New England colleges with engineering and green space, not too big?
October 28, 2019 6:21 AM   Subscribe

My son is looking for Goldilocks: a small college (5k-10k) in New England (less than four hours from Providence, say) with some green space on campus (to play frisbee with friends), where he can study (probably mechanical) engineering. Any suggestions?

Oh, and Tuition Exchange, too.

He's what they call a strong candidate and he wants a challenging program, with a chance to be in a traditional, leafy campus (not in a city).

So far he has seen a few:
  • University of New Haven is promising: they're really investing in their science & engineering, with a new building under construction. But not very green, from what we could see through the fogged-up windows of a bus.
  • Sacred Heart (which was...I forget, but not love at first sight).
  • Fairfield is so expensive!
  • University of Rhode Island is too damn big, at about 15k students, but its engineering program is well-regarded here.
  • Quinnipiac's buildings are pretty ugly and piled atop each other, despite being next to a beautiful state park.
  • and they closed down the open house early at Roger Williams University so all I have seen is the beautiful views obscured by sheets of pounding rain.
Still to be seen are Seton Hall, Dartmouth, and maybe we'll give Roger Williams a second chance.

Someone has suggested Dartmouth (promising, if we can swing FA), Trinity (which might be too small), and WPI (too small, no green space), RPI (same), and Assumption (same). What are our Rumsfeldian "unknown unknowns" that you can suggest? Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by wenestvedt to Education (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

It's expensive, but figure I'd throw it out there. Maybe it's a tinyyyy bit too big, too.
posted by papayaninja at 6:33 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

If he can get in (it's super competitive), Olin is definitely a school to look at. Maybe too small (350 students total!) but an absolutely amazing engineering program in the liberal arts style.

Dartmouth is definitely a good option. Is there a reason that you're not considering the traditional "powerhouses" in this area? MIT? Harvard? Yale? Brown? They're all in cities, but they do have the standard "leafy" campuses.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:35 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

There's also a cool dual-degree program between Middlebury and Dartmouth:
posted by papayaninja at 6:35 AM on October 28, 2019

papayaninja brings up another excellent option - looking for liberal arts colleges that have partnerships with engineering schools. These are often called "3-2" programs (for the number of years you spend at the liberal arts college and the engineering college), which may help Googling, but in addition to Middlebury/Dartmouth, there is also a program at Wesleyan (paired with CalTech, Columbia, and Dartmouth) and a bunch of places feed into RPI.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:41 AM on October 28, 2019

If you only want the green space for playing ultimate frisbee, then WPI could still fit the bill:

The campus is not large and leafy, but does has some green space with trees, a quad for light frisbee throwing, multiple sports fields and also multiple leafy parks within trivial walking distance (Institute Park, Bancroft Tower, Elm Park, Newton Hill -- which has a frisbee golf course).
posted by flicken at 6:42 AM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Near but not in New England: Union College, with Engineering. Very nice green spaces, and almost in New England.
posted by theredpen at 6:56 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tufts has a good engineering program, is just a bit outside Boston with a traditional brick and leafy type campus. Not sure what tuition exchange is though.
posted by sillysally at 7:00 AM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Norwich University may be too small and too green, but it checks off a lot of your boxes. It is primarily a military college, but also has a civilian component. It is 3.5 hours from Providence. My cousin graduated from there with a degree in Engineering, otherwise I would probably have never heard of it. It may be expensive.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 7:05 AM on October 28, 2019

Response by poster: Not to thread-sit, but to explain a little "inside baseball .edu" factor:
Is there a reason that you're not considering the traditional "powerhouses" in this area?

As a long-time employee of a university, I have access to a program called tuition exchange where my kids are eligible for a whopping great FA award at about 600 colleges. The Big Guys are either not on the list at all, or basically don't award any TE (e.g., Boston University sometimes awards a TE scholarship). And it only covers four years, so 3/2 and 4+1 programs are out.

So either there needs to be very good financial aid or else TE -- and that tends to filter out a lot of schools. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 7:10 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

@wenestvedt -- my parents were professors and had access to the same program. I did not attend a university on the list, but some of my parents colleagues kids tried to only to be told those schools weren't honoring the exchange for whatever reason that year (I think because few of their own faculty were planning on using the program). This was back in the early aughts, but might want to contact the financial aid offices to confirm before your son makes any decisions.

Also wanted to point out I got such good need-based financial aid at a very selective university we didn't need to rely on that program.
posted by shaademaan at 7:14 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's also worth noting that the powerhouses do tend to offer better aid if you qualify. It sure is nice to have a super sized endowment.
posted by advicepig at 7:20 AM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

As my alma mater, I would like to push back on your assumptions about RPI. It does meet your size requirement (there were around 5k undergrad when I was there in the early '00s, so I'm sure it's larger now). It also had (has?) a great student union with a very healthy intramural sports program, including ultimate. The campus has been changing a lot recently, but still has a bunch of the old ivy-covered brick buildings. It does not feel like you're living in Troy while you're on campus, but downtown is close enough to walk to.

It's got an incredibly strong mechanical engineering program and the name recognition to get a leg up on internships and job offers. You should also look in to the Rensselaer Medal which (mumble-teen years ago) came with a $40k scholarship (not sure how much that has changed in the years since). If your son is at a high school that a) participates in the medal selection process and b) doesn't have many other students looking at RPI, it can be very easy to win the award.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:40 AM on October 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I came here to recommend RPI too, but bsp beat me to it! I played ulti there in the 80's and yeah, there's plenty of green, and pretty darn good engineering.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:51 AM on October 28, 2019

Some of your criteria are at odds -- I think the best engineering programs are at large institutions, and smaller places tend not to have as strong programs.

