College Search

Good news for engineering students (that means most FIRST kids)….

This past summer Money magazine ranked US colleges and universities to find the best value schools. Of the top 10 schools, 6 of them are extremely strong engineering programs.

With college application season upon many of you, I highly recommend expanding your college search to include some of the smaller less known engineering programs in addition to the big ones like MIT. Below are a few with a brief description:

  1. Webb Institute: With a total student body of 80 students, this extremely small school is more like an engineering family then a campus. This is a school you must visit in person! Anyone accepted receives a full-tuition scholarship. All students study ship design, however the program is set up to provide an incredible engineering background even for those who don’t want to design ships.
  2. Olin College: With a slightly larger student body of 360 students this small Massachusetts school has a strong focus on entrepreneurship mixed with engineering. Students do research projects throughout their time in the program. Students are also able to take courses at nearby Babson College.
  3. Harvey Mudd: This school takes on a very mathematical approach to engineering. With a student body of 800 it still maintains a small school feel. Students can major in other fields include biology and chemistry in place of engineering.
  4. Embry-Riddle: With its main campus in Florida this school has a very strong engineering program with close ties to the aviation industry. Students here come out with great hands on experience. The campus even has an option for flight school.
  5. Cooper Union: This small NYC school is located at the heart of Manhattan. While all students used to receive full tuition scholarships, a partial tuition has recently been put in place. The school has a good mix of engineering, math and architecture.
  6. California Polytechnic SLO: A larger school then the rest but definitely worth a look. This school also claims a very hands on laboratory experience.

FIRST scholarships are abundant. The new list comes out September 1st. Look for some of these schools on the list.

Anyone else have any recommendations for this years seniors?

Thanks for the research.
Our outgoing team captain is attending SLO this fall for computer engineering. Most of our seniors the previous year did not get into SLO because it was so competitive, especially amongst California students.

How is Georgia tech ranked so low? It’s super cheap even for out of state and the education is top notch.

Public (state) schools. My parents and I paid a bunch of money for me to go to a private school. It definitely worked out well for me, but it has been my experience that college is much more about what YOU do, and the value (education/$) is much, much better at many public schools. Many of my friends went to UMaine, and they have found great jobs doing awesome stuff and spent a heck of a lot less money on school.

There are definitely advantages to private schools (the name does help), but if you really know what you want to do and make it happen there is always a way to shove your foot in the door.

I couldn’t agree more with state schools, though I am a bit biased. Being born and raised in Indiana had (for me) the advantage of going to Purdue for crazy cheap (Something on the order of $4000/semester when I started. Costs have come up a bit now), but the out of state and international students were easily paying 3 times that much. And for a school ranked as highly as it is for Aerospace Engineering degrees, I think I made out well.

Also, if you live near enough to an out of state school, there are some schools who will charge you the “in-state” tuition (I believe University of Cincinnati is one of them, but don’t quote me on that).

For students in the Western United States, there is also the Western Undergraduate Exchange.

It allows out of state students from western states to apply for 150% of in-state tuition at participating public universities. Most public universities in the west participate,
New Mexico/Colorado/S. Dakota/N. Dakota are the eastern most states and Hawaii/Alaska are included too!

Keep in mind, it isn’t automatic, nor is it a guarantee. Many schools have SAT/ACT + GPA requirements for eligibility AND limited spots.

South Dakota has it too, as I recall from my days of college applications.

I went to South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, which has a small-ish campus with a lot of hands-on practical experience. I want to say that in total it only cost about 15K a year, including tuition, housing, food, etc., but it’s probably gone up a bit. Roughly 2500 students, counting grad students. FIRST presence (besides FIRST alumni) is minimal, which for some folks (me) is a good thing. On the other hand, those college-level engineering competitions can take even more out of you.

Bloom where you are planted.

As a teacher, I often admire students who choose the community college route to knock off their prerequisites before transferring to a four-year school. They can also work a part-time job and gain maturity, motivation, and insight into their passions.

Your job(s) after graduation may be more important than the name of the school you attended.

