Collegefilter: Well-Rounded Schools
October 11, 2013 11:04 AM   Subscribe

My scientifically-inclined little brother is looking for a college where he can be an engineer if he wants to be, but won't be forced to.

We have a cousin who is a total gearhead with skills in a bunch of different technical fields who ended up going to RIT and didn't like it as much as he expected. This was surprising to him and even more shocking to the rest of the family. He said that the main problem was that a lot of the other kids he interacted with didn't have much going on outside of class other than TV/anime, internet humor, and the occasional engineering-themed competition (not to mention the bizarre culture that comes from a school where there might be more computers than women).

I didn't have the best luck choosing a school either. I went to a place that I hated for two years before transferring to the school I should have attended all along.

He's interested in science right now but I want to save him the anguish of feeling like a fish in the wrong pond if he changes his mind. I'd like to find a place where he can build robots just as easily as he could go to really great literature class or play in an orchestra. The liberal arts school I transferred to offered some of this, but its science faculty was predictably small and there weren't that many research opportunities. I know massive state schools can offer the whole experience, but we'd like to cap the population around 10,000.

Additional important details:
We live squarely in the Northeast and we're willing to send him about 300 miles in any direction. It could be further if the place is perfect.

His grades are stellar with both AP and IB credits coming after graduation. SATs aren't a hinderance.

We're kind-of sort-of looking at Brown and Penn but Ivies seem like they can be a gamble even for kids at the top of their class. We're looking for both private and state school suggestions.
posted by Spiced Out Calvin Coolidge to Education (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A gamble, sure, but worth a shot: Dartmouth. Has an engineering school, undergrads can do a 5-year program where they come out with a B.E., but also has a ton of non-engineering options, academically and otherwise. I had friends who were engines majors and they would occasionally drop from the face of the planet when a big project or problem set was due, but that was not unusual for people of any major.
posted by rtha at 11:10 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he's got the chops to be looking at Ivies, look at Rice. Hits all of your criteria except the distance one.
posted by phunniemee at 11:10 AM on October 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

Capping the student body at 10k is going to really put a cramp on things. But if he's willing to go a little west, Notre Dame would seem to be perfect in every respect except geography. Fantastic engineering program, but really strong in a bunch of other areas too.

Other than that, Carnegie Mellon might be a good fit. Great engineering program, but definitely strong in other areas too.
posted by valkyryn at 11:13 AM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

McGill University has it all! Though it does probably exceed your population cap.

BONUS: It's in Montreal, an awesome city! (Don't worry, it's an English language university)
Double BONUS: It's also MUCH cheaper than most American universities.
TRIPLE BONUS FUNTIME: It's 21 in the best schools in the world.
posted by Grither at 11:15 AM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

disclaimer: I went to McGill, so am maybe a bit biased. Had an awesome time though, and I did switch from Computer Science to Economics partway through. And when I applied, there was no essay, was just a simple online form to fill out and $50 or something. Not sure what it's like now though!
posted by Grither at 11:17 AM on October 11, 2013

The Five Colleges in Amherst are individually much smaller than 10k, but together have the resources and faculty to support pretty ambitious research programs. He could attend one of the smaller institutions, and still get the benefits of UMass Amherst in terms of access to large, active research departments.

I don't know if this is generally true across the sciences, but Haverford is a small college with a research program in my scientific disciple that is uniquely strong among liberal arts undergrad institutions.
posted by caek at 11:19 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also in Rochester, the (separate), University of Rochester has as one of its important goals the combining of excellent engineering and science programs with moderate size and strong liberal arts. The "Rochester Curriculum" is very flexible. Take Five scholars pursue, tuition-free, an additional semester or year of liberal arts studies, frequently on top of a demanding science or engineering major (pdf of abstracts showing majors and projects).
posted by Jahaza at 11:20 AM on October 11, 2013

Harvard, if he can get in (and it sounds like he'd have as good a shot as anyone! A lot of it's luck). It's made for people who like and are good at lots of different things. Solid science and engineering programs for undergrads, and it's a small school (1600 per class) with world-class resources. Plus, they have rejiggered the schedule to make cross-registration with MIT much easier, so you have all of those resources available right down the road. (Harvard and MIT used to be on different schedules and, ah, I've heard that sometimes you'd have to be back for a class at MIT but Harvard wouldn't have turned the heat back up in the dorms yet. Good times.)
posted by pie ninja at 11:20 AM on October 11, 2013