I tend to agree with Betelgeuse. MIT is small (5k undergrads, 6k grads, total 11k) though urban. Ditto Yale and Brown. If you want something more rural, I think Dartmouth is probably your best bet. All have good need-based financial aid (maybe you don't qualify though). All are of course very competitive.

Plus, RPI has 6.5k undergrads and 1.3k grads, so I don't see how it's too small.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:19 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's not in New England, but is about 4.5 hours from Providence: Lehigh University. A friend's kid studied engineering there, wanted to be somewhere smaller than the huge research university at which his parents worked, and wanted more of an emphasis on liberal arts than most engineering programs offered. I think this was the program:

posted by mareli at 8:25 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Depending on what "some" means when you say some green space on campus Wentworth might work? It's mostly urban but there's certainly some spaces where a frisbee can be tossed around. And there's more nearby in the Fenway area.
posted by bowmaniac at 8:38 AM on October 28, 2019

Swarthmore has an undergrad engineering program and is small with a green campus. With the exception of the actual speciality schools on your list like RPI, it's hard for me to believe its program wouldn't be competitive with those on the list, if not necessarily with, e.g., MIT or Caltech. It's in PA, but it cultivates that NE school vibe.
posted by praemunire at 8:51 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (praemunire, Swarthmore is gorgeous! I didn't realize they have engineering there.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2019

Lehigh is smallish, about 5k undergrads, and good engineering as well as other sciences. Plenty of green space.
posted by Dashy at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

came here to suggest WPI too for the same reasons as flicken
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:20 AM on October 28, 2019

It is slightly further afield, but you could check out Clarkson in Potsdam NY. Certainly a lot of green space (when they aren't white spaces due to snow) and right in your size requirement. On google maps you're looking at a 6 hour drive instead of a 4 hour drive. As an added bonus you wouldn't have to live in the troylet like you would at RPI. (And you get a better hockey team as well)
posted by koolkat at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Nting the suggestion of considering the big name schools and seeing what they offer in tuition wavers and aid, if they're of any interest. (Canada is also worth looking at. McGill can be pretty affordable, even for internationals.)

It's arguably not in New England, a bit over four hours away, and slightly over 10k undergrads, but the Rochester Institute of Technology stands out to me as a fantastic engineering school that might not be obvious. It's dripping with expansive fields and amateur sports teams.
posted by eotvos at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

As an added bonus you wouldn't have to live in the troylet like you would at RPI. (And you get a better hockey team as well)

I would never stoop to suggest that Clarkson students and alumni are lacking in ability, good looks, or demeanor. Nor would I intimate that Clarkson offers courses in remedial shoe tying and basic arithmetic. Clarkson is a fine institution and its graduates go on to fulfilling careers in fish-scaling plants, biohazard disposal, and lesser government bureaucracies.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey! My cousin is playing hockey for Clarkson this year. You kids play nice in this thread!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:52 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

You asked for "unknown unknowns", so: one of the best small-school engineering programs in the country is the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, just an hour down the road from you. The campus is nice & green. You can't beat the cost, either: $0 tuition and a $1000/month stipend.

On the other hand, you are signing up for a five-year service commitment, and I'm not sure how much frisbee you'll be playing on those nice lawns.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:17 PM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

As a faculty member at a Tuition Exchange institution, I would strongly encourage you to take a look at what the program actually gets you. I have a colleague who has just had two kids go to college within the last 2 years and he found that the financial aid offered by other colleges often made the tuition exchange less attractive than you would initially think. It's also the case that you're not guaranteed tuition exchange - it's something you have to apply for and both institutions have to agree to it. Perhaps your tuition exchange program is better than our's, but I would definitely make sure you've had a discussion with someone who's actually used it recently to see what the "ground truth" is compared to what it promises.

And, yes, as others have said, the top institutions (Harvard/Yale/MIT, even Dartmouth) offer really excellent financial aid. It appears paradoxical initially, but these top tier institutions are often significantly cheaper to attend than the institutions a notch below. And if Olin's not too small, take a look; they also have great financial aid.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:56 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Betelgeuse: ...I would strongly encourage you to take a look at what the program actually gets you.

Oh, agreed! I have a daughter who's a junior now, and who used TE. It definitely isn't a silver bullet: it can be difficult to get, the decisions comes late, and it still might not cover as much as the "normal" FA package that is replaces. That's why we're trying to look both inside and outside the program.

(I swear I am trying not to thread-sit, but this conversation will come in handy for other folks with TE who are coming to grips with the whole process.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

About Swarthmore: at least when my daughter went there, they only offered a degree in general engineering, not a specialty like ME or EE. One of the thing that was great for us was the railroad station at the foot of campus made it easy for daughter to get home for holidays.

I rubbed elbows with a lot of people while working, and was always impressed by RPI graduates. Daughter did visit there. It was different from most of the schools she looked at by emphasizing an engineering degree, then out into the workforce. Most of the schools she looked at seemed to assume some post-grad would be on the program.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:52 AM on October 29, 2019

You kids play nice in this thread!

All joking aside, it is quite a friendly rivalry. The pep bands even play together at the various hockey games. We both HATE Cornell though.

And although a risk of dating myself Backseatpilot all I can say in response is 11-0. (The only time I got to sing during my four years at Clarkson, as a proud Pep band member)
posted by koolkat at 5:17 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also came in here to say Olin, if it's not too small. I'm an alumna and would be happy to answer any questions.

Located in Needham, MA, which is a short drive to Providence. Very competitive/good education and reputation. Lovely green space and active Ultimate team as well as folks who just play for fun. Good mechanical engineering program, research opportunities, lab/shop resources. Half tuition scholarship automatically for all students, and extensive need-based aid.
posted by olinerd at 10:14 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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