Caltech vs A&M Engineering vs UT

Learned today, National merit finalist.

Caltech: scholarship for 1/3 for 4 years
Texas A&M: Brown/A&M full scholarship for 5 years, 21K per year, accepted into Honors Eng.
UT Austin: Cockrell Eng. offer 30K for 4 years, accepted into Honors Eng., finalist for Texas Exes full scholarship

After financial aid and scholarships, net price per year at each?

55K at Caltech to come up with each year through aid and/or cash
Basically $0 aid needed for A&M or UT

How much does the $220k matter to you? Would debt be needed, or would it cramp college money for younger kids or parents’ retirement?

Other than that, consider the non financial aspects from reply #1. For UT, direct admission to an engineering major means no competitive secondary admission later to continue that major like at Texas A&M, but changing to a different major can be difficult and competitive.

Also consider things like social fit, logistics. Caltech is very small and very unlike your other two schools.

While there may be some small difference in prestige, each of those schools will produce an engineer with roughly the same prospects for employability. The main difference will be the cost, and where those later job opportunities are located.

If one ultimately wants to live in California, Caltech will make it easier to get internships and an eventual job. If one ultimately wants to live in Texas, either of the Texas schools would be a better choice. Of course, its obviously possible to go to Texas from California as well as the other way around, but it is simply much easier to get jobs in location where your school is a feeder.

I would choose UT, but if money isn’t a factor and I wanted to work in Cali, I would choose Caltech.

Thank you all for your responses. I appreciate the opinions.

Have you visited Caltech? It’s a unique place for sure. It’s small, has almost no traditional college experience, and requires a lot of studying.

UT and TAMU are excellent engineering schools, and more the traditional type of big school.

Job offers will be plentiful from all 3, but Caltech, and MIT, are on another level. Caltech doesn’t necessarily feed into the California job market. Sure, there are opportunities in California, but it’s reach is worldwide.

Something I’ve heard multiple times from Caltech alumni is that you want to go there for graduate school, not undergrad.

We have visited all three, and frankly, we liked the small school environment at Caltech. We felt like the professor to student ratio would be great but now, thanks to tons of info to read on the internet, I’m wondering about the actual professor’s involvement there. I’m not sending him somewhere to be taught by a TA or grad student, for a professor too busy doing his own research to teach or closes his door during the day when he’s not in class. At this point, we’ve determined that there is no perfect school, we have no love affair with one, and no personal attachment to any. With Caltech, I’m really concerned with the lack of a major degree in Aerospace and only a minor in it being offered. By readings, they seem hyper focused on a BS and an academia type of education vs. a focus on applied engineering. Other concerns are, the distance from Texas family & friends, being all alone in CA, and an inevitable portion of debt. However, with my son’s accomplishments, attitude, maturity, work ethic, and extroverted personality, I feel that he deserves the absolute best and would possibly gain a slightly better education and more prominent network there or at a similar college than at a state school or two that’s rolling out the red carpet for him. Then again, I believe he could go IS and be at the top of his class with a huge, cult like network in the state and a culture that he’s not but very familiar with, OR, he could go OOS and end up blending in or possibly washing out due to being unhappy, homesick, etc.
Either way, I’ve always said my son is a world changer, I just want to make sure I support him in every way in his journey to the top and not persuade or hinder his decision in any way. Selfishly, I never want him to leave our home but if he wants to change the world, I’m going to have to get over the fact that he may not be able to do that by living somewhat near us and that just plain stinks. I’m sure you can tell, he’s the first of two to leave the nest and it’s hard for me to find any excitement about any of it. I feel sorry for his younger brother, he thinks he’s going to leave our nest one day too, he’s flat out insane! ?
And yes, I’ve heard/read the same thing about maybe doing undergrad one place and possibly going elsewhere for grad and PHD. It makes some sense but is it really true that “it’s not as important where you get your undergrad as it is where you got your graduate/PHD degrees”?

If he thinks a career in research is in his future then Caltech, but Texas or TAMU for free is probably the best if he sees himself heading out into the business world.

Does he have a strong preference?

If he decides to stay in Texas, Austin and College Station are quite different so I assume he would have a clear preference in where he would rather live. Or, if you already live in Austin and he wants to go away for school, that would be a factor.

My baby is off studying engineering in Boston while I am in Texas. He loves school and Boston. We have family in the Boston area so he has local back up, but that isn’t the same as a parent.

