For Abhi Goyal, SEAS ’17, fulfilling the engineering school's preprofessional course requirement would be “a waste of time.”
Because Goyal came into college knowing he wanted to major in biomedical engineering, a preprofessional course to introduce him to a specific field of engineering wouldn’t be that helpful, he said.
“I think the entire point of the preprofessional courses are for undecided SEAS majors who want to gauge their interests in different fields of engineering,” he said, adding that that class time could be better spent on working toward a minor, or taking a higher-level course in his department.
At Monday night’s Engineering Student Council meeting, School of Engineering and Applied Science Vice Dean Soulaymane Kachani announced that the SEAS Committee on Instruction voted unanimously to remove the preprofessional requirement from the undergraduate core, beginning with the class of 2018.
ESC President Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14, said that this would give future SEAS students, especially students who arrive at college already knowing what they want to study, more academic flexibility.
But when it comes to current students, Bhatt said that ESC is working with the administration to allow current first-year students from the class of 2017, like Goyal, to get the preprofessional requirement waived.
“What’s very important for ESC right now … if it’s feasible, is how we can structure it in time before the drop deadline this semester,” Bhatt said.
“Nothing will be forced on them, they can still adhere to the bulletin,” Bhatt said. “But that opt-in policy might be something that a number of first-year students can enjoy and benefit from.”
Currently, all SEAS undergraduates are required to take at least one professional level course. According to the press release, when this became a requirement, “there were few additional opportunities for students to explore potential majors early in their academic career.”
With the introduction of the first-year required course Art of Engineering, the widespread adoption by most departments of an introductory level programming course, and the creation of several major discovery events, however, the COI and SEAS Undergraduate Advisory Committee said that they felt the preprofessional requirement was unnecessary.
The press release also says that undergraduates are still encouraged to take a preprofessional course, and that departments can still require a professional level course for the major.
ESC class of 2017 president Robert Adelson, SEAS ’17, said the policy allows administrators to choose course requirements within individual departments.
“Some departments might maintain requirements for a specific course,” Adelson said, citing the Introduction to Electrical Engineering course as one crucial to the major. “But there won’t be a requirement that you just have to take a preprofessional course.”
Bhatt said that some departments do not offer preprofessional courses.
“Computer science and IEOR [Industrial Engineering Operations Research] did not have a preprofessional course in the past, so computer science and IEOR students used to take other classes that interested them … that was primarily for the engineering degree requirement,” Bhatt said.
Adelson said he still believed that students would choose to take a professional level course, “especially if they’re unsure of their major.”
“I found that a lot of students were very unsure about their major, they were juggling between two majors, so if they take a preprofessional course it could help them decide especially if they talk to people in the field more,” he said.
Bhatt said that increased flexibility in the engineering curriculum is always a positive change for undergraduates, since the curriculum “is so rigid … be it at Columbia or any other school.”
He added that the best part about the change is the fact that it came from administrators and from the departmental chairs who sit on the COI.
“You see these sort of big changes—pass/fail last year, preprofessional courses this year, in the middle they’re changing the Gateway course … it’s good to see that the COI and the faculty at Columbia Engineering are willing to discuss change,” he said.