Yeah, it's more of a niche engineering school rather than a powerhouse. Pratt only has four departments so it's not a huge influential research force like MIT, Stanford, and Cornell. And research and innovation is really what sets engineering schools apart. So, while the student and professor quality are really great (much better than say UIllinois student body, which has a higher ranked engineering school), the breadth of studies isn't as vast since it's a much smaller school. PR
methodologies were certainly strange to rank Duke #2 overall if you consider how much influence the school has had (obviously, larger schools have a huge advantage in this regard, but that's typically the metric used for engineering reputation.)
UPenn would definitely be a good comparison - smaller, strong engineering school within the context of a much larger liberal arts education, but certainly not known as a national engineering power. The main difference is they have chemical, while Duke has civil. (While Material Science isn't a major a Duke, there is plenty of MS research within the ME dept.) If you're interested in BME, ME, ECE, or CE, then Pratt is a great choice, but if you're unsure or know you want something like chemical or aviation, then Pratt clearly wouldn't work for you. So, while quality and research on a per capita basis is solid, it doesn't have the depth of research and historical reputation of those more traditional engineering schools. Which could be a good or a bad thing depending on what you're looking for. I personally found that appealing about Pratt; I didn't want an engineering dominated school and wanted a smaller program, but others may disagree.
Along the same lines, Duke engineers perhaps have a stronger lean towards business (i.e. consulting and finance) than other engineering schools. In fact, a full 53% of 2007 ME grads are consultants, analysts, or investment bankers! That compares to only 27% of ME grads that went into R&D, engineering consulting, or engineering grad school. This is probably a similar breakdown to UPenn, but very different from something like Ga Tech. I personally never thought in a million years I'd be interested in business and was set on engineering, but in the end, I am interested in business. So you never know. Here are the stats and something to consider when applying to schools: Where do ME students go? | Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Where do Pratt undergraduates go after graduation? | Engineering at Duke University, Pratt School
I'd pick Stanford, MIT, and the like over Duke, but personally would choose Duke over traditional engineering powers such as UIllinois, UMichigan, and Ga Tech not including any financial considerations even though they're ranked higher (in fact, I did choose Duke over the first two of those). Plus, keep in mind 30% of engineers transfer out nationwide, so you should choose a university that you'd be okay with going to the arts & sciences school in case you fall in the 30% (which nobody thinks would happen to them, but undoubtedly does.)
The middle 50% ACT score range of accepted students to Pratt was 33-35, so it's certainly appealing to many high quality students. And it's BME department is especially well-known as being one of the top in the nation, having been the first accredited BME program in 1972.