Why are so Many Engineering Students Seniors?

Almost half of all students in the College of Engineering have senior class standing, according to data obtained from the university’s division of management information, institutional research (DMI).

The data includes the number of students by class standing in each college and the number of semesters needed to graduate. Strikingly, the data found that while the number of semester to graduate has remained relatively stable, the percent of seniors in the CoE has increased every academic year since 2009-2010, an 11.1% total increase.


The class distribution in the CoE is unlike any other on campus. The 2017-2018 senior % is 6.9 percent higher than the ten year average. The next closest is the College of Business, which has 1.77% more than its ten year average.

The college of engineering has more seniors than any other and the gap is widening. What sets engineering apart from others to explain this difference?

There is no one concrete explanation, many factors need to be considered and all play a role in engineering’s large senior population.

One of the most basic explanations is credit hours. Class standing is based on credit hours completed, not semesters enrolled. The College of Engineering is one of the most competitive colleges on campus, having the highest average ACT per accepted student.

Because the college is ultra competitive, students often take more AP classes and gain college credit to boost their resumes and chances of being accepted. This leads to many incoming freshman having class statuses of sophomores or even juniors before they even step on campus.

Course credit and its relationship with class standing segways into the second factor; course prerequisites .



Above is data representing the structure of every UIUC course by prerequisites, created by  Alec Mori, B.S. ’16, Computer Science.

The size of the data point, and its connection to other points, illustrate the number of classes that require that class as a prerequisite.

A large majority of classes that require prerequisites, the classes in the center, are engineering-based classes such as Math, Physics, Computer Science, and Chemistry.

When looked at in closer detail, the difference becomes even more pronounced.


On the left is liberal arts classes such as English, history, and law. On the right is typical engineering classes like Physics, computer science, and statistics. The data clearly shows engineering students have stricter major paths than other students, as their classes require strict prerequisites beforehand.

Many current and former engineering students believe this, along with AP credit,  could be the main reason for the statistical anomaly.

“Students receive credit for AP classes, but not necessarily core university classes,” says Baren_The_Baron, a CS student, “say you get a 5 in AP CS in High School. You will receive credit, but you won’t receive credit for CS 125, which is the required intro to programming course for CS majors.”

What does this mean for students? “Technically you’re closer to graduating because you have more credit hours, but you likely won’t graduate any faster.”

If engineering students are coming in with more credits than other students, why aren’t they graduating earlier? Baren believes course difficulty also plays a large role.

“I can’t speak for every engineering major, but students are gated by specific class requirements more than hours. Some classes are extremely difficult, such that even though it would technically be possible to graduate earlier by taking multiple technical courses at the same time, it would be terrible for their GPA.”

“In effect, many people effectively come in as sophomores but still need to take four years to graduate. In addition, having the credit lets you have a lighter schedule and take maybe 12 credit hours per semester to graduate rather than the usual 16.”

“Even if you come into ECE with all of your math/physics/geneds done you’re still going to be here for at least two and a half or even three years due to prerequisite chains. Most freshman come in without all of their math and physics completed, and a lot of credit that doesn’t explicitly count towards their degree, so they spend about 4 years here despite having a ton of credit.” evilcow867, B.S. 16′, Electrical and Computer Engineering

30.88, 31.03, 28.11, 36.4, 30.17, 31.08, 30.76, 34.46

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Blake Dietz

Author: Blake Dietz

Blake Dietz, undeclared sophomore