Each semester leading up to pre-registration, students tend to ask themselves, “How many credits do I want to take?” This year, the College of Engineering has a new answer for its students: At most 20.
Previously, engineers had been allowed to take up to 23 credits in one semester. However, the College implemented this limit in response to the recommendations from Cornell’s Mental Health Review, published April 2020.
Tobi Alade ’24, in addition to his engineering classes, is pursuing a computer science major and is currently taking 21 credits. However, he says the work has been reasonable. He finds the new policy somewhat restrictive and too general to take into account the individual situation of each student.
“I can see why it’s helpful for mental health and all that, but I personally want to graduate a little earlier, and it’s harder if they cap the credits you can take,” Alade said. . “And, if you are part of a project team, [do] search or [are part of] things that count for credit –– that don’t really take class time –– that’s a little unfair in my opinion.
Fair Shen ’25 said that some of the more demanding science workload requirements are technically listed as having the same number of credits as other more manageable engineering or liberal arts courses.
“This year alone, I’m taking 23 credits because I’m not taking any science classes, so it’s actually pretty manageable,” Shen said. “For example, now I still have a lot more free time than my roommate, who takes two science courses and only 18 credits.”
Cornell engineers are mandatory take at least 18 credits of liberal arts coursework before graduating, and Shen’s design minor meets this requirement. However, Shen said that in the future, this policy may prevent him and other students from branching out and taking electives outside.
“I know there’s an Asian religion class I want to take, but I can’t right now,” Shen said.
However, some people thought the policy would benefit the community. According to Elliot Walsh ’24, a 20-credit limit could help alleviate the challenges of the well-known competitive culture of engineering school.
“There is enormous pressure to take a lot of credits, with this expectation of 18 to 19 [credits] being a benchmark, and most people — or at least, this perception that most people take more than that, more project teams and research and this and that,” Walsh said. “So I really think it’s a problem and it needs to be addressed.”
Jackie Chin ’25 is unaffected by the policy, as she says she wouldn’t take more than 20 credits at a time, but she recognizes how less academic pressure can help students maintain a healthier balance.
“The rigor and constant pressure to do well encourages a lot of impostor syndrome, especially when associated with competitive clubs,” Chin said. “In the past, I felt like if I removed that layer of academic academics, I felt like the rest of my life was emptier and not as fulfilling as it should be.”
However, other students wonder if a credit limit is the right approach to mental health advocacy on campus.
“I heard mental health at Cornell was a bit overcrowded,” Alade said. “How to get a CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] the date is quite difficult, so if they could go after that first, I think that would help a lot more.