Undergraduate Program

The educational objective of the Electrical Engineering program, in support of the mission of the School, is to prepare graduates to achieve success in one or more of the following within a few years after graduation:

A. Graduate or professional studies—as evidenced by admission to a top-tier program, attainment of advanced degrees, research contributions, or professional recognition.

B. Engineering practice—as evidenced by entrepreneurship; employment in industry, government, academia, or nonprofit organizations in engineering; patents; or professional recognition.

C. Careers outside of engineering that take advantage of an engineering education—as evidenced by contributions appropriate to the chosen field.

The B.S. program in electrical engineering at Columbia University seeks to provide a broad and solid foundation in the current theory and practice of electrical engineering, including familiarity with basic tools of math and science, an ability to communicate ideas, and a humanities background sufficient to understand the social implications of engineering practice. Graduates should be qualified to enter the profession of engineering, to continue toward a career in engineering research, or to enter other fields in which engineering knowledge is essential. Required nontechnical courses cover civilization and culture, philosophy, economics, and a number of additional electives. English communication skills are an important aspect of these courses. Required science courses cover basic chemistry and physics, whereas math requirements cover calculus, differential equations, probability, and linear algebra. Basic computer knowledge is also included, with an introductory course on using engineering workstations and two rigorous introductory computer science courses. Core electrical engineering courses cover the main components of modern electrical engineering and illustrate basic engineering principles. Topics include a sequence of two courses on circuit theory and electronic circuits, one course on semiconductor devices, one on electromagnetics, one on signals and systems, one on digital systems, and one on communications or networking. Engineering practice is developed further through a sequence of laboratory courses, starting with a first-year course to introduce hands-on experience early and to motivate theoretical work. Simple creative design experiences start immediately in this first-year course. Following this is a sequence of lab courses that parallel the core lecture courses. Opportunities for exploring design can be found both within these lab courses and in the parallel lecture courses, often coupled with experimentation and computer simulation, respectively. The culmination of the laboratory sequence and the design experiences introduced throughout earlier courses is a senior design course (capstone design course), which includes a significant design project that ties together the core program, encourages creativity, explores practical aspects of engineering practice, and provides additional experience with communication skills in an engineering context. Finally, several technical electives are required, chosen to provide both breadth and depth in a specific area of interest. More detailed program objectives and outcomes are posted at www.ee.columbia.edu.

The program in electrical engineering leading to the B.S. degree is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET.

There is a strong interaction between the Department of Electrical Engineering and the Departments of Computer Science, Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Physics, and Chemistry.

EE Core Curriculum

All electrical engineering (EE) students must take a set of core courses, which collectively provide the student with fundamental skills, expose him/her to the breadth of EE, and serve as a springboard for more advanced work, or for work in areas not covered in the core. These courses are shown on the charts in Undergraduate Degree Tracks. A full curriculum checklist is also posted at www.ee.columbia.edu.

Technical Electives

The 18-point technical elective requirement for the electrical engineering program consists of three components: depth, breadth, and other. A general outline is provided here, and more specific course restrictions can be found at www.ee.columbia.edu. For any course not clearly listed there, adviser approval is necessary.

The depth component must consist of at least 6 points of electrical engineering courses in one of four defined areas: (a) photonics, solid-state devices, and electromagnetics; (b) circuits and electronics; (c) signals and systems; and (d) communications and networking. The depth requirement provides an opportunity to pursue particular interests and exposure to the process of exploring a discipline in depth—an essential process that can be applied later to other disciplines, if desired.

The breadth component must consist of at least 6 additional points of engineering courses that are outside of the chosen depth area. These courses can be from other departments within the School. The breadth requirement precludes overspecialization. Breadth is particularly important today, as innovation requires more and more of an interdisciplinary approach, and exposure to other fields is known to help one’s creativity in one’s own main field. Breadth also reduces the chance of obsolescence as technology changes.

Any remaining technical elective courses, beyond the minimum 12 points of depth and breadth, do not have to be engineering courses (except for students without ELEN E1201 or approved transfer credit for ELEN E1201) but must be technical. Generally, math and science courses that do not overlap with courses used to fill other requirements are allowed.

Starting Early

The EE curriculum is designed to allow students to start their study of EE in their first year. This motivates students early and allows them to spread nontechnical requirements more evenly. It also makes evident the need for advanced math and physics concepts, and motivates the study of such concepts. Finally, it allows more time for students to take classes in a chosen depth area, or gives them more time to explore before choosing a depth area. Students can start with ELEN E1201: Introduction to electrical engineering in the second semester of their first year, and can continue with other core courses one semester after that, as shown in the “early-starting students” chart. It is emphasized that both the early- and late-starting sample programs shown in the charts are examples only; schedules may vary depending on student preparation and interests.

Transfer Students

Transfer students coming to Columbia as juniors with sufficient general background can complete all requirements for the B.S. degree in electrical engineering. Such students fall into one of two categories:

Plan 1: Students coming to Columbia without having taken the equivalent of ELEN E1201 must take this course in their junior year. This requires postponing the core courses in circuits and electronics until the senior year, and thus does not allow taking electives in that area; thus, such students cannot choose circuits and electronics as a depth area.

Plan 2: This plan is for students who have taken a course equivalent to ELEN E1201 at their school of origin, including a laboratory component. See the bulletin for a description of this course. Many pre-engineering programs and physics departments at four-year colleges offer such courses. Such students can start taking circuits at Columbia immediately, and thus can choose circuits and electronics as a depth area.

It is stressed that ELEN E1201 or its equivalent is a key part of the EE curriculum. The preparation provided by this course is essential for a number of other core courses.

Sample programs for both Plan 1 and Plan 2 transfer students can be found at www.ee.columbia.edu.

B.S./M.S. Program

The B.S./M.S. degree program is open to a select group of undergraduate students. This double degree program makes possible the earning of both the Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees simultaneously. Up to 6 points may be credited to both degrees, and some graduate classes taken in the senior year may count toward the M.S. degree. Both degrees may be conferred at the same time. Interested students can find further information at www.ee.columbia.edu and can discuss options directly with their faculty adviser. Students must be admitted prior to the start of their seventh semester at Columbia Engineering. Students in the 3-2 Combined Plan undergraduate program are not eligible for admission to this program.