I am entering Hofstra University this fall as a mechanical engineering student, and I am curious what the workload would be like if I took a second major in mathematics?

To clarify my situation, here are some points:

  • im simply considering it and dont have to make a decision until, at the earliest, my second semester

  • I am fascinated by how things work, and I have been told that math is the "purest" science in that it explains everything. I am operating on the assumption that this is accurate

  • while I have a passion for engineering and hands on work, I would also very much like to participate in research

  • math is one of my weaker subjects, so I would have to devote extra time to study, though it still fascinates me

  • Im a hard worker, and plan on using summer and winter class sessions to get as much out of college as I can

  • i intend to continue college through my masters degree at a minimum

Additionally, MechE is 131 credits and mathematics is 124. My university allows credits to apply to more than one degree. Please feel free to ask for any other clarifying info you need, and Thank you all for your advice in advance!

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    This depends a ton on the specifics of your school's requirements, so it would probably be wiser to use resources at your university -- such as undergraduate advisors and the like. That said, I would suggest seeing what you think after actually taking some uni-level math courses to see what you think of it. – Sparksbet Jun 10 '18 at 4:39
  • I am fascinated by how things work, and I have been told that math is the "purest" science in that it explains everything -- I suggest to have a look at George Hazelrigg's work on engineering as decision making and how the various fields of mathematics are the frameworks we as engineers use to make decisions. – Mad Jack Jun 10 '18 at 13:42
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    while I have a passion for engineering and hands on work, I would also very much like to participate in research -- Engineering and research are not mutually exclusive. – Mad Jack Jun 10 '18 at 13:47
  • Don't overestimate the availability of summer and winter classes. Such offerings are usually limited, and are mainly introductory courses. By your second or third year, it's quite likely that there won't be any summer/winter courses that you need. So this may not be much help in speeding up your progress. You might like to look at recent course schedules to see what's been offered lately. – Nate Eldredge Jun 10 '18 at 19:38

I did a double major is physics and mathematics at a US university. Therefore, I think I can give you a somewhat accurate answer from my own experience. I hope you are coming to school with a lot of AP or IB credit, or some other way to get out of general education requirements. You are going to need the space in your schedule. I took a look at the requirements for the ME and Math majors at Hofstra, and there are four classes that overlap, and (if you choose the engineering math option) an additional nine hours of engineering courses count toward the math degree. That's a total of twenty-four overlap credits. That's pretty good, but it leaves an additional twenty-four credits dedicated to the math major to fit into your schedule. The total number of hours for your double major will be 155, or about nineteen hours per semester if you do eight semesters. That is quite a lot, which is why I hope you have some outside credit or take summer classes, or in some other way reduce the workload to sixteen to eighteen credits per semester.

If you are able to fit these classes into a reasonable schedule, the workload will not increase too much. I do not think that undergraduate math classes require all that much work. Most do not require essays or large projects. Furthermore, if your university's policies are like mine, you can drop out of the double major at any time, reverting to single-major status, so there is little risk in applying for a double-major. If you do double major, and find that your engineering classes are suffering because your math classes are taking too much time, I strongly advise you to drop out immediately. Having one strong major is much better than two weak majors.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Neither employers nor graduate programs place a lot of weight on a double major. If you have a strong GPA in an engineering major, and have several elective mathematics courses on your transcript as well, that is just as good as a double major.
  • If you do get a graduate degree, employers will care way more about that than a second major.
  • Unless you have a full scholarship, you are paying for this. I do not presume to know your financial situation, but I feel fairly comfortable in saying that the joy of taking math classes simply because you find them interesting is not worth $40,000 per year. So do not delay graduation to get a second major. Especially when you can check math books out at the University library for free.
  • I would even be hesitant to take summer classes in order to double major if they come at the expense of an internship, REU, or some other career-enhancing opportunity. A double major looks good on a resume or a graduate school application, but not as good as work and research experience.
  • As with all choices, there is an opportunity cost to double majoring. If you have time to double major, you could also use that time to take graduate level classes, or learn another language, or get a minor in computer science, all things that employers and graduate schools will see as valuable.
  • Finally, it should be noted that a double major may be viewed by future employers as a sign of a lack of focus or of scattered interests. I do not know if this is a prevalent opinion, but I have heard it before. It may even be true in many cases.
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  • I may be misunderstanding something: are you suggesting that 19 hours (of lecture?) per semester is a lot...? – user9646 Jun 10 '18 at 20:41
  • Yes, at my undergraduate school, one could not take more than 18 without special circumstances. At Hofstra, it appears that full-time enrollment is considered enrollment in between 12 and 17 credits per semester, though you can pay more tuition for each additional credit hour (past 17). – Alex S Jun 10 '18 at 23:08
  • One credit is one hour? I don't get it. The idea of having 18 hours of lecture per semester sounds insane to me. When I studied, it was more than that per week! – user9646 Jun 11 '18 at 0:39
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    Sorry, the language is so ingrained for me I didn't think about the literal meaning. Taking X credit hours in a semester usually means that during that semester, one attends X hours of lecture per week. – Alex S Jun 11 '18 at 0:41
  • In the US, courses that include a lab component (STE), will often have a separate 1 credit hour lab that you sign up for. That's usually 2-3 hours per week in a lab running experiments. – mkennedy Jun 11 '18 at 18:14

The engineering program you are entering has a lot in common with other US schools, including the one at my institution. Note: I am in electrical engineering, but I interact enough with the mechanical engineering program to have an understanding of the key issues involved here.

As far as branching out into other fields goes, minoring in math is fairly common for mechanical and electrical engineering students, since these students take a lot of math. Engineering students who already take a lot of math can typically minor in math and graduate in the same amount of time as not minoring at all.

I am curious what the workload would be like if I took a second major in mathematics?

Students who double major generally fall into two categories: those that want to graduate in the shortest amount of time possible and those that don't mind stretching the degree progressions out over another two or three more semesters. The corresponding workload will depend on which of these two categories describes your situation. Other factors might come into play; e.g., suppose you take too many courses in a particular semester, then you fail or drop a few of those, and then have to retake them later. And so on.

You should also be aware, though, too, that not all courses are offered all of the time, so, if you really need to complete your degrees in a certain time frame, you need to be mindful of the actual course offering frequencies.

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