Seconding phunniemee on Rice University.
posted by slkinsey at 11:23 AM on October 11, 2013

Came in to suggest taking a look at Carnegie Mellon, too. I went there thinking I'd be a computer scientist, but was able to easily transfer to a very good social sciences program when I realized I was the wrong fish in the wrong pond in CS. It's certainly an all-around nerdy school, but it has extremely good arts and business programs as well, and as an undergrad in the late 90s I had no problem finding people outside the full-on all-robots-all-the-time culture to hang with.

Having been a staff member there for many years after I was a student, I will also say it is much less nerdy and much less skewed by the gender ratios than it used to be. I think it would be worth a look, and maybe a visit.

(I will say I fell in love with that place the moment I set foot there as a high school junior, and I still love it now 16 years later, although it is a very different school and I am a very different person. So this recommendation is coming from a place of extreme personal bias.)
posted by Stacey at 11:23 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should consider Stanford (speaking as a student there). Of course, it's not a guarantee to get into places like that, but you should consider it, even if it's a bit too far for the requirements, because it's both a tip-top engineering school and a tip-top humanities school, which makes stuff like this possible. You should contact me if you get interested because I know people who have made roughly the same decision in roughly the same environs and chose Stanford.
posted by curuinor at 11:23 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ignoring your distance requirement, Harvey Mudd would give him the very best engineering degree, a very small college feel but still opportunity for research, and the ability to take classes or bail to one of the more liberal arts minded affiliates in the Claremont Colleges, who have agreements similar to the Harvard/MIT one. Does he really want to stay close to home or is that pressure coming from somewhere else?
posted by slow graffiti at 11:24 AM on October 11, 2013

It sounds like a big state school would be right up his alley. He should look into which which state schools have the best engineering programs. Strong state schools will also have good programs in other areas, so if he winds up an English major he won't end up with an expensive and pointless degree. Since you're looking at keeping him relatively close to home, I'd probably start with UMass and the stronger SUNY schools, as well as whatever the big Vermont state U is. Maybe Penn State? Though I don't know which of those schools have the strongest engineering programs.

Aren't most Ivy league schools more about liberal arts curricula? The Ivy alums I know who do techy jobs come more from the business/entrepreneur/ideas side. I don't know anyone who went to an Ivy who is an engineer.

What about Cornell?

Carnegie Mellon might be a good fit, though when I toured there (looking at their theater program) I got the sense that it's very STEM heavy. I guess they have other majors if he completely changes his mind, but the culture of the school seems pretty engineering heavy. As a liberal arts person, I ultimately didn't go there because I was worried about this from the opposite direction -- outside of their theater department none of their liberal arts programs seemed very strong.
posted by Sara C. at 11:24 AM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

If he wants to go to an Ivy, my suggestion would be to start in the engineering program at a school he likes and then he can switch out of it if he wants. This is much easier than going the other way, and a lot of schools have separate admissions for the liberal arts school and the engineering school. For example at Columbia, it's relatively easy to switch from engineering to liberal arts, but very difficult to start at Columbia College and move into engineering.

But most of the large, elite-ish universities will offer enough liberal arts to have a fairly balanced education. Brown might be a good choice because it has by far the most lenient requirement schedule of any elite university (i.e. very few restrictions on programs and what classes you must take, etc.)

So as long as he doesn't go somewhere like Georgia Tech or whatever, he ought to be fine. If he's uncertain about what exactly he wants to study, look more at the other aspects of the school. Brown has a very unique aura, if you will, vibe or whatever, very, very different from, say, Harvard.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:25 AM on October 11, 2013

Seconding University of Rochester. Also Johns Hopkins. There are also some schools that offer a 3-2 engineering program, with the first three years at one school, and the last two years finishing the engineering degree elsewhere. (Incomplete list of such programs here).
posted by oceano at 11:32 AM on October 11, 2013

My liberal arts school, Swarthmore has an engineering program! I know a bunch of engineers from my graduating class who are well-employed and happy.
posted by mlle valentine at 11:52 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

CMU of course (I'm always going to recommend a Pittsburgh school.)

