Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 07-31-2019 11:02 AM
    I want to start a discussion on the benefits and drawbacks on going to a bigger school or smaller school for both undergrad and grad school. 

    When I first came to the US, I only really knew a few schools, for obvious reasons the really big ones, and I thought if I wanted to be the best engineer I could be I needed to get into those schools. Life did not think that way, I ended up at South Dakota State University, a small-to-medium size university mostly out of the map for most people.

    Looking back, I believe I got a great education, but most importantly, I made it the best experience I could. I was involved in engineering organizations and always sought out professors to make sure I was understanding the topics. 

    After my undergrad, I looked again into going to bigger schools for grad school. Again, I found myself looking back at this not-so-known school. My thought process this time was that I already knew the professors so I was going to be able to get research projects as well as develop a deeper relationship with them and in consequence be able to understand the concepts better. Additionally, I was blessed to have no student loans during my undergraduate school and having my graduate program paid for was very appealing. 

    At the end of the day, I got a great education, I have no student loans, and found a great job in structural engineering. I think it is more important to be involved in organizations, always be open to learning, and motivated to seek answers outside of the classroom.

    What are your thoughts? Where is that balance between the quality of education you get and the amount of money you need to pay for it?

    Luis Duque EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 2.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-03-2019 09:47 AM
    I've also made a decision to take the first two years of undergrad in a community college instead of a large university. In hindsight, it was one of my better educational decisions. Not only did it save me tuition (all of it), but the classes were smaller and professors more focused on teaching. When I transferred to the larger university, I was amazed by an intro to Biology class that filled up an entire large auditorium and then an even larger one, where the students watched the lecture live on a screen. There is also something to be said about being a big fish in a small pond.

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 3.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-04-2019 07:32 PM
    Hi Luis, 
    An important subject especially to those looking thinking about pursuing engineering as a study field and a career choice. Personally I went to an international school, a local small school and a large school. Speaking about the level of education and teaching, there is not a massive difference; the resources are identical, research opportunities might be more available at larger schools. The only difference that I can think of is the Alumni network, & career opportunities straight out of collage. Larger firms tend to recruit from Ivy League and larger school especially in big markets such as NYC. In NYC AECOM, STV, HNTB and Stantec for example recruit from Columbia, Manhattan Collage & NYU poly, this leave grads from buffalo, city collage at a slight disadvantage, the alumni network for these schools are also much more influential in the industry with incredible reach; add to that most instructors/professors serve as consultants or have relations with multiple engineering firms. As you alluded to in your post participating in industry organized functions could help bridge the "who you know" gap. Do ivy and large school worth the $$. Honestly once you are licensed and with 5-7 years of solid record of experience then the name of your school matters less and less. So in short larger school name on your resume might help open a door or two when you graduate but it's importance fades the minute you have some real experience and almost diminishes the moment you add P.E. to your name. so the I investment might not be one that is worth pursuing. Now if you go on a scholarship or some type of a grant then having the infrastructure of Colombia or Yale without the massive debt would be totally worth it.

    Amen Mukhlis P.E.,S.M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer III
    MTA - New York City Transit
    New York NY

  • 4.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-05-2019 11:01 PM
    I don't have much to say but am currently doing engineering courses and let's say the college I'm in is not that big and there's not much practical or detail since I'm an international student. But being a member of this society, gives me hope to still continue and finish up because I can access material and information.So maybe next time I will try a big school.

    Lissa Kaihula S.M.ASCE
    Fushun City
    861834 0320472

  • 5.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-04-2019 07:33 PM
    Luis, to answer your question briefly, I think you can get a stellar engineering education at any ABET-accredited engineering school as long at your apply yourself. 

    I attended Drexel University for both my BS and MS in Civil Engineering with a Structural Engineering concentration. Drexel is on the larger side for schools and is ranked in the top 100 Undergraduate Engineering Programs, but also comes at a hefty price of tuition. I absolutely loved my time there, but I don't think you need to take out a large number of students loans as I did just to attend college.  I mainly chose Drexel for its co-op program, but if you are driven student, you can secure summer internships in your field without going to a co-op school. Smaller schools also typically have the benefit of smaller class sizes which can be greatly beneficial to a solid educational foundation.  I also have great colleagues that went to smaller schools and we ended up at the same company. 

    Danielle Schroeder EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 6.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-05-2019 08:10 AM
    Hi Danielle , l am currently doing my 5th year at NUST in Zimbabwe .Its a very small university not ranked so high in our region (SADC) but it still has to market us to the international society, but unfortunately it doesn't have advanced or modern research platforms and programs that can equip us as engineering students .My question is "how can one really standout as an individual so as to be recognizable especially in the international community of engineers?"

