Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

A Future in Electrical Engineering

  1. Mar 29, 2010 #1

    My name is Jack Brassens and I am currently a Sophomore in high school.
    For the past few months I've been thinking a lot about my future and decided that Engineering is something that I really want to major in and live my life doing.

    So without further ado, I have a few different questions to ask.

    First, I can't quite decide whether I would like to specialize in Computer Engineering or go with the more general Electrical Engineering. What are the major differences between the two (I've researched a bit, but want to hear your explanations)?

    Second, I have the opportunity to take AP classes as a Junior next year, as well as an early-studies college course. A little background is that I am currently, and have been this entire school year, in both Algebra 3 and Physics. I plan on taking Calculus next year, but I have one elective block open that I don't know what kind of class to put into. Also, I need to decide on an early-studies class to take.
    Any suggestions to help me out there?

    Lastly, are there any other things that I should do to familiarize myself with the field and further prepare for college?

    Thank you for your time,
    Jack Brassens
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2010 #2
    I am currently a Junior in college studying Electrical and Computer engineering. As far as preparing you for college (as far as the things that seem important to me) are:

    1. Properties of logs and exponents.
    2. Properties of waves
    3. The unit circle
    4. Maybe the fundamentals of electricity (When I started my first circuits class I didn't even know the difference between voltage and current). You don't have to overdo it, because most people have never been taught about electricity, and the professors know that.

    It seems silly but the things that give me the most trouble are the trivial looking formulas that I would usually cram and forget in highschool. (Logs, trig identities, etc).

    Chances are good you will change your mind again before college anyway.

    Hope this helps,

  4. Mar 29, 2010 #3
    I think you just said it. The more general Electrical Engineering is ... well, more general. Study in this area makes you more well versed in the physics, math and various technologies related to most modern areas of electrical engineering. Computer engineering is more specialized to digital and computer systems, and math needed in these areas.

    A general electrical engineering program in which you choose your electives in the computer engineering area is almost identical to computer engineering. The main difference would be maybe an extra electromagnetics class. So, EE is a more versatile program.

    The simplest way to choose is to ask yourself how much you like physics. If you are a physics nut, then choose general EE. If you are a digital/computer nut, then maybe you want computer engineering.
  5. Mar 29, 2010 #4
    I agree with the above. With a major in EE it's not so hard to get a minor in CE. The reverse is much more difficult. If your degree was in CE and you lose interest after a few years what would you do? Go back to school for an EE? With a degree in EE there are enough different fields to choose from that losing interest in one shouldn't set you back in your career.

    I'd say go for the advanced proficient courses only if you can maintain at least a B average in them.
  6. Mar 29, 2010 #5


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Sorry, what's a unit circle?
  7. Mar 30, 2010 #6
    I think he means things taught in pre-calculus - a circle in terms of radian angles, sines, and cosines.
  8. Mar 30, 2010 #7

    Also, EE encompasses things like power distribution and generation while Computer eng does NOT (minus one 2nd year course).

    Oh, and on the point that you may not end up liking what you go into, make sure you go to a school that has co-op or internship (mine has both - 4 month summer co-op and a 12 or 16 month internship. And they both count towards your PEng :D)
  9. Mar 30, 2010 #8
    Are you in the US? My EE course surveyed many topics. There were electives that one could take to specialize further in any particular field but the bare basics of digital and analog design were requisite for everyone. I studied signal processing(analog), logic, microchip layout, state machines, microwave circuits, antennas, and power electronics just to name a few electives from both the digital and analog world. Any accredited college with a BSEE program should offer much of the same.
  10. Mar 30, 2010 #9
    Me or OP? I'm in Canada. But yes, there's a million electives you can take for whatever you want! That's the beauty of it :)
  11. Mar 30, 2010 #10
    I was asking the OP. I don't know anything about EE programs in other nations but, in the US, any BSEE degree at an accredited university will require a core study of both analog and digital topcis. A student can take any number of electives and internships to specialize their studies.
  12. Mar 30, 2010 #11
    I live in Maine, but I was looking at McGill university in Montreal as a possible college choice.

    Thank you everyone who has posted to help me, but I've still got one question that I don't really have the answer to; what classes, AP or early studies college, should I look into taking next year? So far I'm looking at a "COS 160 - Structered Problem Solving: Java" as an early studies college course that I think will be helpful for Computer Engineering. Other than this, I don't know what to take.
  13. Mar 30, 2010 #12
    Personally, I would recommend focusing on fundamentals in math and physics. Programming is a good skill to get a head start on, so that sounds good. A solid foundation in advanced algebra and trig is important because you don't really cover this much in college courses, but you use these in everything you do in math, physics and engineering. If you are 100% solid in these areas, then go into pre-calc or calc to get a head start on engineering math. Physics is also important. I think freshman year is usually focused on calculus, physics and general education classes, although I'm not familiar with McGill's undergrad curriculum, but you can check this out easily enough.

    It's good to plan and get a head start, but don't forget to have some fun too before you dive into your college years. You're only young once. You can learn anytime in your life, but you can't ever get back this period of your life once it passes. I suspect you already have everything you need to succeed in college. Don't let apprehension of the unknown cause you to over-prepare. It may end up being redundant coursework (costs money and time), and could even burn you out a little bit.

    By the way, good luck and have fun.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2010
  14. Mar 30, 2010 #13
    I took AP Calc and found that it helps a lot.
  15. Mar 31, 2010 #14
    I think also the same about to take step for opportunity to take AP classes in Electrical Engineering.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  16. Mar 31, 2010 #15
    Hi, senior in compE here. AP java will get you out of intro CS, but you should probably take intro anyway if it's in C 'cause you need to learn some low level languages to do hardware programming well. (CompE is all about hardware.) AP physics C and AP calculus BC are the other two courses that'll probably help.

    All the other posts seems to be ignoring the fact that CompE is half CS, so you've got algorithms, data structures, design, assembly, and a couple of other courses, so you can go into a whole bunch of programming fields after you finish. You learn enough EE that you could probably get EE jobs too, and there's always the option of picking up a few more EE electives in power or analog if it appeals to you.

    I think Berkeman's point was that you really don't need to know the unit circle all that well before you start EE. You'll either learn it or look it up somewhere along the way.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook