Advice on Course Selection

Incoming ECE Freshmen

We can't wait for you to start your college career at Illinois ECE. You might want to start with the summer and fall checklist for admitted students. Read below for more information about registration and courses at Illinois.

Course Selection: Who, Where, When

Course selection is done during summer registration.  The deans and advisers of the Engineering College Academic Deans’ Office will advise all freshmen during the summer.  For the most part, course selection is very similar for all engineering students and the Deans’ Office has superior experience in working with freshman questions and problems.

You will use the Admissions Checklist to plan your schedule and choose your most likely classes well ahead of your summer registration day.  Have your proposed schedule printed out and ready for review with your adviser. You will meet with a dean or advisor and then use computers in the Engineering Library or Engineering Hall to register for your courses.  Advisors will be available to help with course registration problems.

Preparing for the Mechanics of Registration

You will be registering with a computer program known as UI Integrate Self-Serve (UI2), or Enterprise. To efficiently register you must know the courses you want to take and the Course Registration Number (CRN) of the section you wish to take. Here is a sample "Course Schedule" listing for one lecture session and one discussion section of Math 221:

CRN Type Section Time Days Location
47023 lecture DL1 1 p.m. - 1:50 p.m. TR room 314 Altgeld Hall
47028 discussion- recitation DD7 noon - 12:50 p.m. WF room 149 Henry Admin

It has a small group discussion section at noon on Wednesday and Friday in 149 Henry Administration Building and a lecture time of 1 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday in 314 Altgeld Hall. This arrangement, a large lecture supplemented by smaller discussion sections, is common for introductory classes. You must choose one of each. Note that the DL lecture is linked to the DD discussions. The CRN for both sections (47023, 47028) must be entered and registered at the same time.

Have your College of Engineering Homework print-out ready for your advising session. To be optimally prepared, you should have a list of possible alternative classes and weekly schedules complete with CRNs. Be aware that you may not be able to get the sections you want, although we’d be surprised if you can’t get into 8 a.m. sections!

New openings for freshman courses are added throughout the summer registration schedule. For these courses there is no advantage to coming in early June and no penalty for coming to the last sessions.


The most important course for first-term engineers is calculus. It is very important to register in the correct course, which for most students is one of Math 220, or 221, specific sections of 231, or 241. If you took an AP exam, you won’t know your scores yet and you’ll have to make your best guess as to which course is most appropriate, using your ALEKS score and being conscious that you may have to change courses when you arrive for classes in August.

Our experience has shown that AP test scores are often overly optimistic as predictors of future performance. It is imperative that you truly understand calculus. It is quite possible to score well on AP tests even without such understanding. Therefore, we advise caution when selecting your first calculus course.

Here are the College of Engineering's AP rulesThe ALEKS score overrides AP scores, so read the instructions carefully!

Note that the Math Department offers an intensive refresher course in Pre-Calculus, Math 115, and two half-semester courses, MATH 012 Algebra, and MATH 014 Trigonometry for students preparing to study Calculus. A sound base in these subjects is important to understanding Calculus. The Math Department will contact students who placed into Math 012, 014 or 115 about a further test on the ALEKS system to measure improvement since the AP and ACT exams.

The Math Department website has a more information about high school credit, placement, and proficiency exams.

During preregistration students will consult with the engineering advisers for their choice of calculus courses.

When you get the results of your AP exams, you must rearrange your courses to be sure you take each required course (e.g. change from Math 231 to 221 if you do more poorly than expected). You will be able to do this by yourself — and you should do this — using UI Integrate. You should keep in mind that the normal deadline for adding a class, including changing from one Math course to another, is two weeks after the start of classes. After that time, you must consult the advising deans in 206 Engineering Hall to rearrange your schedule.

Rhetoric 105

This required course is essentially freshman composition. A minority of our students enter with credit for the course. Because most freshmen across campus must take it, Rhet is able to accommodate half of the students in the fall and half in the spring semester, and this is determined by your student ID number. Those with even-number UINs take Rhet 105 in fall; those with an odd number take it in spring.

Alternative classes are listed on the curricula website. Click on the blue box in the flow chart labeled,
“18 hrs Social Sciences and Humanities electives.” Rhet 105 is intense. The communications sequence, CMN 111 and 112, gives you practice speaking to groups as well as writing: two skills you will use the rest of your life!  Employers like them, too.

ECE 110- Introduction to Electronics

This course is required of all ECE students. Demand for this course is such that we expect that 60% of our ECE students will take the course in the fall and 40% in the spring. Students who must take Rhet 105 in the Spring will have priority to take ECE 110 in the fall. Second priority will go to students who, largely because of AP credit, have difficulties in creating an appropriate class schedule for the fall. Be assured that everyone will be able to take ECE 110 in either the fall or spring semester.

Students who are placed in Math 115, and take Math 115 in the fall, or even in the summer before fall semester starts, absolutely should not take ECE 110 in the fall.

Computer Engineering

ECE 120 is the first computer engineering course taken by ECE students. The course provides a quick, bottom-up introduction to computer programming using the C programming language.  It continues by describing the architecture of a computer, including logic gates, datapaths, registers, and memories. It makes connections between hardware and software and explores the engineering tradeoffs in using each to develop computing systems.


New freshmen and external transfer Computer Engineering students on the Fall 2021+ curriculum are not required to earn chemistry credit to graduate. Electrical Engineering students have CHEM 102+103 as a graduation requirement.

Those without high school chemistry take CHEM 101. Many students enter with AP credit for CHEM 102 and possibly CHEM 104; the AP exam does not certify laboratory experience, hence credit is not given for CHEM 103 or 105. These students are not required to take CHEM 103, but they do not receive the one hour credit a student who takes the class would receive. AP credit for CHEM 104 counts as 3 free elective hours.

Two ECE related areas requiring more chemistry are semiconductors (the physics of electronic devices, fabrication of chips, lasers, etc.) and bioengineering. If you focus your studies in one of these areas, you will be likely to take more chemistry classes. If you plan to take more chemistry and don’t have credit for the laboratories you should consult with the Chemistry Department (107 Chem Annex).


Normally, engineering students do not begin their physics sequence until second term, after they have completed a term of calculus. This is motivated both by the necessary intellectual prerequisite of calculus and by concern that some students are not ready for the pace of physics classes until after they have been on campus, taking college classes, for a semester. Nonetheless, a number of stronger students with AP calculus credit take Physics 211 and do well. If you have AP credit for Physics 211 and possibly Physics 212, consult with your Engineering adviser about when to take your next physics course.

Note that there is a physics placement test on the Admitted Students Checklist. The result will decide whether you will take Physics 100, Thinking About Physics, a one hour class designed to improve problem solving skills before you take Physics 211.

Campus and College of Engineering General Education Electives

All U of I students must take 18 hours of a selection of General Education electives covering the humanities & arts, social & behavioral sciences, western & non-western cultures, a foreign language, composition, natural sciences and quantitative reasoning. Natural sciences and quantitative reasoning are covered by ECE course requirements.

Freshmen are advised to look over the vast selection of Gen Ed courses. Be aware that the selection may be limited since upperclassmen have been able to enroll in these courses since April. Do not give up hope, as freshmen are expected in some courses and spaces have been set aside for them. You should come to campus, or to your advising session, prepared with a list of courses that interest you. This will make searching much easier in case your first choice is no longer available.

We advise most students to take a Gen Ed or free elective course each semester whether they need it or not. This is in sharp contrast to advice routinely given to students in other U OF I colleges – they are advised to “get all their Gen Eds out of the way as soon as possible.” Consider, however, that many Liberal Arts students have not decided on a major and need to sample more courses before deciding on one. Engineering students have decided on a major or at least narrowed down their choices. Even if you aren’t sure, your curriculum is still dominated by math and science classes; taking lots of Gen Ed courses is not important to your early academic career. Also, we find that most students need a break from an otherwise all-technical program later in their undergraduate careers.

Students who took AP exams in history, English, political science, etc. should consult the Admissions website for more information.

Discovery Classes

The Discovery Class Program gives freshmen a much better chance to take a small class with an enthusiastic professor, so that they can appreciate from the start the world of academia, as well as explore their own intellectual interests. These classes are restricted to freshmen, are taught by a regular faculty member, and have 20 or fewer students. While some meet course requirements, most are free electives, and you can take 1-, 2-, and 3-hour classes. Many freshmen on campus take a Discovery Course in fall semester. Even if you have enough AP and proficiency credit to be classified as a sophomore, you are considered a freshman for purposes of registering for Discovery Courses. Look at all the department listings. You never know where you might find something cool. As with Gen Ed courses, prepare a list of interesting ones, as it is not possible to guarantee registration in any particular course.

ECE 110 fulfills many of the goals of the Discovery Program, although it is a much larger course. There are four lecture sections (2 hours per week) taught by ECE faculty, and many laboratory sections (3 hours per week per student) taught by a faculty member assisted by graduate teaching assistants. We strongly believe that our students get an excellent hands-on experience that communicates what it is like to be an electrical engineer or a computer engineer. But take a Discovery Course, too!

James Scholar Program

The James Scholar Program is offered to students based on ACT composite scores (or SAT equivalents), class rank and other factors from the student’s application. This program offers our undergraduates an enriched academic experience. They are given more opportunities for individual interaction with faculty members, they are offered special honors sections of courses, and they are given preference when registering for courses. They must maintain a 3.5 GPA and must take at least one honors section of a course each of their first two years. They compose an ‘honors contract’ of coursework for their junior and senior years. If you qualify you will be given information on enrolling during your summer orientation session. Visit the ECE departmental James Scholar Program webpage for more information on department rules and the College of Engineering James Scholars rules for more on college rules.

General Advice

Take a modest load your first term. See how well you do and either speed up or slow down depending on how you handle the workload, which is likely much greater than you have experienced in high school. It is important to do well and “get your feet on the ground.”

The same advice applies to activities. First term is a time to sample the thousands of activities available to you, from student organizations within ECE to campus-wide groups. It is not time to become heavily involved in one, so that it jeopardizes your academics. You’ll be better able to judge your time and capabilities in the spring.

“Sit in the front row and never look back.” This quote (from a 1989 BS graduate in Engineering) captures the essence of how to deal with a large university. The instructor will know who you are if you sit in the front row of a large lecture (and you will not fall asleep!). The metaphor extends further: if you want help, it can be found – go to office hours; see your adviser; if your adviser can’t help, find another one; study in study groups; look for tutoring hours. If you want the extras which come with a big university, go get them: leadership of organizations, guest lectures by famous faculty and public figures, research and projects outside the classroom. The inverse also applies: if you sit in the back row, do not come to office hours and don’t ask for help, you can have an anonymous four years here.

GO TO CLASS. We know you can’t believe we’re telling you this, but it’s true; many students who are having problems are not going to class. Even if you are behind and embarrassed, go to class and find out what material is being covered. It only gets worse once you start skipping class.

Remember that you are here to get an education, not just to take courses that fit in certain categories. It’s OK to experiment and take a course that may end up as a free elective or not being used. For example, our students graduate with not only the required hours of “free electives” but also an average of nine hours of courses not needed for graduation.

Enthusiasm!! Enthusiasm will make your studies easier, your learning better, and your friendships longer-lasting.