Every semester leading up to pre-enrollment, students tend to ask themselves: “How many credits do I want to take on?” This year, the College of Engineering has a new answer for its students: At most 20.
Previously, engineers had been permitted to take as many as 23 credits in one semester. However, the College has implemented this limit in response to the recommendations of Cornell’s Mental Health Review, published in April 2020.
Tobi Alade ’24, in addition to his engineering coursework, 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 account for every student’s individual circumstances.
“I can see why it’s useful for mental health and stuff, but I personally want to graduate a bit earlier, and it’s harder if they cap the credits you can take,” Alade said. “And, if you’re on a project team, [do] research or [are part of] things that count for credit –– which don’t really take class time –– it’s a bit unfair in my opinion.”
Fair Shen ’25 said that some of the more workload-intensive science requirements are technically listed as having the same number of credits as other more manageable engineering or liberal arts courses.
“Just this year I’m taking 23 credits because I’m not taking any science classes, so it’s actually pretty manageable,” Shen said. “Like, now I still have much more free time than my roommate, who’s taking two science classes and only 18 credits.”
Cornell engineers are required to take at least 18 credits of liberal arts classes before they graduate, and Shen’s minor in design meets this requirement. However, Shen said that in the future, this policy may prevent her and other students from being able to branch out and take outside elective courses.
“I know there’s an Asian religion class I want to take, but I just can’t now,” Shen said.
However, some people thought the policy would be beneficial for the community. According to Elliot Walsh ’24, a 20-credit limit could help to alleviate the challenges of the engineering college’s well-known competitive culture.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to take a lot of credits, with this expectation of 18 to 19 [credits] being a baseline, and most people—-or at least, this perception that most people take more than that, plus project teams and research and this and that,” Walsh said. “So I definitely think it’s an issue and needs to be addressed.”
Jackie Chin ’25 isn’t affected by the policy, since she says she would not take more than 20 credits at a time, but she recognizes how decreasing academic pressure can help students to maintain a healthier balance.
“The rigor and the constant pressure of having to do well very much encourages impostor syndrome, especially when coupled with competitive clubs,” Chin said. “In the past, I’ve felt that if I remove that layer of college academics, I feel like the rest of my life is emptier and not as fulfilling as it should be.”
However, other students question if a credit limit is the proper approach for mental health advocacy on campus.
“I’ve heard that mental health at Cornell is kind of overcrowded,” Alade said. “Like getting a CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] appointment is pretty hard, so if they could go after that first, I think that would help a lot more.”