How important is your engineering undergrad school?

My super-smart high-school senior niece has just been accepted to Rose-Hulman, according to US New the #1 rated engineering undergrad school in the country. She’s also waiting to hear from Harvey Mudd and Venderbilt. She has a 4.25 GPA, has been taking college courses for the last two years, has some entreprenurial skills, etc. She has a reasonably decent chance of being accepted to most of the schools she’s applied at, I think. But all these undergrad programs are about $50K, with room & board tossed in. I would guess she will qualify for some scholarships, but is it really worth it to go to a top-rated undergrad program? Presumably she’ll be going on to post-grad work. WOn’t that be more important?

Her parents can probably pay for wherever she wants to go. But is it really worth spending the $$$ for the best schools?


You don’t say what field specifically your niece is interested in. I’m a civil engineer about 8 years in the field. So, I can answer for what seems to matter in my field, in my region of the country.

I looked at the website for Rose-Hulme. There are eight faculty members in the civil engineering field. Environmental and water resources seems to be over-represented for a broad curriculum. If your niece is looking for civil engineering with an emphasis on water resouces or environmental engineering, it could be good.

In my experience, where you go to school doesn’t matter nearly as much as internships and co-ops. Also, while Rose-Hulme might be an excellent school, I have never heard of it. So there might be geographic areas where the name doesn’t get her anything (or I may be totally out of the loop).

One more thing - $50000 a year may result in way too much of a student loan load for a civil engineer. She would have to have great financial support, big scholarships or grants to knock down the annual cost enough to be able to pay it back on a civil engineer’s salary.

Going to a top-rated undergrad program will make it easier to go to a top post-grad program. And it will be a conversation starter and potential door opener all her life.

But it may not be worth the $$$ for the best schools–some depends on what the alternatives are. There’s quite a bit of room between “East Podunk State College” and the top colleges–and I can’t tell you where she’d be best off. But if she’s good at social networking, the really top schools will give her much more opportunity to network with tomorrows leaders, and one day be on top of the world herself.

I don’t want to oversell the benefits of a degree from a Name University–but I do want to emphasize that getting the degree from the Name University does have potential for some benefits that getting a degree from No-Name State does not. And it’s hard to put a dollar value on some of those benefits.

Mithril - Her main geeky interest is car seats. She wants to engineer child safety seats. I know that’s very specialized, and there’s not likely to be an on-point undergrad program, but many schools offer self-study programs. Anyway, hopefully she won’t have too much debt to get started. Her parents have been investing in a college fund since she was born. However, why throw money away if you don’t have to?

She’s in the Pheonix area, if that matters. Harvey Mudd is in california, which has the advantage of being a few hours by car from home, and being warm. Vanderbilt is in Nashville, and a lot of family lives here. Rose-Hulman is in Indiana, and she has a few cousins there.

Eureka - She’s not a terribly social kid. She’s your typical nerd - she likes being around smart people and doesn’t tolerate fools lightly. She’s not into gaming and her hygeine is fine, however. :wink: She is, in fact, a very pretty girl, 5’8", size 4, and she can sommunicate well with others. She’s studious and goal-oriented. She probably wouldn’t do well at a “party school” - she dropped out of choir because of the “choir hooligans” who were disrupting class.


Lost a lengthy response.
In short, I think she’ll do well at whichever highly-ranked school she feels most comfortable. I think it is unlikely that any particular school will be worth accumulating significantly more debt than any other. My son is an engineering freshman at UofI which is ranked #1 in at least a couple of disciplines. Even out-of-state would be $8k less than $50k.

If she likes being around smart people, she’s probably more likely to find them in abundance at the top-rated schools–but bright people who are neither wealthy enough to pay their own way nor poor enough to get a full ride scholarship are not unheard of … .

RE: Region–it doesn’t matter so much where she’s from now as it does where she wants to apply to post-grad work and where she’d like to work after she graduates. To folk in Indiana, Rose-Hulme is an excellent school–and since most alumni probably stay fairly close to home, her social networking will help her most in that region. Vanderbilt probably has more cachet outside of it’s region–but I have to admit that my biases may be showing.

Dinsdale - Is your son single? :wink:

Eureka - My hope would be that in academic circles, a top-rated school would be known, no matter how small. According to their stats, about 40% of Rose-Hulman students are from Indiana, so that’s not terribly insular.


Wanting to be a car seat designer definitely throws a wrench into things. What would be most like the appropriate kind of engineering for that? It would be some mechanical, some structural, maybe some plastics (although I don’t know if plastics engineering is designing new plastics or if it is using plastic). A design-your-own curriculum may very well be the way for her to go.

