What to Consider When Choosing an Engineering School
When I started studying engineering many, many years ago (okay, so I’m not twenty-something anymore), I didn’t have any idea about how to pick a good school. So I applied for a few before doing my homework and had mixed results because of it. I eventually settled on a school, worked hard at it, and got my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and later went on to get my MBA.
When my daughter started engineering school just a few years ago, I realized there isn’t all that much more information available out there even today. So, I’m going to give you my top 5 things to look for in an engineering school.
Is the school Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredited? This matters if you ever want to become a registered professional engineer (PE). You might think now that you don’t plan to pursue a PE, but that could be a huge mistake.
Only about twenty percent of engineers ever get their PE. But trust me, you never know where your career will lead you. Some companies require engineering managers to have their PE so it’s better to get a degree from an ABET accredited school just to be on the safe side.
Early on I decided not to pursue my PE, but so many doors are closed to those who don’t have it. It’s better to go ahead and get it to make sure every option is available to you. My suggestion would be to get it sooner than later. Like as soon as you are eligible. It’s easier than waiting like I did, and having to study the material all over again.
What is the university’s reputation in the employment market? Which school you graduated from and your grade point average definitely will help you land your first job out of college. After that, your professional reputation, skills, and certifications will be more important. You can check out U.S. News’ rankings of the top engineering programs for 2015 here.
I considered a few options while looking for a good engineering school to attend. I was accepted at Clemson, N.C. State and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Guess what? At the time, UNCC actually had a better reputation with employers for graduates coming out of their program. I’m not positive if this is still the case (not a spring chicken anymore, remember?) but doing your homework on this is vital.
How much research money do they receive? This is important because an active research school will have the latest, cutting-edge technology. The labs are outfitted with the best equipment so you can become familiar with the latest technologies.
You will also be exposed to modern techniques and might end up being a member of a team that makes an important advancement, which is an attractive feather to put in your cap! Furthermore, some companies that give grants to universities have their own engineers work with the students, which is a valuable networking tool and can lead to some exciting opportunities.
Does the teaching staff have name recognition? I remember my Electrical Fields professor was traveling quite a bit while I was in college because he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics. That is some major juice! In addition my Signals professor came from MIT to become an instructor at UNC Charlotte.
I can personally say that neither of them were very good teachers. It is what it is. The teacher’s aide really does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to your classes. However, I have found several times that name-dropping both professors has gotten me some immediate clout. The instructional staff doesn’t have to be rock stars in the field, but having some ready name recognition really gives some heft to the program.
What is the university’s graduation rate? The old saying “Look to your left and look to your right. Only one of you will graduate” is completely applicable in engineering. Face it, it’s a tough field to master. Unless you are arrogant enough to think that you are smarter than most of your classmates, you need to consider that actually earning an engineering degree is no small feat.
You need a lot of support to make it. Small class sizes, labs, tutoring help, and extended office hours will all become important to your success. A good engineering school has all of these in place. A quality engineering program looks at educating students as a calling, and not just a way to earn money. The only way to gauge this is by looking at their graduation rates. You may think “Okay, so they graduate a lot of engineers. The program must be easy.”
That’s a valid question and one that you need to dig into on your own. Perhaps the program is easy. If so, then the market won’t be out to hire those graduates. The alternative could be that the school has the mechanisms in place that I noted above, and sets their students up for success.
I hope the above items help you to find the right college or university for you. If you find the first school does not fit your needs, don’t waste your time. You can always transfer to another school with a better reputation in the jobs market.
Oh one more thing, engineering is time intensive and takes considerable focus to be successful. If you are successful, eventually you will reap the rewards of your degree, but don’t make it all about financial and career success. College is a formative time in your life, so make sure to have a bit of fun too!
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