Good luck to your son and you have my sympathies. I, too, will have my second leave the nest in a few years.

That’s an erroneous impression/assumption some people have. Because of the extraordinary rigor in its undergraduate program (which, BTW, was even more so in earlier times), some Caltech alumni struggled and didn’t do well when they were there as undergrads. Caltech undergrads actually are treated better and enjoy more support than its graduate students, and arguably than students anywhere.

No TA or grad student teaches any course at Caltech. TAs are only in charge of recitation sessions. Caltech professors are among the easiest to get in touch with for research universities, as most classes are very small. Also, Caltech doesn’t offer an aerospace major because it believes that discipline is too specialized to be offered at the undergraduate level that can meet what is expected of a Caltech graduate. It thinks the student would be better off building a more solid foundation in underlying sciences and engineering, and then specialize later in a graduate program. When it has to choose, Caltech does have a bias toward foundational understandings over practical applications.

I wouldn’t say he has a strong preference anywhere but he is leaning towards the most logical choice for the undergrad with the thoughts of possibly finishing the seemingly more important Masters and Doctorate elsewhere. He’s not going to feel that he’s done until he goes the entire way.

We don’t live in Austin or in any major city so yes, he has an immediate preference. And you’re right, we feel UT & A&M cultures are quite different from each other. We believe he would get a great education at either but may fit better at one than the other.

Thank you for your sympathy, it’s definitely going to be an interesting change soon with the first one and then our “baby”.

Sounds like your best bet may be $0 at one of his TX schools. It sounds like he’s interested in areo, right? If so he would have to pursue grad school if he goes to CalTech. That means $220k + cost of grad school. If he attends UT or A&M, he has an option to pursue grad and no debt.

Reposted with the ‘quote’, sorry, learning

I wouldn’t say he has a strong preference anywhere but he is leaning towards the most logical choice for the undergrad with the thoughts of possibly finishing the seemingly more important Masters and Doctorate elsewhere. He’s not going to feel that he’s done until he goes the entire way.

I appreciate your seemingly intimate details regarding Caltech specifics. It seems as though you attended the college or are, or were, employed there and the information is helpful. I’m now having to dig deeper into the difference and his preference, if any, of a “research university” vs ???, and your comment about “foundational understandings over practical applications”. Barely graduating HS and having to help equipment manufacturing “engineers” for years to recognize things that work on paper that don’t always work in the field, I don’t disagree with your comment about the specialized focus on the discipline either. However, if the suicidal rigor kills all or part of your passion in the process, takes the fun out of it and the one life that you get to live, while strapping a potentially large amount of financial burden to you and/or your family for years to come, is the juice really worth the squeeze? Or, do the state school’s ability to take on more of a massive student body end up securing more and more top students by being able to make elite offers to more logical thinking elite students and inevitably strengthen their program to wear the clout and prestige hat in the future? Thanks to FAFSA, it’s a $55,000 a year gamble to go to Caltech vs. $0 and again, not sure the juice is worth the squeeze or if it’s really up to what the squeezer can get out of whatever he’s squeezing. ?

Right, his A&M aero deal includes an additional year for his Masters. UT is a 4 year deal. All of the college’s pressure is subtle but is real. Deadlines to decide here and there are games. I feel we have one shot to make the right choice coming out of HS and are just praying for clarity. To further complicate things, now Princeton wants an interview. Couple that with MIT and Caltech wanting him to be involved with their sports programs and I am very thankful to God for the options but jeez…
He’s ready to get excited about a decision and he’s so fun, he’s ready to create a spinning wheel. My wife and I are just ready to stop having to see others and explain that he’s still undecided.

@TheTXDAD I understand your dilemma. If the costs were the same, the decision would be easy. With the cost difference, I would have struggled if faced with the same choices, especially when I don’t have the same level of knowledge about the TX schools as I do with some top tech schools (and an Ivy).

Caltech’s rigor is well known. However, it isn’t necessarily responsible for stresses. Stresses occur when there’s academic mismatch between the student and the demand of the college curriculum. A student in the bottom quartile at any college would struggle academically at that college. I always advise prospective students (to any college) to make sure that the college is an academic fit.

Caltech’s emphasis on foundational or fundamental understanding of any subject is also well known. I think Caltech believes that its students need to have a more profound understandings of the math and sciences behind any STEM subject in order to function at the level its students are expected to. Good students can, and they usually do, supplement their more formal class training with practices in research labs and other research projects on campus and at JPL.