Something that nobody ever tells any prospective students: Make sure the school is ABET accredited. They are the accrediting authority for engineering schools. Some colleges have degrees in engineering technology or some such thing. It’s not the same, and will be a real hinderance in applying to grad schools and getting professional licenses. Also, if she does a design-your-own curriculum, she should look into whether said curriculum will be accredited.

Another thing is that ‘top-ranked’ schools are sometimes (not always) based on actively researching professors. That may or may not add anything to an education. Often, the top-ranked reseachers only teach minimal undergraduate classes and undergraduate research slots are not easy to come by.

Mechanical undergrad and materials grad degree, or vice versa. Probably a graduate course in impact dynamics and wave propagation, at minimum. Throw in a couple graduate level biophysics classes, too. Two graduate degrees may be required, actually. I knew a gal who wanted to get into prosthetics. She got dual masters’ in electrical engineering and biophysics, IIRC.

Send her to NM Tech. Often rated one of the best value in engineering schools; tuition runs about $5,000 a year. And heaven knows they could use more cute gals there.

If she’s set on going to one of the pricey ones, Harvey-Mudd is renowned for their out of the box instruction, and sounds like the best fit based on your limited description of her goals and personality.

If she does a graduate degree, most everyone will look at her graduate work and only peripherally look at her undergraduate work. IF she does a graduate degree. One can plan on getting a graduate degree, but plans can change.

I did a summer program at Rose-Hulman in High School. While I was accepted to Rose-Hulman, I opted not to go there as it is a small school and was still men-only at the time. I told the admissions office that the men-only policy was the main reason for declining (Okay, being in Indiana wasn’t helping either, but seriously, men-only?). I’m glad to see they have changed their policies.

From what I gather, Rose-Hulman is a fine school, and my opinion is that an undergraduate education there will be fine for getting into any graduate school provided the student does the work. Admissions Offices tend to be less discriminatory about “prestige” to a certain degree. Obviously, low quality institutions would hinder an applicant. Rose-Hulman is not “low quality,” so I wouldn’t consider it a problem. However, for jobs, I think employers are more easily dazzled by prestige.

I know one graduate from Rose-Hulman. He is pretty insistent on showering me with Rose-Hulman’s credentials, so they probably have good credentials (He is a Chemical Engineer). However, I find his harping on how good Rose-Hulman is off-putting. To be fair, we live in the realm of Harvard and MIT, so I don’t know if his stance is a reaction to Harvard and MIT elitism or not.

My advice would be to choose the school based on non-academic criterion: location, size, student population, demographics, existence of non-engineering majors, etc. Any accredited engineering program will be fine for a motivated student. A happy life is far more important. She won’t learn a thing if she is miserable. Visit each school and decide whether or not she wants to spend four years of her life there and be friends with the students there. I did this for my top choice school… and decided to go somewhere else.

Yeah. Send her to UofI! (If she likes snow, that is.)

More important than ratings (within the top 10-20) IMO would be (not necessarily in order) cost (unless money is no object), where does she want to go (how far from home, any particular region), and whether she prefers a big or small school, in an urban or rural community. I think those are likely to have a greater impact on her satisfaction and success than whether her school is ranked #2 or #5.

She should look into Purdue University, a state school in Indiana. It’s always ranked very well in the top engineering schools in the country but without the private school tuition. At least in the midwest, a Purdue Engineering degree is looked on as just as highly as a Rose-Hulman degree. Out-of-state tuition is always higher than in-state, but still probably lower than private. They also have a fantastic materials science engineering program which may be beneficial to her goals. And no, I’m not a paid endorser of Purdue’s School of Engineering, nor did I graduate from it.

Man - just looked up Rose-Hulman.

Terre-friggin-Haute? You gotta be kidding me!

Have you checked into how she is going to get to and from school?
What is it, something like 75 miles from Indy?
I’m sure it is a fine college town, but you might want to check into the region’s politics to see how comfortable she would be there.

Just saying, if I were travelling all that way, it would sure be to end up somewhere other than Terre Haute IN!

My sister doesn’t deserve such an easy kid. She’s not a kid that does a lot of outside activities. Right now, not counting studying and homework, she babysits, sews (she makes infant carriers that she sells on-line) and attends a weekly cooking class. And researches car seats. She’s very frugal, having just bought her first car with all her own money, paying $8000 cash for a newish used car. She thinks most teenaged girls dress like sluts. However, she doesn’t dress like a polygamist wife, either. Shorts and tees that cover her stomache and butt. So stuck in Terre Haute (with a car) wouldn’t be the end of the world. She’s not fond of snow, but is allowing she might be able to handle it. She’s been scouted by Rensselaer in NY, but thinks that might be a bit extreme.