And...wait for it...Georgia Tech. There's a ton of social life at Tech, especially with the Football culture. Tech is in a cool part of town and things are cheaper here in Atlanta. You can be as Engineery as you like, but they have other stuff on offer too.

Not the cachet of an ivy (not by a long shot) but worth a look.

Cheap airfare (because of the VERY big airport) so getting home shouldn't be a BFD.

So as long as he doesn't go somewhere like Georgia Tech or whatever, he ought to be fine

Aw c'mon, you like the Dawgs or something?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

My best friend in high school was kind of in this boat and went to Brown (applied and got in early action, so didn't apply anywhere else, but was looking at the handful of liberal arts colleges that offered engineering). She ended up as a chemistry major, not an engineer. I remember her considering Swarthmore. (And maybe Lehigh?)

Your geographic restriction takes these out of consideration, but I wonder about the UC system (disclosure: I went to Berkeley). They're not massive as far as state schools go (though mostly bigger than 10,000 undergrads), offer a lot of academic opportunity and tend to be good at a variety of subjects. If he's contemplating engineering (rather than feeling he should be an engineer because he likes science and doesn't know what else to study), he should apply to state schools for engineering--it's always easier to get out of engineering once you're there than to get in.
posted by hoyland at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

(They were also in musical groups, philosophy classes, and so on and so forth while at school.)
posted by mlle valentine at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2013

I have a blunt suggestion: remove the distance requirement. Unless there is something you aren't telling us, it'll be a good education for all of you.

Once you remove that requirement, your brother should look at my alma matter Reed College. It doesn't offer an engineering degree, but it is a good liberal arts college, the science departments are indisputably first-rate and undergrad research is required. It also has arrangements with CalTech, Columbia, RPI and UWashington to offer dual-degree "Three-Two" programs in various engineering fields. I have a friend who went that route and it seems to be a great experience for her.

By every account I've heard, Harvey Mudd (mentioned above) is an excellent school for sciencey/engineery types (whether they know they want to be well-rounded or not), and I've been hearing good things about Rice for 25+ years.
posted by Good Brain at 11:55 AM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

A kid I used to know who could have gone anywhere, whose father was a professor at Cornell, chose Lehigh because he could do the engineering and do all kinds of other cool stuff. He never regretted his choice. Worth checking out.
posted by mareli at 12:13 PM on October 11, 2013

I'd check out NYU.
posted by Dansaman at 12:25 PM on October 11, 2013

Yes to Penn. I'm a Penn engineering alum 1.5 times over (bioengineering, which has the huge advantage of a fantastic medical school at the university).

Wherever you go, definitely start in engineering and transfer out if you don't like it. Much much easier than transferring in.
posted by supercres at 12:25 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Holy cow. Rice. Except for the distance requirement, you have described Rice.

Yay Owls!
posted by purpleclover at 12:40 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

The liberal arts school I transferred to offered some of this, but its science faculty was predictably small and there weren't that many research opportunities.

A lot of the top-tier liberal-arts colleges are still very big on research, and most students who want to do research (and are academically solid) can. Sure, there aren't a large number of positions available in absolute terms, but there aren't a large number of people competing for them either.

My alma mater, Swarthmore, has an engineering department; so do Trinity College (CT), Union College (NY) and Lafayette College (PA). If he doesn't want to be an engineer specifically, but is generally interested in the sciences, this opens up a lot more options. Williams (where I'm currently employed) has a huge summer science research program — more than 100 students doing research each summer. Other liberal-arts colleges with robust programs in the physics (my field) include Amherst, Middlebury, Grinnell, Carleton, and Reed.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:06 PM on October 11, 2013

Northwestern, Duke, Syracuse, WashU, Stanford, Berkeley.
posted by amaire at 1:07 PM on October 11, 2013

Sounds like Tufts University to me. I went there and got a degree in Psychology, my husband went there and got a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I know a bunch of liberal arts majors and engineering majors from Tufts : ) In fact, my husband was actually a Mech E with a History minor, so you can definitely do engineering while also trying out liberal arts stuff. It's not Ivy, but still quite good. There are a TON of clubs, etc to join, and while not right in the city, a very easy trip into Boston. Tufts is also a university and has plenty of research involved. My husband ended up doing an experiment on the "Vomit Comet" during his undergrad there. So, yeah, my vote is for Tufts.
posted by katers890 at 1:08 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

