EE Undergraduate Program FAQ

  • General requirements for the BS degree are documented in the school bulletin, along with the specific requirements for each major program. Some alternate courses and restrictions are listed in footnotes. The bulletin also contains sample schedules and a formal description for every course.
  • The EE Dept. posts an EE program “checklist" on its website that summarizes all the BS requirements, and includes more detailed rules for the choice of technical electives than can be found in the bulletin. The EE website also contains other useful references, such as a course flowchart and lists of recent course offerings.
  • Advisors can be asked to clarify rules and approve electives or substitutions. CSA advisors handle the general and non-tech requirements, while major faculty advisors handle the major program requirements. Major advisor assignments are posted on the EE website.
  • The EE Undergraduate Committee Chair, Prof. Kymissis, and the EE Vice Chair, Prof. Zukowski, can also be consulted at any time. They usually hold an informal advising lunch each semester right before early registration where students can ask questions and discuss course choices with their friends.
  • Our Student Affairs Manager, Cassandra Kokofu can assist you with any administrative questions and/or any graduation requirement questions that you may have. For questions please email: [email protected]
  • Please do not rely on the SSOL DAR to determine requirements. That is an automated tool that cannot handle all cases correctly, so it should just be used as a rough advising aid.

Students continue to have advisors at the Center for Student Advising for general issues and requirements throughout their entire undergraduate program. But once they have declared a major, they are also assigned a major faculty advisor for questions about major requirements and discussions about future career paths.

Major faculty advisors for all EE and Computer Engineering undergraduates are posted here. Students are not required to see their major advisors regularly, but it is highly recommended that they be consulted at least on occasion, particularly when making important choices along the way such as which electives to take.

The EE curriculum is designed to allow students who are at Columbia University for four years to start their study of Electrical Engineering in their first year with ELEN E1201 Introduction to EE. Then students who feel ready can usually fit a few EE courses into their second-year schedule. An example of such an early-starting plan is shown in the EE section of the bulletin. If feasible, this allows students to spread their engineering courses more evenly throughout their four-year program, and can increase later flexibility in choosing technical electives. But the program is also designed to work smoothly for students who don’t start their core EE courses until junior year, as illustrated in the late-starting plan shown in the bulletin. Students following either approach, or something in between, have plenty of company.

All seniors in the EE program must take a one-point course in the fall, ELEN E3399 EE Practice, that includes lectures about planning an EE capstone project. Almost all EE students then continue on to the three-point course ELEN E3390 Electronic Circuit Design Lab in the spring to complete their project.

There are other project courses that can potentially be used instead, such as EECS E4340, CSEE W4840, ELEN E4350 and ELEN E3998/E4998, but the projects in those courses are not necessarily suitable as EE capstone projects, so special restrictions have to be arranged with the ELEN E3399 instructor to allow this.

All EE students, regardless of which project course is taken, must provide a project report and presentation before graduation. These reports and presentations are archived by the department and used for periodic evaluation of the EE program.

It is possible for students to do their capstone project in the junior year,but only if they have already completed almost all of the rest of the EE major program by that time. Part of the goal of a capstone project is to apply the knowledge gained from all the other courses in the program, so it does not make sense to take it in the middle.

Students generally need to take six technical elective courses (≥18 points). Two (≥6points) are restricted to insure overall program depth and two (≥6 points) are restricted to insure overall program breadth. The rules for those four courses, which must all be engineering courses, are summarized on the EE program checklist and discussed in other FAQ questions.

The remaining two technical elective courses(≥6 points), beyond the four depth and breadth ones, are very flexible. Economics courses cannot be used, but almost any 3000-level (or higher) math, science, or engineering course that is technical and does not significantly overlap another course already taken is fine. Major advisors should be consulted if there is any question.

Note that students who did not take APMA E2101, but instead took full,approved courses in Ordinary Differential Equations and Linear Algebra worth a total of at least 6 points, have one of the two technical electives beyond depth and breadth electives waived due to the 3 extra points of math that they have taken.

Also note that transfer and combined-plan students who did not take or get official transfer credit for ELEN E1201 Introduction to EE have the additional restriction that one (≥3points)of the technical electives beyond the four depth and breadth ones must also be an engineering course. This insures that the entire program has sufficient engineering content.

The point of the depth requirement is not necessarily to choose a specialization for a future career or even to test out an area of possible interest, although it can be used for those purposes. The goal is to obtain experience with pursuing a focus area in more detail than is possible in introductory courses. Courses that are allowed build on introductory courses in a particular area.

Currently there are four possible EE depth areas to choose from,and the courses for each are specified on the EE program checklist.Two technical electives must be chosen from one of the four depth area lists. All of the choices are 3-point 3000-level (or higher) engineering courses.

