Many of you are probably reaching the point in the college application season that you are selecting — from a large dropdown list on the Common Application — the major you would like to study for the next four years. At a certain point, I was deciding between a BFA in sculpture, a B. Arch (architecture), and a BS in engineering, so I understand how difficult this selection can be.
If you have already decided on engineering, it can also be difficult to discern between engineering majors, especially for those of you who have little to no exposure to the field, like I did as a high schooler. Here’s how I have grown to define some of the engineering disciplines USC offers:
Astronautical Engineering: At USC, this is engineering for space vehicles that go beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Aerospace Engineering: Similar to astronautical engineering, but mainly focused on flying things within the earth’s atmosphere, like planes
Mechanical Engineering: Truly, the study of any mechanical process. Of course, I am a little biased, but I would argue that core principals we learn in mechanical engineering — such as fluid mechanics, heat transfer, thermodynamics, and control systems — extend into multiple areas of engineering; thus making this major extremely versatile.
Biomedical Engineering: Combining different types of engineering, from electronics to mechanics, with life sciences
Chemical Engineering: ChemE students design, study, and optimize chemical processes. They might develop new materials or work on processes for manufacturing, for example.
Civil Engineering: Simply put, civil engineers build and manage physical infrastructure. At USC, students in this discipline might take courses in structural engineering, construction, transportation, environmental engineering, and water resources. Civil engineering has a variety of emphases at USC including structural, environmental, and building science.
Environmental Engineering: Environmental engineers address issues facing our environment, through studying ways to improve air quality, provide drinking water to people, control pollution, or clean waste.
Computer Science: This program includes an intense study of algorithm design, the theory of computing, and the development of software.
Computer Science (Games): Students in CS Games take classes in Viterbi, the School of Cinematic Arts, and the Roski School of Art and Design. This major is aimed at training students for the video game industry.
Computer Engineering and Computer Science: In this major, students work intensely with both hardware and software, taking classes in the EE and CS departments.
Computer Science Business Administration: A double major in business and CS, fit into a single major
Electrical Engineering: This is another extremely versatile major, dealing with electronics and their components. EE has three core areas of study at USC: computer engineering, systems engineering, and electrical sciences.
Industrial and Systems Engineering: This major combines business with engineering by harnessing technical skills in order to optimize processes, systems, and productivity.
Of course, people may like to define these areas of study in different ways as there are so many applications of any of these degrees. Also, keep in mind that many of these majors have emphases or tracks, as I outlined for CS and mentioned for civil engineering, so the breadth of what you can study in Viterbi is nearly endless.
If you are still unsure about which major to apply to, don’t worry. This caused a great amount of stress for me as a USC applicant, and it shouldn’t have. Admission to one major in Viterbi means admission to any major in Viterbi. Switching majors in Viterbi simply means filling out a form with your advisor. I did this at orientation when I switched from civil engineering (the major I applied under) to my current major, mechanical engineering.
I am also of the opinion that specific majors within engineering are not all that different. Of course, if you are certain you want to be a software engineer, you probably want to study CS, or if you know you want to work on planes, aerospace engineering might be a good bet. That said, I believe that the fundamentals of engineering are quick problem solving and fast learning, skills you will develop in any major in Viterbi. While technical skills may differ, the engineering disciplines — and the majors in Viterbi — ultimately share more similarities than differences. So, if you are still unsure which major to select from the terrifyingly long list of majors available, simply choose the one that sounds the coolest to you.