A Liberal Arts & Engineering FAQ

As a tour guide who is also an engineering major, I’ve gotten more than my fair share of questions about the engineering program at Swarthmore. “What does the engineering major look like?”, “how do engineering students balance their schedules?”, and “what the heck are wizards?” are all questions I’ve been asked more than once. While the engineering department already has an FAQ that is super helpful to prospective Swatties, there are other important questions that you may not be able to find answers for. Here are some that I get asked a lot, and my answers to them. Note: This is not sponsored by the Engineering department, even though I would love a brand deal with them.

Q: Why does Swarthmore only have a ‘general’ engineering degree?

A: One of the hallmarks of Swarthmore (in my personal opinion) is being forced to do things you didn’t ask for, and then finding out you really love to do them. The engineering department is not a separate entity from the rest of the College, which means it also adopts a liberal arts education. This means you aren’t just going to learn electrical engineering, but also mechanical engineering, computer engineering, etc. As someone who came in wanting to do electrical engineering and quickly realized that I liked computer engineering more, I loved the chance to get to try out so many different types of engineering before getting to pick electives in my field of interest.

Q: Okay but, like, can I actually do something with that B.S.?

A: You mean, that Bachelor of Science degree? Of course! Even if it seems that an “Engineering” degree won’t seem as competitive as a “Civil Engineering” degree when applying for a job or grad school, it definitely is! Those who have accepted engineering Swatties into their grad school or company know just how valuable Swatties are to a cohesive group. For example, if I was hiring an electrical engineer to make an engine for my boat, I would hope they understood enough mechanics to make an engine that wouldn’t cause my boat to sink or topple over. And in my experience, Swatties only topple boats during the Crum Regatta.

Q: Am I going to be super overworked and not have a social life and make no friends and be sad and be forced to code for fun in solitude?

A: Absolutely not! The engineering degree may be a bit more credits than other majors, but can definitely be balanced with other facets of your Swarthmore life. Many engineering students are double majors, in a varsity sport, are a part of clubs, or any combination of those, and still have time to have fun! I am a double major with some on-campus jobs, and I still find time to be a part of student theatre productions, or play Mario Kart with my friends on a screen in Kohlberg. That being said, you can code for fun if you want to, but you don’t have to do it in solitude as there are tons of clubs for engineers and programmers to code to their heart’s desires.

Q: I’m afraid everyone is going to be super serious and dashingly handsome and smart and–

A: Serious? No. Dashingly handsome? Just me. Smart? Depends on your definition of smart, but everyone (including you!) is amazing at something. I had never taken an engineering course or upper level math class prior to coming to Swat, and I was not behind any of my engineering peers. Our engineering major is not a competitive environment, meaning that students work together on labs and assignments, and this makes the learning process that much more comfortable.

Q: But what if I need help?

A: Everyone needs help at some point, and help isn’t a bad thing. Just like any other student, you’ll have access to so many resources on campus like tutors, Dean’s staff, Student Academic Mentors, professors with open office hours, and so much more. Also have you heard of pass/fail?

In the engineering department, there are student tutors called wizards who hold weekly sessions for help with homework, since they have already taken the class you are in and know how to help you. Even if you just need a space to be around others also working on the same homework, wizard sessions are low-commitment and super helpful ways of getting help in your classes. I promise, no one bites.

Q: Why are they called wizards?

A: Some amount of magic is needed to be able to help young engineers in training. That, and another reason involving one of the professors and a connection to an old wand bearer, but some things are best kept secret…

Q: What has been your favorite Engineering Prank?

A: Every year, engineers at Swarthmore create some kind of prank for the entire student body to enjoy. My favorite? Definitely giant pong.

Obviously, that is not every question that has ever crossed the mind of any student ever considering engineering at Swarthmore. If you are one of those students, feel free to comment below about something I didn’t answer, or send me an email (you can find me on the admissions Ask a Swattie page, along with other awesome students ready to answer your questions!). 

About the Author:

Hi! I’m Oswaldo, a junior from Reno, NV majoring in Engineering and Environmental Studies. Outside of classes, I am a tour guide, a President’s Sustainability Research Fellow, work on student theater productions, and am in Swarthmore’s improv comedy group Vertigo-go. You can find me anywhere on campus by looking for the yellow crocs my friends want me to stop wearing.

Leave a Reply