How rankings can help or hurt your search for engineering colleges

Does a high ranking on a college ranking list make one engineering college better than another? That depends on the list, and what you are trying to learn from it.

At the top of almost every listing of top engineering colleges is MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is renowned for its Engineering programs. MIT is situated in Cambridge, just across the Charles river from Boston. Even though it is surpassed by its Cambridge neighbor Harvard University in most overall college rankings, MIT beats its rival in relation to the engineering disciplines.

Usually the one college to challenge MIT in most rankings is Stanford University in California. Stanford is situated in Silicon Valley and is the springboard college for a lot of top computer engineering focused businesses including Google.

California is particularly strong in top engineering colleges. Together with Stanford, other highly ranked colleges include California Institute of Technology, California Polytechnic University and University of California, Berkeley.

Many rankings analyze overall school strength instead of centering on engineering strength. Some which do provide engineering specific lists are the US News and World Report rankings, the QS World rankings and the THES World rankings.

One potential weakness among these rankings is they often add considerable weight to the publishing of papers and citations from faculty or graduate students, along with the strength in the graduate research programs that it infers. However for students seeking quality undergraduate programs these are not always the most effective indicators.

Students at some top colleges complain about limited access to teaching faculty as well as an inability to register for some classes they would like to do a result of high student - faculty ratios. Certainly this isn't the case at all well known schools - Cal Tech for instance has a student ratio of only 3:1, but at some bigger schools it may be a challenge.

If you prefer a more intimate study environment or better access to faculty - even when that faculty may be less vaunted, then colleges just like those who show up on the Engineering Colleges HeadQuarters ranking of smaller colleges are perhaps a fine fit for you. These colleges don’t offer a lot of graduate programs but have quality undergraduate programs and terrific graduate outcomes. Colleges that fit into this category include Harvey Mudd College and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Another factor to weigh with rankings such as these is that often even engineering specific lists don’t tell all of the story regarding specific fields of engineering. Although a school is strong in civil engineering doesn’t turn it into a top option for biomedical engineering. It's essential to go beyond the rankings to dig deeper, inquire of admissions staff and current and past students, look at the campus to get a feel for it, bear in mind the costs and location, and , please remember that you’ll be spending 4 years of your life at that college, so be certain that it fits in more ways than just its ranking.