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I'm currently in my second semester of college at university in the United States, and am currently majoring in Computer Engineering. I passed a lot of AP tests in high school, all of which gave me college credit. Because of this, if I take only the bare-minimum of required classes for my major, I'll end up averaging ~10 hours per semester for the next 6 semesters. Due to the way pre-requisite classes are set up, it's impossible for me to graduate early. And besides, I have a full scholarship, so I don't want to graduate early.

My question is this: I can take as many credits outside of my major as I need inside my major. How can I make the most of this freedom? I plan to pursue a career in robotics (Ideally at NASA, but that's a long shot), so I want to use my next three years to help that dream. The way I see it, there's a few obvious options:

  • Dual Major. I could probably get a dual major with any other engineering major if I was determined enough, but Computer Science or Electrical Engineering have enough overlapping classes that they would make the most sense.
  • Triple major. This sounds pretty ridiculous, but it is an option. I could potentially major in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Electrical Engineering and still graduate in the normal 4 years while taking a maximum of 18 hours per semester. Of course, this would be pushing it a little. If I had one conflict of two different classes being taught at the same time, I wouldn't have room to fix it. And then there's the problem of stress: I'm taking 18 hours now, and have loads of free time, but half of those hours are freshman-level courses. I think I'd be able to handle 18 hours of junior- and senior-level classes, but I can't know until I try it.
  • Take interesting classes. There's a lot of classes that I'd like to take that aren't required by my major (artificial intelligence, digital image processing, intro to relativity). However, there's not really enough to fill the amount of space I have.
  • Take fewer hours and get a job or internship. This is not much of an option, because my scholarships require that I take at least 15 hours per semester, which still leaves a lot of empty space in my schedule.
  • Start a Master's degree. My university allows undergraduate seniors to begin working toward a graduate degree if they are taking few enough undergraduate credit hours. My goal is to attend a different school for a Master's degree, but that plan will probably change several times between now and when I graduate. (I'm a teenager. We make stupid decisions.)
  • Research. I go to a fairly large university, so there's plenty of research opportunities.
  • Study abroad. This is fairly low on my list of priorities, but who knows? That may change. It's always an option.

The idea of taking a lot of classes solely because I'm interested is very appealing, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't add as much to a resume as, say, a dual degree. And I am very interested in the material in my major, so it's not as if I'm going to have to suffer through my required classes.

So, in summary: I have room to take an entire second major's worth of classes in my next 6 semesters of college. What should I do to best further my dream of working as a NASA robotics engineer?

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    Does your college/department have a course number for "independent studies" or similar? If so, look into the rules for it. You may be able to get credit for a project in your target area. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 28 '15 at 1:56
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    Not really a full answer here but you might want to think about taking a humanities course if you can: philosophy, film, anything really that drills down on your capacities as a writer of prose essays. Apart from the benefits of being about to pause and consider wider social questions etc, you get significant career benefits. As you rise through a career you take on more and more management roles where good writing skills are crucial (and rare). And you would be dealing with people from non tech backgrounds so it would be good to have had experience of their worldview already. – ctokelly Jan 28 '15 at 8:22
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I am surprised not to see getting involved in research projects on your list. At many schools, you can get academic credit for research. It is often no good for satisfying requirements, but that sounds like that's not a problem for you.

Getting involved in research is an excellent way to further your dreams, especially in getting on the track for graduate school. It can also introduce you to lots of interesting material that you would never encounter in a class.

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    Ah, yes, I forgot to put that on the list. I'll edit it now. – ItsTimmy Jan 28 '15 at 2:38
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    The ideal would be to work on a research project with a group that does robotics or something related. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 28 '15 at 7:54
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Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering should have a ton of overlap, and depending on course structure, EE might even be better suited for robotics at your university. Your instincts are right: Computer Science would be the next logical thing to major in, and in addition to being useful for robotics, it's very useful in general, should robotics not pan out immediately.

I'm not sure I'd recommend triple-majoring in your case, largely because you know what you want to do, and the above dual should get you there. Concerning the 18 credit hour question, I can but give you my experience when I foolishly took 21 during senior year: the stars aligned to make every project from all classes due on successive weeks (rather than being bunched up at once). Were it not for that happenstance, things would have been a lot harder to organize. You'd likely be able to handle 18 of upper level classes, but it may well come down to factors out of your control.

If you can do an internship in a related field, that'd likely open more doors for you without the commitment of a Master's degree. If that doesn't pan out, research would be a great next thing to do.

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A double major in CE and EE would be pretty cool (sounds like 5V isn't enough for you, anyways!). Instead of triple majoring with CS, maybe fill the rest of the free space with some useful math (or physics) courses.

As far as math goes, I assume you will take at least one differential equations course and one linear algebra course. Try to take another of each, if you uni offers it. Other courses to consider:

  • vector analysis
  • numerical analysis
  • discrete math

A pure math course or two like combinatorics couldn't hurt, either, especially for artificial intelligence.

Computer science courses that could be useful would be courses that you may have already taken for CE, such as

  • microprocessors
  • computer systems and assembly language

Basically anything relating to control engineering would be helpful in your case.

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