The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Sophomores Choose Course VI in Record Majors

By Jean K. Lee
Associate News Editor

The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science once again drew the most sophomore majors, and the biology department posted significant gains, according to the annual report of major declarations from the Registrar's Office.

Course VI topped the list by attracting 367 members of the Class of 1999, showing a 16 percent increase over last year's declarations.

The biology department continued a surge that began five years ago by getting 153 sophomore majors, a gain of 28 percent from last year's draw.

Chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics rounded out the five most popular major choices.

Enrollment in the Department of Chemical Engineering decreased from 120 to 89 sophomores this year.

For the most part, other departments showed relatively little fluctuation over the last three years.

VI-3 reports massive gains

The number of students who declared Course VI-3 (Computer Science and Engineering) rose dramatically from 97 to 162.

While the number of sophomores who declared Course VI-1 (Electrical Science and Engineering) increased from 66 last year to 80 this year, the recently accredited Course VI-2 program (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) saw enrollment decline from 154 to 125 students.

"The excitement of the material and the field's opportunity for secure jobs are definitely factors for the increase in enrollment," said Arthur C. Smith, professor of EECS.

"Half of the increase can be explained by the increase in the sophomore class size," said Anne M. Hunter, administrator of the EECS undergraduate and Master of Engineering programs. She also said that the World Wide Web could have influenced the apparent shift from electrical engineering toward computer science.

The increase in EECS enrollment has caused various concerns about the department's resources. "We can't increase the number of computers, lab space, and other facilities to make up for the influx," Smith said. "This puts pressure on us to provide the services we want to provide with an increased enrollment."

"There have been problems with staffing - the department now needs more advisors, faculty and [teaching assistants]," Hunter said.

Smith also said that the department will become more impersonal and it will be more difficult to communicate with students.

Course VII enrollment rises

The increase in the number of students choosing Course VII is partly the result of the nationwide increase in the number of students who apply to medical schools, said Graham C. Walker, professor of biology.

Walker also said that the recent change making the introductory biology class a requirement for all undergraduates has contributed to this influx.

"Now everyone who comes to MIT gets exposed to biology, and with so much coverage of biology in the news, the field has captured people's imagination," Walker said.

The Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics also experienced a significant increase in enrollment.

A total of 44 sophomores designated Course XVI as their major choice, compared to 26 last year. However, Ed F. Crawley, chair of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said that he is not surprised and that he expects at least as many students to enroll in the department in the future.

"The question is not why there's an increase in enrollment, but why there were so few who enrolled the past years," Crawley said. The cause of the increase is the "visible demand by the aerospace industry and a strong government investment in the field."

In addition, "a lot of aerospace news during last few years influenced the increase," Crawley said.

Another factor that may have contributed to the rise is the success of the department's introductory class, Walker said. Many freshmen who took Introduction to Aerospace Engineering (16.00) subsequently chose Course XVI, he said.

The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences experienced a slight increase, with 20 sophomores enrolling in the department over 12 last year.