Chapter 4

The Frosh Canon, or
“So What Courses Are You Taking?”

You’ve probably heard that question twice for every Princeton student you’ve met thus far. For freshman engineers, barring AP credit, the schedule is quite similar for all. Yes, your AB friends will be chattering about their neat-sounding course titles, while yours are entitled simply “General Chemistry” and “Calculus.” The freshman engineering curriculum is necessarily grounded in basic sciences and mathematics, and generally does not touch the exciting, more applied material found in upper-level engineering courses. Your cool courses come later, we promise, when senior thesis and independent research time rolls around. Be patient… it’s only one short year, and you’ll find that many of these required courses are in actuality quite excellent.

What follows is a description geared toward engineers of all majors, who must at a minimum fulfill the equivalent of four math, two physics, one chemistry, and one computer science course to remain a BSE candidate. There is also the writing seminar, which you are required to take sometime during your freshman year. See the Undergraduate Announcement and our very own Chapter 6for further details about the requirements of specific departments.


Most people take two semesters (or the AP equivalent) of single-variable calculus [103 & 104], a term of multivariable calculus [201 or 203], and a term of linear algebra [202 or 204]. A few engineers choose to take the honors sequence [MAT 215, MAT 217, and MAT 218], though it is more geared toward future math majors with an emphasis on proofs rather than applications.

Most introductory math classes meet for one-hour classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a single instructor.

MAT 103 — Calculus I
Students with little or no background in calculus are initially placed in 103. The course covers “basic concepts, methods, and applications of differential and integral calculus of elementary functions of one variable.” Many AB students who have already had calculus in high school take this course to fulfill a QR. This makes the curve a little rough. If you had some calculus in high school but aren’t sure whether you want to take MAT 103 or go on to MAT 104, we suggest you start out in MAT 104 and only drop down if you’re really lost.

MAT 104 — Calculus II
This is the continuation of MAT 103, covering integration in further depth along with infinite sequences and series. To qualify for initial placement into 104, an entering student should score either a 3 or better on the AB Advanced Placement Examination, or should have completed a year of high school calculus and scored 650 or better on the SAT math section.

MAT 201 – Multivariable Calculus
This course covers “vectors in the plane and in space, vector functions and motion, surfaces, coordinate systems, functions of two or three variables and their derivatives, maxima and minima and applications, double and triple integrals, vector fields and Stokes’ theorem.” To qualify for initial placement into 201, an entering student should have a 3 or better on the BC Calculus AP Exam, orinstructor permission. Otherwise, the prerequisites are MAT 104 or MAT 217.

MAT 203 – Advanced Multivariable Calculus
This course covers “calculus of vector functions in space, gradients, chain rule, curvilinear coordinates, multiple integrals, Stokes’ theorem, and applications,” with “emphasis on both theoretical aspects and problem solving.” It is recommended for mathematically inclined scientists and engineers. Initial placement into 203 requires a 4 on the BC Calculus AP Exam and a 690 on the SAT (mathematics aptitude) test. Otherwise, the prerequisites are MAT 104 or MAT 217.

MAT 202 – Linear Algebra
This course covers “Euclidean spaces, vector spaces, systems of linear equations, matrices and linear transformations, determinants, eigenvalues and applications to systems of differential equations, symmetric matrices, quadratic forms, differentiable vector functions, the chain rule, inverse and implicit functions, and maxima and minima.” The prerequisites are MAT 201, MAT 203, or instructor permission.

MAT 204 – Advanced Linear Algebra
This course covers “vector spaces, linear transformations, matrices, determinants and systems of linear equations, eigenvalues, inner product spaces, symmetric matrices, and quadratic forms,” along with “applications to calculus in n-dimensional space and systems of differential equations.” The prerequisite is MAT 203.


You need a full year of physics, covering the topics of mechanics, oscillations and waves, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, optics, and some modern physics (quantum mechanics). Either the 103/104 track or the 105/106 track are acceptable. Switching between the two tracks is acceptable in the first few weeks of 103/104, as the courses share labs and lectures. Additionally, if you are more confident in one area than the other, you may take the combinations 105/104 or 103/106.

The following courses have a lecture, three precepts, and a three-hour lab each week. Each component will probably have a different instructor.

