What are the best engineering schools? It is not as clear-cut as it may seem, unfortunately. Students must look at the factors that make each engineering school special, and then decide what characteristics of any given institution are most important to them.
America's Best Colleges from U.S. News & World Report is the preeminent source for college and university rankings. The ratings the schools gain are based on composite scores from different categories. Among others, these categories include peer assessments, corporate recruiter assessments, average test scores by students, student retention and graduation rates, student/faculty ratios, SAT/ACT score averages, applicant acceptance rates, and school financial resources.
The grading elements are assigned a different weighted percentage on a 100-point scale, and the associated math gets complicated...but in the end, a high ranking means that the institution has its act together across the board. The overall score not only indicates that students are well-taught and highly-educated, but also addresses variables about life and learning of students, such as the student/faculty ratio, retention, and graduation rates (factors for student success). When broken down, the ratings are indicators of quality education based on both the faculty members' and the students' efforts.
Rankings from other sources are done differently. The rankings from Graduateshotline.com are based upon various Internet sources, evaluations by the National Research Council, and comments from current students. Those findings are then weighted according to school funding, graduate job placement, and quality of the institution's research.
StudentsReview.com weighs their rankings by the following determinants: educational quality (50%), academic success based upon understanding (25%), creativity encouragement (12%), usefulness of student work (5%), accessible faculty (4%), and university funding used for benefit of students (4%). The rankings are based on student opinion surveys and are updated monthly. The site filters out falsified or otherwise invalid surveys, making the subjective results as accurate as possible. Also, the fewer surveys a school has received, the more its ranking can rise or fall based on a single survey. The site's disclaimer for that flaw reads “Warning: Data is not statistically reliable, nor is it complete. It is heavily biased based upon the number of surveys.”
Students should consider how each source conducts its rankings. Comparing schools on several ranking scales will give a student the best estimate of a college program's quality.
Rankings are a convenient, informative, and easy way for students to compare possible colleges and gain an overall view of an institution. But no college ratings scale can measure and put in perspective other components of college choice that are usually of the utmost importance to a student.
For example, U.S. News & World Report's number one engineering graduate school for 2007 is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). So, every student will try to get in to MIT, right? But imagine that there's a student from Georgia whose parents went to the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), which happens to be ranked at number four. If he attends GIT, he will get in-state tuition, be closer to his family, and, last but probably not least, make his parents happy. The only sacrifice is a few percentage points in various categories where GIT is slightly lacking compared to MIT, and perhaps a little prestige. So GIT would likely be the best choice for the student.
Additionally, an engineering student would probably want to make a decision based on what the program emphasized. If the student wants to study aerospace engineering, or biological engineering, or chemical engineering, or computer engineering, he will have to make an attendance decision based on which schools offer the desired engineering program.
So students can take engineering school rankings and determine what the top college choices are, but factors that will not be included in a nationwide ranking—size, location, setting, atmosphere unique programs, name recognition, family considerations—must be evaluated by students for them to make the best choice. With those factors in play, the 12th-ranked school could easily become the obvious top choice.
For a handy tool ranking engineering schools weighted by criteria based on a student's preferences, visit PhDs.org - Graduate School Rankings.
Other great resources for making the best and most informed decision about your engineering education include the following: