First off, as many have said, ABET sets a minimum standard. Beyond that there are many intangibles that separate programs. The question becomes how much does it matter to the individual student?
In @tsbna44’s sentence above, that will generally be true because @tsbna44 is saying “kids,” plural. The
student body at a higher ranked school will likely be stronger, but how does that apply to the individual? Is it the school or the fact that some simply attract stronger students in the first place? There’s pretty solid evidence that strong kids will thrive anywhere. Their opportunities will be different, but good, at many schools.
These are not mutually exclusive. Some do both. My son’s school for example required engineers to take the math department sequence, full proofs and all, and the full physics department sequence, yet they were in the lab doing ME design and build projects first year.
I believe there are clear differences, sometimes with features I prefer in schools that are actually lower ranked. That said, for most standard engineering majors (not FinTech for example) salaries will be similar. It’s certainly not the only metric, but at Lamar in TX, MEs earn the same as MIT grads at two years out on average. Opportunities will be different, and Lamar’s graduation rate is abysmal because they let anyone in, but it’s an example that MIT might not offer the financial payoff that’s worth mortgaging a family’s financial future. And NO, I’m not saying Lamar and MIT are the same.
So what does one look for? It depends on what’s important to your student.
First and foremost, as @momofboiler1 said, budget should rule all. That does not mean cheapest is best. It means that there is no golden ticket for your student that is worth compromising your own future financial security.
The rest is what I and my student cared about. He wanted direct admit to ME. He wanted to start the ME curriculum in a meaningful way at year one. He wanted plenty of opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge. He wanted small classes. He wanted access to the outdoors in an area that was frequently sunny. Lastly, he paid no attention to rank, but rather a gestalt historical reputation for educating practicing engineers, ready to be productive on day one.
Everyone should develop a list of what’s important to them and they should know that for engineering, rank tells you absolutely nothing tangible about either the experience or outcome.
Good luck in the quest.