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Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Date: Apr 01 2005
Major: Electrical Engineering (This Major's Salary over time)
WPI is a unique university that has much to offer a motivated student. The engineering curriculum places an emphasis on project work with a minimum of classes that are little more than busywork. For Electrical Engineering, there are few, if any, courses that are specifically required; most requirements offer students the choice of several options. The downside to this is that it is necessary to map out coursework several terms in advance in order to get the most out of the experience, and academic advisors are not always up to this task. Courses outside the major can be selected based on applicability to future coursework or personal preference. Of all the classes I took as an undergraduate, I would say that only Statistics and Statics were wasted effort used only to satisfy degree requirements (I had already covered the material from these courses in more detail in other courses).

In addition to classes, WPI requires three major projects that total an equivalent of seven or more classes worth of work (in reality, the Major Qualifying Project will take more effort, especially if success is desired in addition to good documentation). The projects offer the best opportunity for off-site study (in the US and abroad), and no student should attend WPI without seriously considering these opportunities. The best approach to these projects is not to simply complete a task, but to add something personal to the work. Successes and failures provide students with valuable experiences that will serve them well later in life.

WPI's main weak point while I was there was in the area of career placement. The Career Development Center seemed to be more about mandatory training, formats, and procedures than finding jobs. Unfortunately, you have to jump through their hoops to be visible to the majority of employers. The single best source of job opportunities is the annual career fair, which exposes students (primarily those in high-demand majors) to a large number of local employers. Every student should attend each career fair, even if just to gain experience interacting with company representatives. As with much at WPI, the student's motivation and interest will determine how much will be gained here.

While I completed my graduate studies at WPI, I did so only as a matter of convenience. WPI, and the ECE department specifically, makes it extremely easy to continue your education at a graduate level. Developing good relationships with the faculty as an undergraduate (which is not difficult, as the professors are generally available to students and genuinely interested in assisting students in their professional development) really pays off as a graduate student and opens doors to many valuable research opportunities. However, students who complete their undergraduate work at other universities should still have little trouble getting such opportunities.

Social life is a different yet fundamentally similar matter; the opportunities exist, but the students must seek them out. As with any small university, groups of people with similar interests tend to devolve into cliques, but that does not prevent "outsiders" from getting involved in some form. The literary and theatrical opportunities in particular are open to people with all levels of interest (though some bias toward "insiders" is apparent). Students willing to take chances and seek out their own place will be well rewarded outside of class. Those looking to follow the herd will probably end up drunk at frat parties; there isn't much middle ground. If you do choose to spend party nights (Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday) in your room, keep the door open. If nothing else, you'll get to know the RAs when they go on rounds.

Yes, the city of Worcester is far from world-class. I've seen worse, and I didn't see anything particularly disturbing (aside from the usual loud drunks, who usually keep their distance) during my six years in Worcester. Still, this was several years ago, so I will defer to more recent students in this matter. WPI's position between two parks does keep it somewhat isolated though, and the street through the middle of campus has been closed off to traffic for a decade. As it does in the academic world, WPI carves out its own little corner of Worcester and makes it something very worthwhile. WPI was not my first choice of schools, but the unforeseen sequence of events that landed me there have put me in a position that I can find no fault with. I may wish I had done minor things differently at WPI, but I can think of no better university to have attended.

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