Electrical Engineering

Professor Marko Loncar, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Electrical Engineering has long played a critical role in undergirding the innovation that has improved quality of life, supported economic growth and addressed societal problems. Its emergence as a separate field of study in the late 19th century paralleled, and was responsive to, the large-scale introduction of telegraphy and electrical lighting. Electrical engineering has continued to play a pivotal role in power and energy distribution, communications, and computation, even as the power-carrying channels have evolved from heavy metal cables to nanowires or optical fibers, the networks of communications have evolved from wires to wireless to neurons, and electrical switches have evolved from vacuum tubes to transistors to carbon nanotubes. The essential technologies that join us all together—mobile phones, laptops, wireless communications, downloaded videos, light-emitting diodes, electronic displays, the electrical power grid, and ATM transactions—are all evidence of the impact and continual innovation of electrical engineering.

Electrical Engineering is a broadly diverse field that encompasses, for example, controls, communications, signal processing, circuit design, computer engineering, and electronic and photonic devices. This concentration requires a core group of four courses including ES 52: The Joy of Electronics - Part 1 or ES 153: Laboratory Electronics, ES 154: Electronic Circuits and Devices, ES 156: Introduction to Signals and Systems, and one of ES 173: Introduction to Electronic and Photonic Devices, CS 141: Computing Hardware, or CS 148: Design of VLSI Circuits and Systems. It also requires completion of a minimum of three electrical engineering electives and two additional engineering electives.

The objectives of the electrical engineering program are to provide students a solid foundation in electrical engineering within the setting of a liberal arts college for preparation for a diverse range of careers in industry and government, or for advanced work in engineering, business, law, or medicine. It enables the acquisition of a broad range of skills and attitudes drawn from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences in addition to engineering, which enhances engineering knowledge and contributes to future leadership and technical success.

The SB degree program requires a minimum of twenty courses (80 credits). The curriculum is structured with advanced courses building on the knowledge acquired in math, science, and introductory engineering science courses. Concentrators are strongly encouraged to complete the common prerequisite course sequence in their first two years at Harvard. This includes Math (through 1a and 1b; plus 21a and 21b, 23a and 23b, or Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b), Physics (through Physical Sciences 12a and 12b, Physics 15a and 15b, or Applied Physics 50a and 50b), and Computer Science 50. Students are cautioned that it is more important to derive a solid understanding of these basic subjects than to complete them quickly without thorough knowledge; this material is extensively used in many subsequent courses. If in doubt, it may be wise to enroll in the Math 1 sequence rather than proceed to Math 21a or 23a with marginal preparation.

The SB programs in Electrical Engineering and Engineering Sciences share many course requirements, and there is some flexibility in moving between these programs. To get an early sample of engineering coursework, entering students are invited to enroll in Engineering Sciences 6 (Environmental Science and Engineering), Engineering Sciences 50 (Electrical Engineering), Engineering Sciences 51 (Mechanical Engineering), and Engineering Sciences 53 (Biomedical Engineering). These introductory courses have minimal prerequisites and have been very popular with prospective engineering concentrators. Engineering 50 and 51 have extensive hands-on laboratory sections.

Upon graduation, students in the Electrical Engineering concentration should demonstrate the following student outcomes: 

  • (a) An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering.
  • (b) An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data. 
  • (c) An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability. 
  • (d) An ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.
  • (e) An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems.
  • (f) An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
  • (g) An ability to communicate effectively.
  • (h) The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.
  • (i) A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning.
  • (j) A knowledge of contemporary issues
  • (k) An ability to use the techniques, skills and modern tools necessary for engineering practice

20 courses (80 credits)

1) Required courses:

a) Mathematics/Probability and Statistics/Applied Mathematics (four courses):

1. Mathematics 1a and 1b; Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b, Mathematics 21a and 21b, or Mathematics 23a and 23b.

