Best Place for Undergraduate Engineering?

No, I am not going back to get a bachelor’s degree (actually, only my graduate degrees are in industrial engineering:  my bachelor’s is in math and computer science, so maybe I should go back!).  The son of a colleague of mine is planning to take engineering and wonders where to go.

In my mind, one of the main purposes of a university education is to get you fired up about some topic.  This “firing up” is kinda like lightning:  it is hard to tell when it is going to happen.  But enthusiastic faculty and an well-thought-out (and innovative) curriculum go a long way in improving the odds.

Is there any university that you have seen that you have really thought:  boy, that would be a great
place to get an undergraduate engineering degree?  While my colleague’s son is mainly interested in US or Canada, east of the Mississippi, I’d be happy to hear about any place for comparisons sake.

8 thoughts on “Best Place for Undergraduate Engineering?”

  1. To broaden the scope of search: it might be a good idea to think about an European university. A really strong historical background in engineering, top research, competitive fees, and (due to what is called Bologna process) good international recognition of the degrees could make that an alternative. I am quite sure that the Scandinavian or Dutch places offer undergraduate programs in English.
    The following link provides a good place to start search.

  2. For someone interested in engineering, the first big division of colleges is between the engineering/science specialty instiatutions and broad based universities that happen to have strong engineering and science programs.

    If you end up at a place like Berkeley, most of your fellow students will be majoring in things like business, humanities, social sciences, etc. This makes for a very different college experience than what you would get at Cal Tech or MIT.

    The second really important issue is the extent to which the college focuses on undergraduate education. There are certainly places where faculty focus on research and graduate education at the expense of undergraduate education. There are other institutions (such as Rose-Hulman for example) where there isn’t much graduate education going on and the faculty are necessarily more focused on teaching undergraduates and involving undergraduates in their research.

    Another big issue is size- at a smaller institution an undergraduate is likely to get more attention from their professors than at a larger university.

    In the category of small Engineering/Science specialist schools that are primarily focused on undergraduate education, I’d suggesting looking at Rose-Hulman, Harvey-Mudd, and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, These are all private institutions and fairly expensive, but with good financial aid for applicants that have the right test scores.

  3. To follow up on the undergraduate education focus, there are also the US service academies. I’ve been impressed with what I have seen of the education of engineers at the Coast Guard Academy, where I teach (in the math department). Class sizes are small, professors are very much focused on teaching, hands-on research is extensive, great summer internship opportunities are available (within the Coast Guard, and at national labs like Livermore and Sandia), tuition is virtually nothing, and graduates have a guaranteed job. In return, they commit to 5 years of service.

    There is a lot more to it than that, but to start, see

    And since this is an O.R. blog, I’ll just add that there is an undergraduate O.R. major there too.

  4. My thoughts may be different but definitely apply to your “firing up” principle.

    1. Find a good institution in-state. There’s no reason to me to leverage starting your career with large amounts of debt. There are great engineering institutions in just about every state.

    2. Find a program that has a good work-study/Co-op/internship program. Real world experience goes a long way to building experience, resume booster, and getting ideas of “fired up” fields of study.

    3. There is a lot of time in undergraduate studies to find that particular field of study. So at this time its well suited to just get a good degree at a solid institution. If a particular study fancies the student than there is always graduate studies to define that particular “fired up” field of study.

  5. I’d have to second Brian’s comment on Olin College. It has a nice small size, and only does undergraduate engineering. It is only a few years old, so the facilities are all still new. While it is in the boring suburb of Boston (for college kids) where I live, the city is close by.

    It has a 50% tutition grant for all students. In fact, until this year all tution was free.

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