Boiler Up! #76, whaaaaat?

Unfortunately, most people don’t consider 180,000 dollars to be “super cheap”. Unless you qualify for financial aid or win a competitive merit scholarship, it’s hard for many families to afford 180,000 dollars right out of their pocket.

Sure, college fees have been on the rise lately, but there are cheaper alternatives out there (e.g. University of Minnesota at 120,000).

Texas A&M has one of the highest return on investments for a public(state) school in the country, and typically ranks in the top 5 “Most Hire-able”. It also has a really strong engineering program and a computer science program where Bjarne Stroustrup is a chair and lecturer.

Sometimes distance isn’t even a factor in that. The University of South Carolina offers several scholarships that include getting in-state tuition as part of the deal.

Full disclosure, USC (yeah, I said it–we were a college before California was a state!) is a proud supporter and host of FRC4901. It’s great to be a Gamecock.

And a pretty good football team, we found out last week. :rolleyes:

Should of checked those figures. Anyways, the return on investment is great.

Boiler Up!

Number 10 on this “list”

BSNE '79

Agreed, Great schools. We have alumni at both Webb & Olin. , Let me know if you are interested in connecting with one of our alumni.

Rice University boasts an engineering program that is very strong overall. The school features only two engineering programs at the undergraduate level which carry through to the doctorate level, and these are Biomedical Engineering and Environmental Engineering. Both programs are ranked more highly than Rice’s overall engineering ranking, which suffers slightly because only two options are offered. This focus, however, is a boon for students seeking high quality programs in either of those engineering fields. The school’s high ROI and reasonable accessibility make it an attractive choice for any student seeking a top-flight biomedical or environmental engineering education.

Rice is our primary school that the DiscoBots collaborate and work closely with college student mentors. I also highly recommend Rice to people !

Cooper Union is my alma mater. I really liked it for a variety of reasons (which I can go into if anyone is interested). The short version is that Cooper allows students to have a very large influence on their own education and the projects that they are involved in, but demands a remarkable amount of fortitude and resourcefulness. It is not for everyone. But, if you can make it through, there is a VERY high job and grad school placement rate with very nice starting salaries.

In the South, some of the big engineering schools are Georgia Tech, Auburn, and LSU. They’re pretty expensive, but if you apply within certain time frames and with certain qualifications, they do give out some pretty generous money. They also have a history of students getting hired by good companies very quickly after graduation, great intern opportunities, and fantastic research chances. As far as private goes, Mercer University in Macon, GA is great, but expensive. A lot of our mentors attend Mercer and absolutely love it.

Hey James,

I was wondering if you could go into detail about Cooper Union. I am heavily considering the school and would love to learn more about your experience and opinions.

Thank you

Sure thing.

Academically Cooper is VERY tough and has little or no grade inflation. Where some of my friends had to get special permission to take more than 16 or 18 credits worth of classes I hardly had a semester with fewer than 18 credit-hours. My class’ valedictorian did not have straight-As nor a 4.0, and no one (admin included) could recall a valedictorian that had gotten a 4.0. This can be very tough on perfectionists and people who were their HS class’ valedictorian, I saw several people like this burn out quite rapidly. Despite the demanding academics I only ever had class 4 days per week (aside from one semester when I took a machine shop class, but that was 0-credits and really fun). No classes started before 9am, most started at 11am, and some ran until 9pm. I liked that classes were timed around what many college students fall into naturally and that I had an extra free day to catch up on work since often a Saturday or Sunday was completely soaked up by a sport or club event.

Cooper is quite small. A whole engineering class will likely have 130ish students in it, plus a few more for art and architecture. It also has a very high retention rate, around 93% IIRC for freshman. This means you’re going to be working with the same 25-30ish students in your major for around 3 years. This is a double-edged sword - you can make a really good friends or really bad enemies. There is also a 2:1 M:F ratio, which is REALLY good for a school that is a vast majority of engineers.