2. Probability and Statistics (one course): Engineering Sciences 150.

3. Applied Mathematics (one course): At least one of Applied Mathematics 104, 105, 106, 107, 108 (formerly Applied Mathematics 147), or 120 (if starting in Mathematics 21a or 23a or Applied Mathematics 21a).

b) Physics (two courses): Applied Physics 50a, Physical Sciences 12a, or Physics 15a or 16; and Applied Physics 50b, Physical Sciences 12b, or Physics 15b. Appropriate advanced-level physics courses may also fulfill this requirement (please consult with SEAS advisers).

c) Introductory Science (two courses): Life Sciences 1a or Life and Physical Sciences A, Physical Sciences 1 or 11, Physical Sciences 10, Physics 15c, and other relevant introductory science courses (please consult with SEAS advisers).

d) Computer Science (one course): Computer Science 50, 51, or 61.

e) Note: ABET accreditation requires that all students complete 8 courses in math and science and 12 courses in engineering topics. Students who start in Math 1a will need to take 21 courses in order to fulfill 12 courses in engineering topics. ES 150 counts as a course in math. Given the number and complexity of the requirements, students interested in pursuing Electrical Engineering should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies about their plans of study as early as possible.

f) Engineering Design (two courses): Engineering Sciences 96 and 100hf (see item 3 below).

g) Required Core (four courses): Engineering Sciences 52 or 153, 154, 156, and one of Engineering Sciences 173, Computer Science 141, or 148.

h) Electrical Engineering Electives (three courses):

        • Engineering Sciences 50, 151, 155, 158, 159, 173, 175, 176, 177
        • Applied Physics 195
        • Computer Science 61, 141, 143, 144r, 146, 148, 189
        • Biomedical Engineering 128, 130
        • By prior approval, advanced-level engineering science courses relevant to electrical engineering and advanced-level MIT courses in electrical engineering.

i) Engineering Electives (two courses):

        • Engineering Sciences 6, 51, 53, 111, 115, 120, 121, 123, 125, 181, 190; Computer Science 51

2) Sophomore Forum: Sophomore year. Non-credit. Spring term.

3) Tutorial: Required. Engineering Sciences 100hf.

4) Thesis: Required: An individual engineering design project is an essential element of every SB program and is undertaken, ordinarily, during the senior year as part of Engineering Sciences 100hf. Faculty-supervised reading and research is an important aspect of this requirement.

5) General Examination: None.

6) Other Information:

a) Engineering Sciences 6, 50, 51, and 53: No more than two of these courses may count toward concentration credit. Engineering Sciences 6, 50, and 53 can only count as an engineering elective when taken during the freshman or sophomore year.

b) Pass/Fail and Sat/Unsat: None of the courses used to satisfy the concentration requirements may be taken Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat.

c) Plan of Study: Concentrators are required to file an approved departmental Plan of Study during their third term (i.e., the first term of their sophomore year) and to keep their plan up to date in subsequent years. All SB programs must meet the overall ABET program guidelines, a minimum of four courses in basic sciences, four courses in mathematics and twelve courses in engineering topics. Plan of Study forms may be obtained from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Office of Academic Programs, Pierce Hall 110, and from the SEAS website.

d) Additional Terms: Concentrators who wish to remain beyond the end of the second term of their senior year to complete the SB requirements must be approved to do so by the Undergraduate Engineering Committee. A written petition is required and should always be submitted as early as possible and under discussion with the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies or Director of Undergraduate Studies. Petitions can be submitted no later than January 15 between the student’s fifth and sixth terms (i.e., middle of junior year), or August 15 between the student’s fifth and sixth terms if the student’s fifth term is the spring. Under no circumstances will the Committee grant a student permission for more than two additional terms. Petitions are only granted in exceptional cases and only to meet specific SB degree requirements. More information can be found on the SEAS website.

e) Joint Concentrations: Electrical Engineering does not participate in joint concentrations.


Students interested in concentrating in Electrical Engineering should discuss their plans with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Administrator. Each undergraduate who elects to concentrate in Electrical Engineering is assigned a faculty adviser depending on the student's area of specialization. The faculty adviser might also be a member of the Undergraduate Engineering Committee, whose members have the responsibility for reviewing departmental Plans of Study. If students do not request a change in adviser, they have the same adviser until they graduate. Each student is reassigned to another faculty member while the original faculty adviser is on leave. It is expected that students will discuss their Plans of Study and progress with their Director of Undergraduate Studies or Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies at the beginning of each term. Students may seek advice from their faculty adviser, the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Academic Programs Administrator at any time.


Further information is available from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Marko Loncar, loncar@seas.harvard.edu, (617) 495-5798; the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Christopher Lombardo, lombardo@seas.harvard.edu, (617) 496-5185; or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Administrator, Kathy Lovell, klovell@seas.harvard.edu, (617) 496-1524.

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Electrical Engineering 16 38 47 43 39
Electrical Engineering + another field 0 0 0 0 1
Another field + Electrical Engineering 0 0 0 0 0





Electrical Engineering was a new concentration in 2012-13.