Pocito - I’ll tell her to research Perdue. She loves to research.


Hell, she sounds great for my son! What kind of dowry will she bring into this arranged wedding? :stuck_out_tongue:

Isn’t it a tad on the late-ish side for her to be researching schools? My HS Sr. already committed and sent off her housing request.

If she is looking at Purdue, she should also consider UofI and Wisconsin. Very similar IMO. My son applied to and was accepted at all 3, and my daughter to Wisc and UofI (biomed eng). Michigan also is very highly ranked, but costlier and harder to get into. While all 3 are Big 10 schools, Madison is far more politically/socially liberal than Champaign or West Lafayette. And tho it may not be tops in the kid’s concerns, she needn’t go somewhere that she knows the local politics will piss her off for the next 4 years.

I’ve heard consistently good things about Vandy - tho not specifically about Eng. Supposed to be an extremely beautiful school. Very selective, tho. And I would sure prefer Nashville to Terre Haute - or Champaign for that matter.

She really has to decide, tho. The experience at a small private school like RPI or RH is going to be vastly different than at a Big 10 school. Not saying one is necessarily better than the other. But some kids would thrive in one and not the other.

Dinsdale - She’s already sent off several applications, although her school only sent out transcripts a month ago. I just figured I’d see if anyone had any other ideas. She’s thinking about Michigan. Her mom (and her - they e-mail all the time) has a friend there who is a full professor. I don’t know if that would help get her in, but it couldn’t hurt. UofI, I don’t know if she’s looked at.

She’d bring to the marriage considerable talent, marketable skills and as an only child, she’d come into a good bit of money someday. if your son could get her into re-enactment, they’d be a perfect couple! She is into photography, so he could play soldier and she could take pics.


I agree with this.

I’ve been in the Civil Engineering business for the last 20 years. I don’t judge other engineers by what school they went to, but on their expertise.

It will help to go to a school with a good ‘fit’ - curriculum, specialties, student body, those sorts of things; and of course good knowledgeable engineering professors - but the most important thing is a desire to learn and a knack for seeing things from an engineer’s viewpoint. She should pick the school with the curriculum and professors’ talents which most closely match her desired specialty.

My $.02 as an undergrad Computer Science major back in the day.

It comes down to how sure she is regarding what she wants to do - and who recruits at the college.

  • If she is SURE that she actually wants to pursue engineering - and car seats at that - then if this school is typically a stopping point for companies that recruit that type of engineer - well, cool.

  • If she is SURE she wants to pursue engineering - but is not sure exactly how; well, then she should research which colleges are visited by a variety of different engineering-focused companies so she can get exposed to a lot of them, talk with alumni who work at those companies, etc.

  • NOW - if she likes the analytical nature of engineering, but is NOT sure she actually wants to be an engineer? Well, that’s a whole 'nother kettle of fish - a number of companies REALLY value the analytical discipline that engineering schools impart, even though those companies don’t do any engineering. I-Banks (such as they exist today), Consulting Firms, Law Firms - places where you can make a ton of cash and do interesting work - approach recruiting that way. The work is analytically fascinating if you get the right kind of project. In that case, you would want to find a college that facilitates that kind of “cross-recruiting” if you follow. Bigger schools (like UofI) are good places for this…

Hope this helps

If she is that into car safety stuff she should go to a school with a big automotive research facility. I know that Ohio State and Michigan both have big programs.

As a bit of a note, Rose Hulman is not the #1 engineering undergraduate school. They are ranked #1 in schools that offer a Masters or less as their highest degree. That means it isn’t competing in the rankings against your MITs, Stanfords, UofIs, and CalPolys of the world. I have no idea where it ranks against those players.

IMHO, the school you went to is very unimportant compared to what you did there. The kid that goes to Southern Illinois and has an impressive research paper or did well running a student project group is infinitely better qualified than the one that did crap at MIT. The other thing is that going to MIT is a judge of what you were at 18 coming out of high school. That doesn’t necessarily say anything about when you are 22.

She also needs to honestly evaluate her abilities. Getting a 4.25 GPA and attending classes at the local JuCo means very little in terms of natural ability. Any reasonably smart person could do that if they put the effort in. If she goes to Rose Hulman and finds out that she doesn’t have the mettle for Engineering, she is boned.

Just a heads up - my kid found that there are tons of complete nerds, and a ton of complete partiers. It has required a tad more effort to find and meet up with the kids in the middle, who actually had opinions and could engage in a conversation but weren’t interested in drinking until they puke every night.

While he was always good at math, he wasn’t a superstar or anything. And he said 1st semester calc was a killer.