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Incoming First-Year Student FAQs

The following FAQs will help provide incoming first-year students with guidance as they begin the onboarding process for Cornell Engineering.

Advising in the College of Engineering

Q1: What is the difference between my faculty advisor and Engineering Advising?

A: Faculty Advisors help students translate their academic interests into an appropriate course of study, offering general guidance related to academic majors, internships, graduate study, and career planning.

The Professional Academic Advisors in Engineering Advising provide a variety of advising services and programs to assist students in achieving their undergraduate academic and personal goals.  

Q2: Why do students have multiple advisors? What is the difference?

A: In the College of Engineering, students have Professional Staff Academic Advisors through Engineering Advising as well as an assigned Faculty Advisor, who will assist them during their time as an unaffiliated student. Each plays a specific and different role. You can learn more about those roles, as well as the role of the student here. All students start out as undeclared or “unaffiliated” in Cornell Engineering, even if they expressed interest in a specific major during the admissions process. They must apply to affiliate with a major (typically in their sophomore year), and when they do, they are reassigned to a faculty advisor within their major.

Q3: Who will be my faculty advisor and when will I meet them?

A: All students are assigned an Engineering Faculty Advisor when they matriculate to Cornell Engineering. Students usually keep that advisor until they affiliate with a major, even though the advisor may not be in the major in which they intend to affiliate. You will meet your Faculty Advisor during the first week of classes in August and then meet weekly with them for your Engineering Seminar (ENGRG 1050) course in the fall.

Q4: What is the Engineering Seminar (ENGRG 1050)?

A: The Engineering Seminar (ENGRG 1050) is a first semester requirement of all incoming first-year students.  The seminar is taught by your faculty advisor. It is a one-credit course (which meets once a week) that provides an opportunity for first-year students to get to know their faculty advisors and a small group of Engineering Peer Advisors on a more personal and significant level. Additionally, it provides an orientation to engineering activities, the college, and the university. The seminar seeks to help students make the transition from high school to college-level expectations and competencies by conveying information about the curriculum, student services, advising, career resources, active research in the college and engineering in general, ethics, workshops on study and exam skills useful to engineering students, and health and wellbeing. The seminar also functions as an ice-breaker, affording time for some socializing and sight-seeing on campus and in the surrounding area.

Q5: What happens if students start to struggle in a class (many absences, missed assignments, low grades)?

A: Course instructors are highly encouraged to submit an Academic Concern for students who are of concern in their classes.  Engineering Advising is automatically notified of any Academic Concerns submitted for engineering students. Students are then notified by Engineering Advising of the concern and are highly encouraged to meet with us to discuss their situation and available options.

Advanced Placement and Transfer Credit

(Cornell Engineering refers to CEEB AP exams, International Baccalaureate Higher Level exams, GCE A-Level exams, and Cambridge Pre-U exams under the umbrella term “Advanced Placement” or “AP”)

Q1: What if I have advanced placement (AP) or transfer credit?

A: Advanced placement and transfer credit can be used to earn credit towards graduation requirements. Please read about (and review advanced placement tables) in both the Engineering Undergraduate Handbook and in the Courses of Study. Both of these publications will be updated prior to August.

Additional information and guidance will be available during the course selection and pre-enrollment process in July.

Q2: How do students accept Advanced Placement (AP) credit?

A: Students do not need to officially accept AP credit.  Students use their AP credit by simply advancing ahead in the curriculum.  For example, if a student is expecting credit for MATH 1910, they could choose to enroll in MATH 1920 as their first math course in the fall.

Q3: Do students have to use AP or transfer credit if they have qualifying credit?

A: No, students should only use credit to advance themselves in the curriculum if they feel proficient in the material and prepared for the next level.

Q4: Can students pre-enroll for the next course in a sequence even if their AP credit or transfer credit hasn’t posted to their record yet?

A: Students can choose to pre-enroll for the next course in a sequence if they are confident they will receive AP or transfer credit eventually and if they are comfortable advancing.  Or, students can choose to pre-enroll in the course they hope to get credit for and then later adjust their schedule during the Add/Drop period in August, once the credit has officially come in.

Q5: Can students use AP or transfer credit for non-technical courses (i.e. AP English)?

A: Yes, and the process is the same for all AP or transfer credit. To receive credit for AP exam scores, students must send their official scores to Cornell University. To receive transfer credit, students must follow the Transfer Credit Approval Process laid out in our Week #5 email.

Cornell Advanced Standing Exams (CASE)

Q1: Are there other ways to earn credit or does Cornell offer placement exams?

A: Yes. During Orientation in August, optional Cornell Advanced Standing Exams (CASE) are offered in areas such as math, physics, chemistry, and computer science. Your performance on these exams may result in advanced placement credit if you demonstrate proficiency in the subject area. These exams occur before the start of the Add/Drop period and the first day of classes.