    Stephen Kamupurusa S.M.ASCE

  • 7.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-05-2019 08:54 AM
    Hi Stephen,  

    That is a great question! One of the best ways you can stand out as an individual is by getting engineering work experience before you graduate. Work experience on your resume will help you when it comes to landing a full-time job and also give you more of an idea of how what you are learning in school relates to your chosen field. 

    Here are some actions you can take to land an internship:
    1- Reach out to your professors – they have a vast network of alumni and colleagues in the field that may have an open internship position. Keep in mind, this should be professors that you routinely go to their office hours so that they know you well and can speak highly of you when reaching out to high network about opportunities.
    2- Get involved with your local ASCE chapter - Back when I was a student, we had companies come to campus to present on their company and would ask for resumes of interested students at the end. 
    3- Utilize online networks like LinkedIn – Here's a great discussion on how to perfect your profile https://collaborate.asce.org/careerbydesign/blogs/melissa-rachelle-butcher/2019/04/08/four-keys-to-building-the-perfect-profile-on-linke 

    Hope this helps! Feel free to respond if you have any additional questions.

    Danielle Schroeder EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 8.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-05-2019 10:12 AM
    Hey Luis,

    You bring up a very good point because, the way I see it, quality vs. price for an engineering education is not always linear. One example I like to use in this regard is comparing Harvard University's engineering program to that of the University of Florida's. Harvard is one of the most expensive institution to obtain an education in this country, including an engineering degree, yet, it is the University of Florida, and not Harvard, that is continually ranked among the best institutions to obtain an engineering degree.

    You really have to measure an institution by metrics that are important to you to get a sense of the quality that it offers. If you prefer to engage in graduate research, scope out what are the best research universities vs. the price to attend them. On the other hand, if you prefer to enter the workforce, scope out which universities have the best job placement programs vs. the price to attend them.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for sharing.

    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607

  • 9.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-06-2019 03:32 PM
    As most others have pointed out there isn't a direct correlation between size vs price vs quality when it comes to college.  As much as we as engineers like to find simple "optimal" equations in our work and in life, this is another decision that doesn't have a clear right/wrong answer.  The decision comes down to a myriad of factors that vary based on your background, what you want to do, the experience you want to have, and so much more.  If you're determined to take an engineering approach, you could set up a utility equation and rank all the important metrics to you and see what scores highest.

    At the end of the day, it comes down to what works for you.  What can you afford and how much debt are you comfortable taking on.  Are you looking to stay close to family or get away and grow on your own? Would you prefer to save some money and get some pre-requisites knocked out at a community college, or get the "freshman experience"?  Do you like a tight community where everyone knows everyone, or do you prefer to have a little more anonymity?  Will your employer help pay for one school but not another?  Do they offer night/weekend classes or do you want to take time off of work?  Do they have the concentrations that interest you?  Is the campus some place you would be happy to live?  Do they have extracurricular programs that align with your interests and hobbies?  The list is virtually endless.  There's no right or wrong answers, just personal preferences and background.

    Personally I went to a big state school, Michigan State University.  I chose this school because I wanted to be at a bigger school, that way if engineering didn't end up being my passion I would have options to change my major.  I was out of state and wanted to force myself to grow and become more independent and self reliant.  I liked that the area would give me opportunities to continue with my hobbies, skiing and hockey.  MSU was a great fit for my background and a great experience for me that I cherish.  That is the path I chose, but it's gotten me next to countless others with very different paths.

    In terms of my career, I have colleagues from all different backgrounds and various ways of getting their degree(s).  While we may banter about alma mater rivalries, what matters most is how well you do the job.  Some schools may have certain reputations for this or that but there's no hardline rules, being a good engineer is on the individual.  I've known good and bad engineers from the same school, and so at the end of the day what matters is where you're going, not where you came from.

    James Smith P.E.,M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI

  • 10.  RE: Rate of Return on Big Schools vs Small Schools

    Posted 08-08-2019 10:18 AM
    There are two big factors that I see in making a decision about college.
    1. Job - Where you will work. Do you have as your goal working as a design engineer for an international engineering firm on mega-projects or will you be comfortable working for Iowa DOT, for example? An undergrad degree from MIT may help you make connections in an international firm whereas a degree from Iowa State will be all you need to get a job at the Iowa DOT. More important for the best jobs will be a good graduate degree. You don't need a degree from an Ivy League school if you will be working in a small municipality.
    2. Cost - What can you afford? Will you be able to get scholarships or reasonable loans that will not force you into debt for many years? It is better to postpone college and work to build up a college fund if that is an option than to take out loans.

    Yance Marti P.E.,M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI