Are all ABET accredited programs created equal? How to evaluate/choose a program

I will start by stating that I do not have engineers in my immediate family and my son is looking into engineering. A prevailing sentiment on CC is that engineering programs are about the same as long as they are ABET accredited. Therefore, spending more to go to a more expensive college does not make a lot of sense. My question is this: Are all ABET programs about the same when it comes to post-graduation opportunities? What should a prospective student look for when evaluating options? I am not talking about the proverbial “fit” here. Assume that the shortlist has options that are culturally and financially acceptable. Is there a way to look up how many graduates become PE certified and/or pass rates of each program?

Just to throw out an example, both Alabama and UNC-Charlotte have civil programs and neither school is considered “elite.” How should one go about choosing one?

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There is a wide variety in quality of the programs depending on the quality of the student body. Private school student bodies are stronger than public school student bodies because public schools have different standards for in state and out of state (from conversations with friends who teach Mech at GTech for instance). Following up from this disparity in students, the programs will be tailored to the students they get. For example, Caltech doesn’t care to dilute their program, while our local public university is forced to simply because of the composition of the students. Therefore different universities have different levels of rigor even if they are all ABET accredited.

Also of importance is whether a particular university is close to large employers in that field – e.g. Chem engg and Texas.

People who claim the university does not matter do not know the tail opportunities that are available from top schools in each major that don’t filter down to schools that are lower down in rankings. Also, even among the non-tail opportunities, more of the large desirable jobs are available at the top ranked schools. As an example, my son told me that last summer UC Berkeley placed 300 kids into Amazon out of a 3000 sized cohort (sophomore and junior) for internships. This will not happen from Rutgers, our state flagship.

Now what you want to pay for UCBerkeley vs Rutgers is up to you. If you are top 5-10% of Rutgers, you can still get to Amazon, but you won’t be able to get to that exotic startup that the top kids at UCB can get to. The kid in Rutgers wouldn’t even know that the exotic startup exists.

At some level (some) employers are also looking for raw IQ when they go to a top school for hiring because they feel one round of filtration has been done at the stage of matriculation into college.

You get the drift :-).

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That sentiment is not really correct. What ABET accreditation indicates is that the program meets a reasonably high minimum standard, so that graduates should be expected to be able to do engineering work. But programs can differ in the following ways:

  • Additional required content, experiences, or rigor beyond the minimum standard (including general education as well as major content).
  • Subarea emphases offered within the major.

The above characteristics can affect whether the program is a good academic fit for the student.

Among non-academic factors, location can affect relationships with employers, or just convenience for recruiting and interviewing. Over time, this can influence subarea emphases and majors offered.

In other words, they are looking for who had the strongest college admission credentials (and/or other admission advantages like “hooks”) while in high school four or so years before they graduate from college.

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Beyond actual academic factors, an important consideration is how placement in major is done at each school. Consider the following variations:

  • Engineering majors are not “full”. Common at less selective colleges and small and/or wealthy private colleges.
    • Direct admission to major; changing major is not difficult but may require paying attention to different prerequisite courses.
    • Begin as undeclared or first year engineering undeclared; declaring major is not difficult if one has the prerequisite courses.
  • Engineering majors are “full”. Common at large colleges that are relatively selective, like popular state flagships.
    • Direct admission to major; changing major may require a high college GPA and/or be competitive.
    • Begin as first year engineering undeclared; declaring major may require a high college GPA and/or be competitive.
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Perception is often reality. The kids from ‘higher ranked’ schools will likely outperform kids from lower ranked schools.

ABET is a standard and I am impressed by any kid who can get through any engineering program. It’s brutal and my kid is at Bama.

But on the #s the Michigan kid on average or Duke kid is going to do better. Perhaps it’s openness to opportunities via perception of employers or perhaps it’s that the students on average were higher level to begin with.

Some think that the higher level student will win out over time whether they went to Stanford or Rutgers or UNCC. And I believe that.

However there’s no doubt that on the averages that the Stanford kid had a head start.

From other conversation, you have two issues. 1. Maybe the student, while strong, will struggle to get into that elite or even very respected (by perception) program. 2. You have a budget and for many people that understandably drives their decision.

I’d find the right program for your son and family. I see tons of civil internships and most require ABET and a GPA…usually 3.0.

In the end, you have to live within the parameters in front of you and your son can do fine from UNCC or BAMA instead of attending a highly rated civil program such as Illinois or Purdue.

Good luck.

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I also think that for Civil ranking may matter less. Civil is mostly populated by somewhat smaller but entrepreneurial firms where there is less room for mathy kind of talent/skill as in the kid that goes into AI etc. The skill required is extensive knowledge about building practices etc, and dealing with all kinds of people. This employment situation is very different in Civil than majors where hiring is done by a small 20-30 set of companies that seem to hire more for academic talent.

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Also to note, even among the non CS Engineering majors, there seems to be some meaningful disparity in pay. Please follow this link (Senior Survey 2022), go to the Finance section, and click on income by concentration.

The Chemical and Biological Engg major numbers seem understated because I think some of the kids are pre-med. But the Civil numbers are lower than Mech and Electrical. Something to keep in mind.

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First off - cost. If it isn’t affordable, it shouldn’t be on the list.

Does your student want a hands on or more theoretical program? Some schools jump right in with engineering design courses freshman year and others don’t start with engineering classes until second semester sophomore year.

Programs also differ in how they accept AP credits, what general electives are required, and if there are additional classes necessary for graduation.

Available minors and concentrations differ.

Strength of career centers can also vary. For engineering, internships and co-ops are important. D did a deep dive on percentage of students having work experiences before graduation. You can look up first destination surveys for most colleges.

Secondary admissions processes vary greatly, along with the GPA cut off necessary to move on to one’s major.

Undergraduate involvement in research and labs can vary widely.

Industry ties can also be important and vary regionally.

FE and PE exams are important in Civil. Have your student reach out to the department and ask if they have the statistics for their students’ pass rates. (Be aware though that they may not necessarily have them because those exams are taken after graduation).

Lastly, I totally disagree about public vs private student bodies. Take a look at undergraduate engineering rankings. 6 of the top 10 are public universities.

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Hence the draw/interest. Some folks do not want to be limited by narrow options. EE/CE research can be outsourced. We will still need houses, roads and bridges here. I am already seeing this trend in healthcare, medicine and management consulting where more work is being outsourced than ever. But that is another thread altogether.

My son is fully aware of the fact that income of civil engineers starting out is low. He is also aware of the fact that the opportunity of becoming your own boss is very high and mid career incomes are good to great for most practicing engineers with their own firms.

These are great suggestions. Someone recommended Manhattan College for civil engineering. I have done a little digging and its program is very impressive!

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A small number of members posting the same comment every time the issue comes up does not make this a prevailing sentiment. I believe this is one of those cases.

CivE compensation being “low” is only relative to other engineering majors. Big picture, it’s a high initial compensation major.

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We were NC, now SC; a couple of our friends are currently hiring engineers in Construction and Civil because of the booming growth between Charlotte and Greenville. I’m surprised one of the biggest added values hasn’t been mentioned, location. They’re looking for regional, quick hires and don’t really want to get into relo’ing candidates. Things to consider: where does he want to live after graduation? What type of industry would he like to enter: Private, Public? Which schools have an active and well-regarded career center? How are the co-op programs and what are their placement/hire rates? UNCC has some great programs; I was impressed with their engineering department. Have your son check into the CofE open houses and also see if can speak with them about their co-op/internship programs. I’d recommend he do the same for each school. Obviously there’s NC State as well which has a great construction engineering program. If he wants to look out of state, Texas A&M has a great civil program or Iowa State. There are schools like NJIT, UAH, CO school of Mines, Rolla (MO S&T) and many more that are known for their great engineering programs, but aren’t in the “elite” school category. I’d say have him visit schools, talk to the other students, professors, admins and try to get a feel for what he would like during his 4 years and beyond.

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So are all Abet programs the same. No. It’s a standard to get to. So as above first go where you can afford. But I would also take into consideration the faculty AND facilities /labs available. Also which manufactures /companies have strong ties to the school. I would hands down go Public over private for engineering but that’s a different question. What support does the school have for the students as peer to peer help. Math /science help labs, graduate /professor hours etc.

Also what opportunities are there on campus. This is NOT the same with all schools. Internships /co-ops and companies all want active students on campus. Large public just will have more opportunities. Don’t limit to just engineering opportunities either. There are many on campuses to partner with to bring new opportunities…
So unless needed. Just don’t go with the less expensive option unless that is a main concern.

Also smaller schools tend to be local /regional and larger schools tend to have more of a reach and some even internationally.

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Also have your son do Ace Mentoring…

https://www.acementor.org/

It’s really fun. He will work on a project with engineering mentors and looks great on a college app

Absolutely, D20 is currently doing an IT internship as a MechE student. They usually hire CS majors, but they liked her broad background in CAD/ Solidworks, 3D printing, robotics, etc, her coding & network experience from her research work and her Adobe Premiere Pro experience from her club involvement. She’s updating all of their network CAD drawings and helping them troubleshoot IT and MechE related issues and working on some SM video editing. Both she and her employer branched out in the scope of what they were looking for originally; it worked out for both of them. You just never know how your EC interests will come into play.

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Yep. My son was industrial engineering and partnered with a Ross Business student to start the above student org. Not all engineering majors can have minors but my sons 2 led to his job. It’s not all floating cement boats with civil… Lol

Another big yep for @Knowsstuff comment about looking outside engineering opportunities. My D was able to take a series of courses and get a certification in collaborative leadership. Talking about that class content was how she landed her co-op as a freshman. She’s also been able to take courses in the business school and is active in mentoring the mentors in honors college.

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All ABET accredited programs are not created equal, but all ABET accredited programs will qualify you for a successful career as a working engineer. What sort of life and career does your kid envision? Not all programs will position you well for hot start-ups, prestigious academic positions, or ultra-coveted employers, but not everybody wants that anyway. For some people, a regional school may be ideal. Around here (upper midwest), graduates of Michigan Tech are highly sought after. Employers know they are very well trained, accustomed to the weather, and have roots in the area.

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ABET is the standard but there are a lot of ways to meet that standard. Does the school give the right advising? Does it have hands on courses and maker spaces? AP students in high school all take the same test, but that doesn’t mean the preparation has all been the same.

Civil engineers have to take the FE and PE exams, and the student has to be prepared for those. I don’t think my daughter learned all the things she needed to pass the exam while in school, but she sure learned HOW to study for it. She created a study schedule, sat her bottom in the chair, and studied for a couple months. She gets her Stamp this July.

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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.

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All will teach the relevant theory and include design projects to apply the theory. However, relative emphasis and curricular organization will vary.