Q2: How can students prepare to take CASEs

A: CASEs are another way for students to earn credits for required courses and advance in the curriculum at Cornell. To prepare for a CASE, students can brush up on information included in that course’s syllabus.

Q3: When are CASEs?

A: CASEs are offered during orientation and the results of them can inform students’ decisions during the Add/Drop period as they finalize their fall schedule. The full CASE schedule will be released later this summer, as will CASE registration information. Information will also be posted on department pages (i.e. Chemistry CASE information will be on the Chemistry department website).

Q4: How do students pre-enroll this July if they are planning on taking a CASE in August?

A: Students should pre-enroll based on their confidence and comfort level.

  • If they feel confident that they will get an acceptable score, they can choose to enroll in the next course in the sequence or advance themselves in the curriculum (i.e. if they are expecting to do well on the MATH 1910 CASE, they can enroll in MATH 1920). If they then wind up not earning the expected credit, they can make changes to their schedule once the system opens back up during the Add/Drop period in August.
  • If they don’t feel confident that they will get an acceptable score, they can choose to enroll in the first course in a sequence (i.e. start in MATH 1910). If they do score high enough for credit, they can make changes to their schedule once the system opens back up during the Add/Drop period in August.

Courses and Pre-enroll for First Fall Semester

Q1: What courses will I take my first semester?

A: Most first-year engineering students will take the following courses during their first fall semester:

  • Engineering Math (4 credits)
  • Science (Chemistry or Physics, based on academic interest and advanced placement credit, 4 credits)
  • Intro to Computing (4 credits) OR Intro to Engineering (ENGRI) (3 credits)*
  • Engineering Seminar (ENGRG 1050) (1 credit)
  • First-Year Writing Seminar (3 credits)
  • Physical Education (1 credit)
  • Academic Excellence Workshops (optional) (1 credit each)

    *Some students may not take a science in the fall, but rather an Intro to Computing course AND an Intro to Engineering course. Furthermore, a few students, who have a significant amount of advance placement in math and science, may decide to take a liberal studies course in the fall semester. Remember, detailed and step by step instructions for selecting and enrolling in your courses will be provided to you prior to July.

Q2: When and how will I enroll in classes?

A: Incoming first-year students will pre-enroll online for fall courses Monday, July 22 through Thursday, July 25 via Student Center.

Beginning in early May 2024, Engineering Advising will send weekly emails throughout the summer to first-year students with helpful information to guide you through the planning process for your fall course selection.  Additionally, detailed information and step-by-step instructions about how to select your courses and pre-enroll in them will be provided to you prior to July, before the start of pre-enroll.

In the meantime, it is understandable that you may be curious and have some questions about what to expect regarding your fall courses.

Based on the information you provide on your Student Advising Profile (SAP), which you will complete in May, Engineering Advising will enroll you in your Engineering Seminar (ENGRG 1050) and, if deemed required, Engineering General Chemistry (CHEM 2090). You will pre-enroll in your remaining first semester courses.

Additionally, in consultation with Engineering Advising and your faculty advisor, you will have the opportunity to finalize and/or change your course schedule during the Add/Drop period in August. You will learn more about making changes to your schedule during Orientation. Please note: Student Center does not permit students to make changes to their course schedule after the pre-enrollment periods ends on July 25 and before Add/Drop begins in late August.

Q3: Is it possible to enroll in additional courses?

A: Yes. However, most first-year students find that the courses noted above make for a comfortable first-semester schedule with a manageable workload. We highly encourage first-year students to ease into their first semester and not take on too much as they also prepare to acclimate to campus. In consultation with your faculty advisor, you may add other courses to your schedule during Add/Drop in August, if appropriate. Further details about the curriculum and course offerings can be found in the Courses of Study and the Engineering Undergraduate Handbook. The latest 2024-2025 editions of both of these publications will be posted as soon as they are available in August.

Please note that students in the College of Engineering are limited to enrolling in a maximum of 20 credits on Student Center each semester.

Q4: What math course should I take?

A: You should select your first math course based on your high school math background and any standardized advanced placement credit or coursework completed during high school or at another accredited college. More detailed information will be provided prior to July. 

Q5: What are my options for an Introduction to Computing course?

A: There are several options for computing. The two most common are:

  • Introduction to Computing: A Design & Development Perspective (CS 1110)
  • Introduction to Computing: An Engineering & Science Perspective (CS 1112)

Which course you choose is entirely up to you. Additional details will be outlined again in early July, prior to fall course pre-enroll.

Q6: Why do some students need CHEM 2090 in their first fall semester and some students can wait until second semester spring?

A: Students who are interested in pursuing Chemical Engineering or Biomedical Engineering and who are not expecting AP or transfer credit for CHEM 2090: Engineering General Chemistry must take CHEM 2090 in the first fall semester. 