For example at Columbia, it's relatively easy to switch from engineering to liberal arts, but very difficult to start at Columbia College and move into engineering.
I also went to Columbia, and I didn't get the impression it's very easy at all to transfer in either direction. Columbia wouldn't be a great choice if having this option is a high priority.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:25 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was an Engineering major at Swarthmore, and I'll nth that it sounds like a program your brother might be interested in. I was generally looking for similar things, and I thought the academics at Swarthmore really lived up to the reputation. The year I graduated, many Engineers had doubled majored in a variety of subjects, including music, math and Poli Sci. My one regret is that the degree wasn't easy to market to future employers, but now, a couple years after graduation, most of us went to grad school or have found a career we wanted.

The lack of science research opportunities is possible, but if your brother decides he wants to be a serious scientist, he can definitely supplement with summer REUs and independent projects. Depending on who you talk to, a close personal relationship with a liberal arts college professor could be worth more than limited face-time with a R1 research superstar.

(Also, this might just be my personal confusion from reading your question, but majoring in a pure science is a really different experience than majoring in Engineering, IMHO.)

When I was applying, Tufts also seemed to have these qualities. Your brother should feel free to memail if he has questions.
posted by tinymegalo at 1:25 PM on October 11, 2013

posted by Thorzdad at 1:49 PM on October 11, 2013

Northeastern? The co-op program helps for getting real life experience in what you want to do, and even though it's a huge school, it can feel smaller when you're with your peers in your individual colleges (like their College of Engineering).
posted by cadge at 2:47 PM on October 11, 2013

Definitely check out Lehigh.
posted by lalex at 3:15 PM on October 11, 2013

Response by poster: These are some great suggestions, thanks so much guys.

Perhaps I should have been more specific. We're looking for schools that are strong in science but also have great liberal arts programs. Engineering is a plus, but not required.
posted by Spiced Out Calvin Coolidge at 3:33 PM on October 11, 2013

Your brother sounds like a ton of people I knew at Case Western. Really strong on the science side, but with a humanities side that holds its own (I was an English and philosophy major, class of 2002). They keep changing how specifically financial aid works, but with the profile you're describing he could probably get a pretty good scholarship package there.
posted by gerryblog at 3:39 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lehigh is very strong in both science and engineering, is small, highly competitive, and in the northeast. Also a good school in general.
posted by Dashy at 5:32 PM on October 11, 2013

Holy Cross in worcester, ma has a 3-2 program in engineering (thus a 5 year program) with dartmouth. He/she will get the liberal arts education and the focus on the sciences, engineering, and possible computer science he/she may desire. Best of both worlds. I do alumni admissions and will be interviewing prospective students next weekend. I think CMU in pittsburgh is good idea too. They are strong in all areas. I love pittsburgh and he would be able to go to UPitt for other classes he may be interested in.
posted by Jewel98 at 6:51 PM on October 11, 2013

With that clarification, your brother is probably pretty close to the situation I was in. I was either going to be a math major or a history or archaeology major, pretty much. By the time I got to college, I was settled on math and stayed with math, despite some flirtation with German. There was a lot of pressure at my high school to go to a smaller college, especially if you were smart and could get into a small liberal arts college that was seen as desirable (Williams, Amherst, etc.). Ultimately, I went to Berkeley, but the 'small colleges are better' thing definitely informed where I applied, so maybe this is of some use to you. I had no real geographic restriction.

Places I applied: Yale, Harvard, Brown, Reed, Chicago, Illinois, Berkeley, Wesleyan (the one in Connecticut). I know of no particular reason your brother should contemplate Illinois--it was there for financial reasons for me. I didn't get in to Yale, Harvard or Brown. In retrospect, Yale and Harvard (and probably Brown) were really bad fits for me, but that says nothing about your brother. Wesleyan was a laughably bad choice for someone who didn't want a small liberal arts college. It's bigger than most of them, but it's very much a small liberal arts college. Despite the previous sentence, I really liked Reed and felt bad turning them down. However, I was very much trying to maximise my academic opportunity and Reed just couldn't compete when it came to things like course offerings because of its size.

