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Engineering Sciences Concentration Grows

By Amy Guan and Radhika Jain, Crimson Staff Writers

Despite low satisfaction ratings among recent graduates of the concentration, interest in engineering sciences at Harvard continues to grow.

Statistics from the Harvard College Admissions Office showed a 68 percent increase over four years in the number of high school applicants expressing interest in the field.

According to the Admissions Office, 4,305 applicants in the class of 2014 expressed interest in studying engineering sciences compared to 2,560 applicants from the class of 2011. During this period, the number of students who matriculated after being admitted for engineering rose by 46 percent.

This trend has been consistent since the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences became its own school in 2007.

“The numbers have really jumped up within the past year,” Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said. “What’s happening with the new school is it has given much greater visibility to what we’re doing,” he said. “The word is out.”

SEAS is trying to maximize this visibility by reaching out to potential applicants through new avenues—especially the web, according to SEAS Assistant Dean for Academic Programs Marie D. Dahleh.

“[We] changed the website, invested heavily in the web presence,” she said.

Dahleh also said that developing a more hands-on curriculum—through undergraduate laboratories and project-based courses—has generated “a lot of excitement about doing engineering.”

“High profile” courses such as Science and Cooking, which was first offered this fall as a Science of the Physical Universe Gen Ed course, and CS50, a popular introductory computer science class, have also drawn attention to engineering at Harvard, Dahleh added, garnering press on campus and beyond.

While she said that it is “not always obvious” that Harvard is a strong engineering school, that image is quickly changing. SEAS introduced a new concentration—Biomedical Engineering—this fall and is currently in the process of hiring assistant deans of undergraduate studies to bolster the advising system in the engineering department.

And many high school seniors do not indicate an interest in engineering on their applications but switch to the field once arriving on campus, according to Fitzsimmons.

“Computer science and mathematics students are sometimes fungible,” he said. “Once people get here there are often those who might change their minds and end up in engineering.”

But Dahleh also said that growth in engineering at Harvard is not necessarily unique.

“Historically, engineering is a bit of a cyclic concentration,” she said. “Across the country, engineering enrollment is up.”

Current engineering science concentrators are not surprised at the jump in applicant numbers. “I really feel there’s a push for engineering,” said William C. Burke ’13. “My guess is that in ten years, Harvard engineering is going to be the best in the country.”

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Amy Guan can be reached at

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at

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