Olin College of Engineering is a private non-profit undergraduate institution that emphasizes student-centered, hands-on experiential learning where students learn how to approach open-ended multi-disciplinary problems. Common university structures such as departments and tenured faculty do not exist. Olin’s first class of students began in 2002. Prior to that, Olin recruited 30 students to help shape the curriculum and student life programs alongside the faculty. Olin students can obtain undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, or a self-designed engineering major.

Location: Needham, MA

Undergraduates: 330

Graduates: 0

Faculty: 41

For more data, see here.

Programs of Note

The following are noteworthy programs or practices that differ from MIT offerings. Unless otherwise stated, assumptions should not be made about the effectiveness of these programs and/or practices.


Every first-year student is assigned a faculty advisor, and many students keep the same advisor until they graduate. In addition to providing academic support and mentorship, it is common for Olin faculty advisors to take their advisees on social outings for dinner, bowling, ice cream, etc.

Students are also assigned to an Advising Family consisting of 5-7 students and their shared faculty advisor. The Advising Family includes students from each of the undergraduate years and provides students with a peer network for advice and support. Some Advising Families self-aggregate into informal extended Advising Families. These expanded networks of students and faculty can provide additional sources of information and support.


In addition to course-based graduation requirements, Olin expects students to be proficient in nine competency areas upon graduation: Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis, Teamwork, Communication, Life-long Learning, Contextual Awareness, Design, Diagnosis, and Opportunity Assessment and Development. Evidence for proficiency in these areas is collected from student reflective portfolios, course-based competency assessments, and student presentations at Olin Expositions (see below).


Olin courses are taught in a multidisciplinary way. Instead of taking separate math and science courses, all first-year students enroll in: Modeling and Control; Design Nature; and Modeling and Simulation. These courses interweave math and science content with engineering. Modeling and Control is an introduction to mechanical and electrical systems. In Design Nature, students design and build mechanical systems inspired by animals that hop, crawl and swim as they learn about mechanical design and prototyping. Modeling and Simulation is an engineering analysis class where students learn about physical modeling, computer simulation and mathematical analysis. Many courses at Olin are team taught so that faculty can help students see the course content from a variety of perspectives.

During the first year, students also complete a humanities course and an entrepreneurship course.

Much of the coursework at Olin is project-based. As students progress through the curriculum, the projects become more open-ended and complex.

Olin students may design or customize many aspects of their educational experience. For example, students can: lead their own courses; contribute to the design of existing courses; and design their own concentration within a major. Additionally, they are required to participate in “self-study” wherein they select and study an area of personal interest.

First-Year Seminar

­­All Olin students participate in a 1-credit first-year seminar. The seminar has been co-designed by Olin students and faculty. The seminar topics are broad, covering everything from working in teams to writing a resume.

Olin Exposition

Day-long expositions of student work are held at the end of each semester to encourage students to reflect on their learning. Families, alumni, and community members are invited to attend. Students present their work in conference style talks, poster sessions, demonstrations, and performances. To see a schedule of events from the fall of 2017, click here.

Other First-Year Programs

First-Year Housing

All first-year students live in the same residence hall.


Incoming students participate in a five-day orientation. The first day of orientation includes activities for families. Students move into their dorm rooms on the first day of orientation.