So you want to be a MechE?

You may have noticed the lack of prerequisites in the Olin curriculum. How, then, are you supposed to know when to take your MechE classes? Seeing as many of you declared a major recently, and I’m an old senior who’s seen it all, I figured I might give some general advice. Take it or leave it; not the same thing works for everyone, and not everyone would agree, but it’s a reasonable starting point if you’re planning your time. 

Additionally, the MechE curriculum, as any curriculum, is in flux, and not everything I say will be the same when you get to that particular class. Things change a lot here. 

My general recommendation, with MechE core required classes with asterisks*:

1st Year Spring:

(QEA, P&M)

Mechanical Prototyping

2nd Year Fall:

(QEA, PoE)

Take an AHS for the love of your sanity

Dynamics* (ESA?)

2nd Year Spring:


Partial Differential Equations 

Mechanics of Solids and Structures*

3rd Year Fall:

Mechanical Design*

Dynamics* (ESA?)

3rd Year Spring:

MechE Depth* or Thermodynamics*

4th Year Fall:

Transport Phenomena*

4th Year Spring:

MechE Depth* or Thermodynamics*

Let’s go from the beginning then, shall we? 

I highly recommend taking Mechanical Prototyping as a first year. It is NOT a MechE requirement; however, it gets everyone to the same base understanding of SolidWorks and throws you into the prototyping world. Would highly recommend. Plus, it’s a ton of fun. However, if you already have a ton of prototyping and SolidWorks experience, consider taking SoftDes (Software Design) instead. Having basic programming skills will help use computational tools needed for mechanical engineers. No, you cannot be a MechE and avoid ever touching code. If you don’t do it, then any time when you have the space is good. I would not generally recommend taking MechProto after sophomore year, as by that time, you’ll have cobbled those skills together elsewhere.

Second year in the fall used to have QEA for 8 credits and PoE for 4, but I believe QEA might only be 4 credits second semester now. It’s important here to keep the ratio of projects to p-set/lab classes in mind. I would recommend getting your Stats class or a foundational science class in there, to shake things up, and getting started on AHS.

If you’re interested in taking FOMSO (Fundamentals of Machine Shop Operations) and learning all the tools in the machine shop, take it as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the less you can use those skills. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the new Dynamics/ESA situation is like. I trust you to figure it out. Somewhere sophomore or junior year would be ideal. 

Spring second year is an important one. It’s a good time to take MechSolids (Mechanics of Solids and Structures), which is the foundation of mechanical engineering. The content is often what recruiters will ask in interviews, so I would take it sooner rather than later. If you have the space in your schedule, it’s also a great time to take Partial Differential Equations (PDEs). As someone who is taking PDEs as a senior, I very much wish I had taken it earlier, ESPECIALLY before taking Transport Phenomena. If you don’t take PDEs before Transport, then most of Transport is learning PDEs. 

Junior year, take Mechanical Design (MechDes). Everyone would get more out of it if everyone has taken MechProto beforehand, but that’s being worked out separately. 

Studying abroad in the spring junior year is pretty common. It’s very possible to plan around, just take MechDes your senior year.  

This year would also be a good time to take your Mechanical Engineering Depth class. I’ve actually taken 5 of those so far, and you get more out of them if you’ve taken MechSolids and Dynamics (ESA?) first. The specific class you take will depend on your interests. My general suggestion is to wait until one comes up that interests you during junior or senior year. 

Alternatively, take Thermodynamics (Thermo). If Transport and Thermo get offered at the same time again, don’t take them the same semester. Both of them have new and completely different concepts from the traditional structures classes, so don’t put those two in the same semester. However, Thermo is rather standalone, and can go before or after Transport, regardless of what the course website says. 

The important thing about Transport is to try to take it after learning vector calculus (in QEA) and after PDEs. 

As for Stats, Bio, and MatSci, I would sketch out your schedule with the MechE classes as the backbone and fill in with those when your semester promises to be project-heavy, as they tend to be more predictable in workload. 

Here’s the last bit of advice. Join a project team or a research group. There are some analysis skills and decision-making skills that can only be developed on a longer term project. Throw yourself into at least one. Some would argue that a MechE education is not complete without the experience that a project team gives you, especially on the analysis side. 

If you want to go over your plan with a seasoned MechE, most of us are happy to help. Feel free to email me at if you have questions or want to run your plan by me. 

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