finding the right college

How to Find the Best Engineering College for You : Rankings and Research

Last week, I had a parent ask me what the best resource was for determining the best engineering college in the southeastern United States. This is a difficult question to answer.  I used to be the person in the admissions office that provided data to the ratings agency, and I distrust ratings in general. I think they are really good at collecting information that you don’t really need and then creating a system that has solid data but doesn’t answer the question that matters to you. Note that there are excellent schools, like Reed College, that don’t participate in the ratings. Does that mean you won’t consider it? When you throw in the fact that places including Claremont McKenna College, Bucknell University, George Washington University, Iona College, and Tulane University’s business school have been charged with cheating the ratings by cooking their books, the picture gets even murkier.

So where does that leave you? Well, I have a freshman in college now and a sophomore in high school who has begun looking at engineering programs, and here are a few ideas that I use to look at schools and universities.

Faculty

First I look at the faculty. Who are they? What courses do they teach? I read through their bios looking for respectable academic work and the number of courses they actually teach. It’s great to have a Nobel Prize winner on your faculty, but what’s the point if they never see the inside of a classroom? Are there a ton of cool classes to take or just three? Is there a good number of full-time faculty, or are there a lot of adjunct faculty who teach one course and leave campus? Are the faculty actually members of that department, or are they borrowed from another department? I sift through these details to get a sense of the caliber of instruction at any given college.

Accreditation and Degrees

For engineering programs, consider two things. First, make sure the department you are considering has ABET accreditation. Most of the reputable schools easily make this hurdle, but it’s good to check. Second, make sure that the ABET-approved degree that you will receive is in your discipline. For example, University of Maryland has a Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. However, their accreditation is only in Civil Engineering and not in Environmental Engineering, meaning you can get a degree from that department only in Civil Engineering. At Johns Hopkins, on the other hand, you can get a BS degree that’s actually in Environmental Engineering.

Visit

Finally, you need to go there. You wouldn’t buy a car you’ve never driven (maybe I’m just old fashioned), so don’t plan to pursue a major at a college if you never have talked to faculty or students from that program. Go kick the tires. Being an English major at Carnegie Mellon is very different from being a Chemical Engineering major. If you want to know what the expectations are and how the experience may differ from other schools on your list, go to campus and ask. You’ll find the best information comes straight from the source.



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Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College.