10 responses to “Variation in Engineering Concepts Across Schools”

  1. Fluxor

    I agree that with undergrad, it matters less, but it still matters up to a point especially with larger vs. smaller engineering schools. Chris and I had discussed this online before; his EE exposure and mine are quite different in the upper years. It’s neither better or worse, just different, but different enough to affect career paths.

    As for elite skylines, I was accepted to Stanford (and a couple of others in the US) for grad school, but ultimately declined due to the massive cost differential. Stayed in Canada instead. Can’t say that it really hurt me to stay, but one can never predict about the path not taken.

  2. Chris Gammell

    I would say one of the bigger deciding factors–aside from the curriculum that Fluxor and I have gone back and forth about before–was the difference in employer recruiting. I have recruited for my employer at my alma mater, CWRU, and at University of Michigan. I was flabbergasted at the difference in career fairs. For instance, U Mich had an entirely separate career fair for engineering. Some of this is size of the school, but a lot more of it is the desirability of the graduates. Some schools just have the reputation and draw in more of the employers. This can have a significant effect, especially for engineers hoping to get hired with an undergrad degree. (Although I would like to point out my alma mater’s extremely strong co-op program, which is why I feel I have done well in my career thus far).

  3. Will

    I agree wit Chris’ comment about reputation and employers (my school also has its own engineering career fair). Additionally, school is not just about what you learn. An important factor is the people you meet and study with. If you are surrounded by people who are passionate about what you’re learning and/or are smarter than you (like at MIT), I think you’ll get a lot more out of your education. Also, larger schools will have more opportunities for undergrad research.

  4. Bill

    I was one of 3 EE grads in my class with 10 engineers total, so career fairs for engineering were non-existent, as was the school’s engineering reputation. The big plus was small class sizes, sometimes 4 or 5 students, which meant we were getting great teacher interaction and we had our own fairly large work areas in the lab. That being said, I guess the ‘getting a job’ side of the equation needs to be thought of, especially in a crappy economy. I don’t know if MIT is worth 80k more when it comes to this aspect, but if it takes someone more than a year after graduation to find a good job it might be.

  5. GEARS

    I was in the same boat as Miss Outlier. I went to a state school because I could afford it (although my HS grades weren’t good enough anyway to get me into Ivy schools).

    During my PhD, I did manage to go to MIT for a visit and I can tell you there’s one difference between schools like MIT (or Harvard, Standford, Yale, etc) and it’s money. I sat in on the same exact Sophomore Design class that my UGU had. The course topics were the same, same overall project scheme, etc. The only difference was they had 1 prof, 3 machinists, ~12 graduate TAs, ~30 undergrad TAs, plus some scientific staff helping out whereas my class had 1 prof, 1 TA, and 2 graduate TAs for machine shop help. MIT (and schools like that) can pay to have all of that support.

    So while we were supposed to make a website, build our thingy, build a second thingy, have our lab notebooks checked, do tests in class, and learn Pro/E, we only really had to do 3 things: tests, and build the two thingys. There wasn’t enough people checking to make sure you did you notebooks, or learned Pro/E, or did your website.

    If you’re only getting an undergraduate engineering degree, then make it count. Otherwise, make sure you go to a good school for grad school and you’ll be fine. And remember, if you’re not getting paid to go to grad school in engineering, you’re doing something wrong.

  6. gasstationwithoutpumps

    How and what you are taught does vary from place to place, even in engineering. Some schools have a dynamic curriculum that they are always working to improve, others have not updated their undergrad curriculum for 20 years. When I taught in EE at Cornell, they had not updated any of their junior lab 25 years, and big chunks of it had been the same for 50 years. In EE!
    Everyone except for one or two of us who did not stay long was about to retire and was just going through the motions. (This was 30 years ago, and the place is undoubtedly completely different with 100% change in faculty.)

    Undergrads should definitely look for how much research or design they are expected to do. A lot of bigger schools get their reputations solely from their grad programs, and ignore the undergrads or treat them like cattle. Other places involve the undergrads intensely in the intellectual work of the professors and grad students and give them a first-rate education.

    (Disclaimer: I now teach at UCSC, which has a very modern engineering program with high involvement of undergrads in the research.)

  7. Miss MSE

    Program support is definitely a critical factor in what makes a good engineering program, but you don’t have to be at an elite program to get that. My department at SnowTech has an amazing support staff, and it was very clear even when I was first visiting that I would have access to good equipment even as an undergrad. I also got a really excellent tour of the department during my visit, which certainly helped the decision making process.

    GiantU definitely has more money, but the equipment for undergraduate use isn’t as good or available for undergraduates. Also, while there are more TAs, the professors are less accessible.

    If you know you want to stop with a bachelors degree, smaller public engineering universities (Colorado School of Mines, Georgia Tech, etc) are a pretty fantastic option. They have the lower tuition of other state schools, but more focused support for engineering programs, and good ties with potential employers.

  8. JR

    I was shocked at how badly “research” schools train their engineers, especially the one I attended — a near-Ivy household name school with $40k/yr undergrad tuition and an emphasis on graduate studies.

    The undergrad curriculum in almost every engineering department at my alma mater seemed designed to create Ph.D.-ready graduate assistants who would move on to teaching the classes they had once taken, while doing useful cutting-edge research in the field. There was no thought whatsoever given to the idea that engineering degrees are occasionally useful for people who design, test, and deliver engineering projects.

    We learned applied mathematics, problem solving techniques, and research techniques, but virtually nothing about requirements, design, or verification. The “systems testing” class, for example, was effectively a semester of learning to use an Instron dogbone sample puller — excellent for materials research but basically useless for real-world design verification.

    So many schools emphasize the “team project” model but if your project is a research project, you’re still not learning to design/build/test. I’d love to see the accreditation board distinguish between curricula that produce engineers and curricula that produce engineering professors.

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