options open. Once you know your interests (major, engineering, pre-med, etc.) you can fill in required courses as needed. You don’t want to take all engineering courses that you don’t like for two years only to find that your real passion is creative writing.


Every Hamilton graduate must have a major. Majors typically require around 10 courses, which may not include prerequisites from other departments such as math.

Engineering Courses:
Each engineering program requires certain courses that must be taken at Hamilton. These can be found by searching for “dual degree engineering” or “combined plan engineering” at the school of interest (e.g., Dartmouth, RPI, Columbia, Wash. U.)  The combined plan site for Columbia is particularly clear and is a good place to look first. The other programs are a little more flexible. 

In general, engineering programs will want to see credit for five semesters of math (Calc I, II and III, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations), two semesters of physics (either Physics 190 & 195, or Physics 200 & 205), one semester of chemistry (Chem 120 or 125), one semester of computer science (Comp. Sci. 101), one semester of economics (Econ 100), and the equivalent of an English composition course. The English requirement is satisfied by the Hamilton writing-intensive requirement, which includes three writing-intensive courses in any field. In addition, most engineering programs require eight non-technical courses. There are also specific requirements for individual branches of engineering, such as the quantum mechanics requirement for electrical engineering.

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