The breadth requirement ensures that a student does not over-specialize in only one area of study. Breadth is particularly important today because innovation often requires an interdisciplinary approach. Exposure to other focus areas can improve one's creativity in his or her own focus area, and such exposure also reduces the chance of obsolescence as technology changes.

To satisfy this requirement, two (≥6 points)of the technical electives must be from outside the depth area. They could be from another depth area, from two other depth areas, or even from other departments, as long as they are somewhat outside the chosen depth area and thus satisfy the spirit of the requirement.But they are restricted to be 3000-level (or higher) engineering courses to provide sufficient engineering content for the program, and some other rules are listed on the EE program checklist. Major advisors should be consulted if there is any question about whether a course qualifies.

Note that a few courses appear in multiple depth areas. In this case they can be considered to be in whichever one is desired for the purpose of satisfying the requirements. As a result, if one of these courses is not used as a depth elective it can always count as a breadth elective.

ELEN E1201 Introduction to EE is a preparatory course taken by first- or second-year students majoring in EE or Computer Engineering. It is highly recommended that combined-plan students take a similar course before arriving at Columbia and get official transfer credit, but many cannot find a similar course at their previous school. These students have a few options:

  • Students with some circuits background can take the course ELEN E1201in their first semester in parallel with the follow-on course ELEN E3201.Some have found this option workable.
  • Students with little background in circuits may need to take ELEN E1201in their first semester and postpone ELEN E3201 to the following year.But this requires careful advance planning of all 4 semesters, and limits choices for technical electives due to prerequisite constraints,particularly for EE majors interested in circuits.
  • Students who feel ready can jump straight to ELEN E3201 without taking ELEN E1201 or having official transfer credit. The EE Department often offers an informal, condensed version of the course in August to provide help with this option for those who can arrive early. In this case, EE majors without formal transfer credit for ELEN E1201 should select a minimum of five engineering courses among their 6 technical electives instead of the usual four.

The Electrical Engineering program requires courses in Programming and Data Structures, and these can now be satisfied with the new course sequence ENGI E1006 - COMS W1006. They use Python, C, and C++. These two courses alone provide sufficient background for many more advanced courses offered by the CS Department. But EE majors considering a minor in CS, or with particular interest in Computer Science as a specialty, should instead take COMS W3134 (with a prerequisite of COMS W1004 / Java) or the honors version COMS W3137 to fill their Data Structures requirement. More information about the Computer Science sequences can be found in the FAQ for CS majors posted on the CS website.

Note that EE students also obtain experience with the Matlab programming language through the first year course ENGI E1102, and later in the lab course ELEN E3084 Signals & Systems Lab.

The Electrical Engineering program requires a full course in probability such as IEOR E3658. There is a 4000-level course offered by the Statistics Dept.that is also acceptable, STAT W4105. EE program graduates in the class of 2013 split almost evenly between these two options. Students who would also like to take statistics, e.g., for an Economics minor, should take an additional course in statistics along with their probability course.A single, combined course in Probability and Statistics is not sufficient for the EE major.

For most 4-year students, satisfying all the specific requirements for non-tech courses, basic math & science courses, and major courses, will automatically imply reaching the minimum 128 points needed for a Columbia Engineering degree.A standard, minimum program adds up to slightly over 128. But combined-plan students, who need to take 60 points at Columbia, often find that they have enough requirements satisfied through transfer credit so that their remaining requirements do not quite add up to 60 points. In such a case,additional free electives must be chosen. These extra electives do not need to be technical courses, but they cannot be taken pass/fail. Students often just take an extra technical elective to reach the required credit total.

There is quite a bit of variation among student schedules due to choice of electives, options, and order, but the chart below shows a fairly representative sample schedule. It assumes 3 points of AP math credit. Note that course offerings and conflicts, which vary somewhat from year to year, may necessitate changes in any specific plan.

Below is the actual schedule of an EE combined-plan student (class of '13) which is fairly representative. This student had sufficient circuits background to start with ELEN E3201, and took a seventh technical elective to reach 60 points.

EE Juniors with a sufficient GPA who are considering staying at Columbia to get an EE Master’s degree should review the BS/MS program page.

EE Seniors with a sufficient GPA who are applying to Columbia’s EE or Computer Engineering Master’s programs can use a much simpler “express” application and get a decision before most other applications are due. Details can be found on a page at the school’s admissions website.

Combined Plan or transfer students wishing to verify the equivalence of courses taken outside of Columbia University to the major-specific courses, including technical electives, offered at Columbia will need to complete a Course Equivalence Form that can be found at Instructions for submitting the request are provided on the form. Please note that the maximum allowable transfer credits is 68. If a student has already been awarded 68 transfer credits, no additional credits will be given regardless of the equivalence received. A total of 128 credits are required to successfully complete the Bachelor of Science program at SEAS.