PHY 103 – General Physics I
This course covers “basic concepts of classical mechanics from Newton’s laws, energy conservation and angular momentum to gravity, fluids, oscillations and thermodynamics are treated at an introductory level.” Some preparation in physics and calculus is desirable, though calculus may be taken concurrently.

PHY 104 – General Physics II
This course is a continuation of 103, covering “electromagnetism from electrostatics, DC and AC circuits to optics, and topics of modern physics… at an introductory level.” Again, some preparation in physics and calculus is desirable, though calculus may be taken concurrently.

PHY 105 (PHY 103H) – Advanced Physics (Mechanics)
This course “parallels 103 at a level that assumes a good preparation in physics and calculus. The material is treated in more depth and with more mathematical sophistication than in 103.” If you are interested in taking 105 you will enroll in a 103H section. After the first few weeks, the course will reorganize.

PHY 106 – Advanced Physics (Electromagnetism)
This course “parallels 104 at a more sophisticated level, emphasizing the unification of electric and magnetic forces and electromagnetic radiation.” To enter this course, students must have done well in 103 or 105.


The Center for Innnovation in Engineering Education recently designed a course aimed at fulfulling the math and physics requirements of the average freshman engineer while also giving a taste of what engineering is all about. The class made its debut last year and will be returning this fall. To find out more, check out the CIEE website.


The engineering school requires only one semester of chemistry, but depending on your major, you may take more. Chemistry courses generally have three lectures, one precept, and one three-hour lab per week.

CHM 201 – General Chemistry I
This course covers “principles of chemistry; understanding the world around us; structure and reactions of atoms and molecules; laboratory manipulations, preparations, and analysis.” The labs involve much refinement of titration technique. Learn that and you’re set.

CHM 207 – Advanced General Chemistry: Materials Chemistry
This course covers “stoichiometry, types of reactions, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and chemical bonding” — just like 201. However, there is a Materials Supplement that provides and introduction to “the structure, chemistry, and properties of technologically important materials: metals, semiconductors, ceramics, and polymers.” An excellent course that, despite its focus on the basics, involves some engineering. Ignore the word “advanced” in the title. It does not go much faster than 201. In fact, the labs are the same for the two courses. If you’ve had ordinary high school chemistry, you’ll be well-prepared.

CHM 215 – Advanced General Chemistry: Honors Course (“Turbo Chem”)
This course is billed as “an intensive study of fundamental theoretical and experimental principles” covering topics “drawn from physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry.” This is the most difficult of all the introductory chemistry courses, and it will qualify you for 300-level courses and some 400-level courses with department and instructor approval.

CHM 202 – General Chemistry II
This course is not required to become a BSE candidate, but we included it because it is a course usually taken in the freshman spring. You might need it for a particular department or program, and your adviser might not be aware. It’s only offered spring term. It’s a continuation of 201 and 207, though it repeats small portions of 207. It covers “principles of chemistry; introduction to chemical bonding and solid state structure; chemical kinetics, nuclear chemistry; descriptive inorganic chemistry; laboratory manipulations, preparations, and analysis.”

Computer Science

There are four courses taken to meet this requirement and each is quite different, each offered by a different department with different goals. Talk to your adviser and those in your prospective department to get an idea of which is best for you. Chances are this will be your first course within the engineering school, although some students do postpone fulfilling the computer science requirement until their sophomore year.

COS 126 — General Computer Science
This is an introductory survey of “hardware and software systems, programming in C and other languages, basic algorithms and data structures, applications to solving scientific problems, and fundamentals of the theory of computation.” There are two lectures and two classes per week. If you are a computer science major, this is the one you take. It is also the most theoretical of the computer science courses. The fall course tends to be harder because prospective CS majors, who often take it immediately upon arrival, often have previous programming experience. The department offers an FAQ about this course.

Looking Ahead

If you have room in your schedule, you may want to try an engineering course in your prospective department. See what courses the department or your adviser suggests to get a feel for the material you’ll be learning in your major. You can also ask upperclassmen for their suggestions, since they have already taken all the classes you’re about to experience.

Finally, the School of Engineering also offers a non-credit Machine Shop Course each semester, that meets three hours a week.