Similarly, students who are pursuing pre-health and students who are not expecting AP or transfer credit for calculus must take CHEM 2090 in the first fall semester. 

All other students can likely wait to take CHEM 2090 until second semester spring, if need be.

Q7: What are my options for an Introduction to Engineering (ENGRI) course?

A: The Introduction to Engineering (ENGRI) course introduces students to the engineering process and provides a substantive experience in open-ended problem-solving. You are free to choose any ENGRI course and it does not have to be related to the major you plan to pursue. The final list of ENGRI offerings for the next academic year will be available in early July in the Courses of Study.

Q8: What is a First-Year Writing Seminar (FWS)?

A: First-Year Writing Seminars (FWS) are courses that focus on developing English composition skills. About 30 academic departments from across the university offer more than 100 seminars covering a variety of topics and interests each semester. All engineering students are required to take two First-Year Writing Seminars, one in each semester of their first year. Visit the Knight Institute for more information.

Q9: What are Academic Excellence Workshops (AEWs)?

A: Academic Excellence Workshops (AEW) are optional, one-credit weekly collaborative learning sessions taken in conjunction with select engineering core courses.

These weekly workshops provide collaborative learning environments facilitated by trained upper-level engineering students. Participants work together on concepts and problems designed to enhance understanding of core course material. The workshops foster peer collaboration and teamwork and provide a forum for personalized feedback and support. Participation results in increased understanding and confidence as well as higher core course grades. AEWs are listed as ENGRG courses. Grades are S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), based on attendance. You will be able to enroll in the corresponding AEW for your first-semester Math, Computer Science, or Chemistry course during the enrollment process in mid-July. 

Q10: What about Physical Education (PE)?

A: All Cornell students are required to take two Physical Education (PE) classes during their first year. Additionally, all students must pass a basic swimming skills test prior to graduation.

Q11: What if my classes turn out to be the wrong level for me?

A: If, within the first 15 days of the semester, you find that your schedule is not appropriate to your academic background, you may add/drop classes after a discussion with your faculty advisor.

Choosing an Engineering Major and Affiliating

Q1: When and how do I declare my major?

A: The Engineering Undergraduate Handbook and our Choosing a Major webpage offer helpful information about the affiliation process (applying to your major). Most students apply for affiliation (apply to their major) during the first semester of their second year. Students apply directly to the major with which they wish to affiliate. In order to be accepted into their major, students must have a cumulative grade point average of ≥2.0 and have satisfied the major's specific course and grade requirements. Students who are not affiliated or "conditionally affiliated" with a major by the beginning of their fifth semester will be withdrawn from the College of Engineering.


Q1: What if I am interested in pre-health (pre-med, pre-dental, pre-vet)?

A: Engineering students interested in health-related careers may pursue any of the 14 majors offered by the College of Engineering. While some majors have more "natural" overlap with coursework for pre-health, it is important that students select an Engineering major that is best suited for their Engineering interests first. Students interested in pre-health can review pre-health information and are strongly encouraged to prioritize the requirements of the Engineering Common Curriculum and courses required for acceptance to their major of interest. First-year students interested in pre-health should plan to attend the Pre-Health Information Session for Engineering students scheduled during the August Orientation.


Q1: How can I find out more about August Orientation?

A: The Tatkon Center for New Students coordinates the Orientation for Cornell University. In addition, the College of Engineering facilitates several important orientation events that are critical to your transition. Check out our tentative Engineering Orientation schedule!


Q1: How do I know I have done/am doing everything for a smooth transition to Cornell in August?

A: Cornell's New Students website has lots of important information students need to help ensure a smooth transition to Cornell. It has your To Do list, highlights important information, provides a portal for students to complete and check the status of forms, and tracks all university requirements. Students should check the New Students website throughout the summer and use it to confirm that they have prepared for their matriculation in August.

In addition, students should check their email weekly throughout the summer for important information from Engineering Advising, as well as access our Advising Portal Modules as the summer progresses.

Q2: Will I need a personal computer?

A: We constantly maintain and modernize our computing facilities in the College to make sure that each student has access to the necessary technology. So the answer to this question is "no," you don't need to have your own computer, though most students feel that owning one is convenient and opt to have one. If you decide to buy a computer, check out these computer recommendations.

Q3: How do I know what books I need and how to purchase them?

A: The Cornell Store will provide lists of books required for each of your courses. You may buy them through the Cornell Store or an independent vendor of your choice.

Q4: Do I need a calculator?

A: Yes, a scientific (non-graphing) calculator is necessary for your coursework in some classes. Additionally, most students tell us that a graphing calculator, although not necessary, is also helpful for some assignments. Students indicated Casio and Texas Instrument calculators are the most widely used brands for each type of calculator.