Athletics and clubs are very accessible at Cooper because it is so small. I played soccer, ultimate frisbee, and men’s volley ball; both the soccer and ultimate frisbee teams were (are?) co-ed. Many students at Cooper participate in a sport or a club of some sort. I was loosely involved in starting the Chem-E car team at Cooper (National Champions!) and heavily involved in getting Cooper’s FSAE team off the ground. Tangential to the FSAE team I wound up running Cooper’s welding lab for its first year and teaching my fellow students how to weld. I was also a part of the outdoor club, which did camping trips in the state parks around NYC, I was part of the re-formed billiards club, and a few other clubs.

I knew most of the faulty and staff personally and I knew some of the administration personally as well (I even went alpine skiing with Cooper’s president for a couple runs almost every year on Cooper’s annual ski trip). I sat in on the ME department meetings to help give student perspective to the faculty. I very much enjoyed that I could be involved in how the school operated and that the faculty and administration respected and appreciated my input. I was not alone in this level of involvement either. I do not think I would have enjoyed this facet of my college experience at a larger institution.

While Cooper is small, it is also in downtown NYC. There is no lack of opportunity for social interaction with literally millions of people (bear in mind that my home town had 1,600 people in it, and I went to college in a city of 16,000,000). Your campus is Manhattan. There is no end to what you can do on a free weekend. Also: Manhattan is your dormitory as well. Cooper has no meal plans, only a very small gym, and housing only for freshmen. After that, it’s become an RA or get an apartment in or around NYC. This requires a relatively high level of responsibility and independence: not every 18 or 19 y/o out there can handle a full course load, shopping for food, cooking, paying all their bills, etc. Many can handle it, but it can be difficult. Personally, I loved it. I have always done my best work when school (or my job) wasn’t the only large focus.

I graduated in 2009, right about at the worst time to get hired as a fresh college graduate. I nominally got on solid offer and took it, but I was being VERY picky about where I applied and what I would be doing. Virtually all of my classmates either had a job or got into a graduate program by the time we all got our degrees.

After graduation I was able to pass the FE exam in ME comfortably. I found that I had a very well-rounded skill-set that has served me well in my job. Most importantly though Cooper helped me hone my self-teaching skills which has been the second-most useful thing I learned there. Cooper definitely gives you enough rope to hang yourself with. The single most important thing I learned there is that being smart won’t cut it - everyone who gets into Cooper is REALLY smart - hard work is what will get you through.

Cooper was very challenging for me. I don’t know anyone whom it did not challenge in a very significant way (or ways). I knew people who burned out, dropped out from low grades, or couldn’t handle the required responsibility and independence. The admissions office knows this and generally won’t admit people who will fail (note that 93%+ retention rate and 7% acceptance rate).


Cooper is small, which is a double-edged sword. Cooper is really tough academically and otherwise, it isn’t for everyone. If you come out alive on the other side you will be really well-equipped to do almost anything you want. I know (many) people who started their own companies in a variety of fields and people who work(ed) at: Google, Ford, GM, SWRI, Navy Electric Boats, Disney, Stryker, Credite Suisse, LG, Skanska, LEED, ISO, Motorolla, Mattel, Barclay’s Capital, etc. I really liked my time there, though it was difficult it was also very rewarding. I loved being able to personally contribute to Cooper and I loved living in Manhattan for four years.

If you know you aren’t incredibly interested in staying in academia, I would definitely look at schools that offer cooperative (co-op) education programs. Some that stand out are Waterloo, Northeastern, and RIT. These schools are laser focused on making sure you have a ton (18+ months) of internship experience in your field before graduation, which is huge when it comes to getting offers to return to these employers or just having awesome stuff on your resume.

If you are interested in staying in academia or pursuing research positions, try to find a school that is well known for as being a research institution. While this seems like quite the obvious statement, my (anecdotal) experience showed me that, of friends looking for grad school admission/RA sponsorship, most were successful due to the great recommendation of the professors they did undergrad research with.

Seconding and adding my school of Kettering to the list. 2+ yrs of work exp on graduation.