My brother, who was pretty much destined to be a math or CS major applied to a somewhat similar array of places. No small liberal arts colleges and he applied to Stanford and Dartmouth as well. (I hated Stanford when I visited and probably would have otherwise applied.)

Places I contemplated but didn't apply: MIT (yes, even not settled on math), Northwestern, Michigan (I was pretty sure I didn't want to go to a large state school (oops--see pressure at school above) and it was going to be one of Michigan and Berkeley; just as well I applied to Berkeley), Washington University in St Louis, Columbia, Princeton.
posted by hoyland at 7:10 PM on October 11, 2013

Oh, yeah, I'll second the mention of Tufts. Couldn't tell you now why I didn't apply, but it nearly made the cut for me.
posted by hoyland at 7:14 PM on October 11, 2013

I'm a bit surprised that Princeton hasn't been suggested yet. Great engineering school and as strong in sciences as they get but still feels very much like a small liberal arts college. The geographical setting is off-putting for some and heaven for others. Your brother should definitely think about what type of extracurricular activities he likes, if he prefers an urban vs rural setting, and what kind of general vibe he is attracted to. I once had two roommates that both got in to Berkley and Columbia. They chose differently and there was absolutely no question about who decided to go where...
posted by brorfred at 7:47 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

UMass Lowell - extremely respected for their caliber of engineers and scientists, but its a great school for other opportunities, should engineering not satisfy the student.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:58 PM on October 11, 2013

Except for the distance requirement, your question immediately made me think of Rice. It's a full research university with a very small student body, and while it's best known for science and engineering, I got a great education in a different field (though there was a general feeling that if you weren't studying science or engineering, it was because you weren't smart enough to do so). Most people I knew there were quite happy with their college choice.
posted by capsizing at 8:16 PM on October 11, 2013

Another vote against Carnegie Mellon here. While the school is great for engineering, business, and the arts, the liberal arts/humanities programs are much smaller and weaker outside of a few specific programs (psychology is one of the stronger).

I would vote for Rice, Stanford, Princeton, and some of the Claremont Colleges.
posted by asphericalcow at 8:50 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Popping in to put in a good word for Johns Hopkins--a school that's usually associated with its graduate MD program and hospital. JHU has a beautiful campus with a strong engineering (CS, EE, Biomedical) program and a strong humanities program. Not a school that's often mentioned but you get a mix of engineers, science, and liberal arts folks.
posted by scalespace at 8:13 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey what about Lafayette? Population about 2500 students, no graduate program but a strong emphasis on offering undergraduate research opportunities if you're driven and successful there. Obligatory disclosure, I have family members that attend/have attended this school (as engineering majors). Not that I think it's perfect, but it does seem to meet a lot of your criteria!
posted by shortskirtlongjacket at 8:52 AM on October 12, 2013

Notre Dame was mentioned once but I'll recommend it again. I majored in biology there and it definitely fits your criteria of a place with excellent technical/science programs as well as liberal arts (which it's probably more well-known for). i feel like i got a great education there, not just in biology but in philosophy, critical thinking, and writing. And the football/ sport stuff was fun, too. One caveat- It is very conservative Catholic (much more so than other catholic schools like BC, Georgetown, and Marquette) which may be a turnoff. Other suggestions of mine would be Cornell, Purdue, Pitt, and Georgia Tech (some above the 10k size though).
posted by emd3737 at 3:19 PM on October 12, 2013

Well, even if you don't want engineering, Tufts still works for you. I majored in Psychology (but was much more into the science side and less the clinical), and I had friends who majored in Chemistry and Anthropology, as well as computer science (and I almost got a minor in comp sci). They are a university, so they have the research, but they are a small liberal arts college, so that have that all covered. And well, it's outside of Boston, so it gets your distance requirement (though I personally am a big proponent of kids going further away for school).

My dad and brother both went to Purdue as engineers, and I can say that it is a good school too, though much much bigger, and obviously further away from the Northeast.
posted by katers890 at 6:07 PM on October 12, 2013

University of Virginia? It bigger then you mentioned, though. I was in architecture, but most of the engineering students I knew had a variety of interests, and transferring to other programs didn't seem to be a big deal.
posted by sepviva at 8:55 PM on October 12, 2013

« Older I would like to download a particular Facebook...   |   How can I help my parents with their retirement... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.