4 answers

What type of colleges are best for engineering majors?

4 answers

Joseph’s Answer

Updated Long Beach, California

Dear Loc,

I think it's wonderful that you want to study Engineering!

The short answer to your question is "colleges with great engineering programs" ;-)

Joking aside, there are many factors to be considered. Are you interested in Undergraduate or Graduate programs? Do you want to go to school in California? Is cost a major consideration? Are you looking for private or public schools? If public school in California, do you want to attend Cal State University, or University of California. If private school, would you prefer a liberal arts environment?

US News and World Report has a wonderful interactive resource Best Colleges in the country that can help you zero in on which college is best for your particular situation, including the option to rank the schools in any engineering discipline.

The good news is you don't have to go far; California is strongly represented among the nation's top engineering colleges!

Among the top 25 non-PhD-granting engineering schools in the United States: Harvey Mudd (a private school) is #1, California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo (a fantastic "learn by doing" approach) is #8, University of San Diego and California Polytechnic University at Pomona are tied at #11, Loyola Marymount University and San Jose State University are tied at #18,

Among the top 25 PhD granting engineering schools in the United States: Stanford is #7, California Institute of Technology is #12, University of California at Los Angeles is #19, USC and UC Berkeley are tied at #22. I can speak from personal experience that if you are admitted to California Institute of Technology they will bend over backward to put together a financial aid package that will meet your needs.

Perhaps you are willing to go to college outside the US? There is now the option to study in Germany for free! I don't know much about this but Google is your friend...

Another consideration is: do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? Recent work by Malcolm Gladwell indicates that the big fish in the small pond may get the better deal. In other words, being among the top half of students at a second-tier school could be better for your future than being among the bottom half of a top school. Worth "pond"ering, righjt?

Good luck to you, and I wish you every success in your future engineering career!

Joseph recommends the following next steps:

  • Explore the US News and World Report interactive college rankings resource referred to above.
  • Prepare for your engineering career while you are in high school by taking all the math and science you can, as well as learning how to code!
  • If you have some time on your hands this summer, check out MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available at Coursera, edX, Udacity, and other platforms. You can explore coding, engineering and many other subjects. Some of the courses are free, others are relatively inexpensive.
Thank you Joseph for the great response, I will look more into the colleges more in depth in what colleges fit me the best.

Gordon’s Answer

Updated Sebastopol, California

In your area, SLO at Cal Poly

Gabrielle’s Answer


Virginia Tech has an amazing engineering program and is also a fantastic college!

Alex’s Answer

Hi Loc, this is a great question and one that I asked myself a lot throughout high school. One of the most memorable things one of my college professors said was "You'll probably never encounter these homework questions once you enter the workforce. The most important thing we can teach you is how to think and approach problem-solving like an engineer."

Like most kids who want to study engineering, my dream was to go to MIT. I didn't get in, but I was fortunate enough and consider myself very lucky to go to Cornell. I studied mechanical and aerospace engineering, but regardless of the brand name of the school, I found a couple of the most important factors being: 1) How well-rounded the overall educational curriculum is and career options it provides and 2) How good of a cultural fit is the college for you. 

Regarding well-roundness, for example, my education exposed me to a variety of subject matters that I never knew I would be interested in, such as psychology and international development. It led me to volunteer a lot with homeless shelters and eventually to graduate school (at MIT this time around, which I eventually got in for graduate school, but don't think that would've happened had I not been exposed to a breadth of other subjects and interests in undergrad). 

Regarding cultural fit, I became really interested in snowboarding and dancing, neither of which I had really done before. I took snowboarding my freshman year and joined 2 dance groups on campus. Those were experiences that I hold onto more than any textbook or grade that I received in any class.

Currently, I live in the Bay Area and work at a tech company. I've worked at a variety of tech companies varying in size and maturity, and have co-founded a couple in Tanzania and India. But I can assure you that my path was not necessarily because of going to a specific or the "best" engineering schools, but because of the breadth of class topics they offered and interests / passions they exposed.

Alex recommends the following next steps:

  • Think about what you want to do (as your first job, as a career, etc.) with an engineering education. What are you passionate about? What problems do you want to solve and how might engineering help in the solution? Any career or industry you work in will have varying levels of actual technology, but all careers can benefit from an engineering approach to solving problems.
  • Think about what is the best cultural fit for you. What are other interests you have and subjects you'd like to study? Search for colleges that offer and encourage a variety of topics in its curriculum (such as humanities, arts, literature, science). Feel free to email colleges with questions or even visit ones nearby.
  • Continue to explore and expose yourself to topics and interests you're curious about right now (which I imagine you are already doing). That might reveal more insights about 1. and 2. above.
  • Feel free to follow up if you want to chat more!