engineering programs for above average student with additional criteria

DS is a rising senior and is quite insistent he wants to give mechanical engineering a try. We are a little concerned that this is highly practical given that:

  1. he has done well in math and sciences classes (low As in honors and AP levels) but has never really embraced the subject matter (little participation in extracurriculars in spite of our repeated efforts to get him involved in FIRST, for example)
  2. he has decent but not great results on SATs (high 1200s)

Our thoughts are that he would do better in a small school, where he could get better access to resources and support, but engineering schools are typically only divisions of larger universities.

Some schools that have come to mind are Dayton, Clarkson and St. Thomas in MN. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Also, would like to limit COA to 35-40K/yr., conceding that we are unlikely to get need-based aid.

Milwaukee School of Engineering. It looks like you should be able to get the COA to around 40k/year. The only problem is if he decides that he doesn’t like Engineering, there is limited other options.

Rose-Hulman and Michigan Tech

But, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to get the COA where you need it. Run the NPCs for each of the schools.

What state do you live in?

Your son sounds a lot like me 30 years ago. Of course, we had nothing like FIRST then, but I don’t think I would have been interested, anyway. So, I wouldn’t be too concerned if he is not involved in that now.

I’ve had 3 good mechanical engineering jobs that I have been happy with. And know many people that have graduated with an ME degree that decided another profession was better for them. But an ME degree is not a curse, and I’m sure if your son has the motivation, there is a place he can be successful at.

What kind of geographic area are you looking?

Son does not want anything in the South, and DW and I really want him to see somewhere besides NY metro, where we live.


We thought of Rose-Hulman a little. My greatest concern would be his standardized test scores. Theirs are high, which would make it seem difficult to get sny merit money.

We are from NY, but we have seen a number of great schools in the Midwest, and my son has liked a number of them.

Don’t overlook the SUNYs, at least from a budget perspective.

I know you didn’t want close, but Manhattan College and Stevens are small and good for engineering. UMaine is a smallish uni and matches your state uni’s tuition. Their facilities are amazing.

UMaine does sound like a great option, especially given that they charge the equivalent of SUNY tuition if you have a reasonable SAT. Hope to get a look at the campus.

Union College is SAT optional. Not sure what type of merit aid they offer.
I think SUNY New Paltz (which is a mid-sized university) offers engineering.
I would also second Manhattan College and Stevens as worth looking at.

Small school, engineering focused, list price under $40k per year → South Dakota School of Mines and Technology or New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

Dayton is great if you can get the cost down. The city of Dayton has some rough parts, but students can manage…especially if from NY metro.

I’m more familiar with the OH-KY corridor, but have worked with a phenomenal engineer from Clarkson.

University of Louisville’s Speed school is great. Bachelor’s wasn’t accredited until recently, so 5-year Master’s is more what it is known for. Less of a southern vibe in Louisville than at somewhere like University of Kentucky in Lexington. Good people. Also, airport usually has good flight options. Sounds like your son would qualify for automatic $10k, bringing cost down to ~$26k.

But, in general, suspect your son could do well and wouldn’t discourage interest in ME. Can go a lot of directions with ME.


Thanks for the color. Have not looked at Louisville, will consider for a visit and application.
We definitely want him to give ME a try, we are simply a little anxious about his prospects to succeed in a large program where it is more likely that there are various efforts to weed out. Certainly thick that if he completes an ABET-accredited program there would be many options open to him.

There aren’t typically intentional efforts to weed out at any school. Schools where you see higher levels of attrition are state schools that accept students that aren’t ready for the rigors of engineering.

Don’t worry about lack of exposure to FIRST, etc. Most students that enter ME programs don’t have any previos experience, but rather an affinity to math and physics. In fact, students that love FIRST, but struggle in math and physics are actually the ones more likely to drop out of engineering. Engineering can have facets of tinkering, especially in concentrations like mechatronics, but at its core it is applied math. Our son is just about to finish his MS in ME and he never had any prior engineering exposure before starting in college.

As far as merit goes, you are going to be limited. The purpose of merit is not to reward students, but to entice students with high stats to attend their school to raise their rankings. Thus, either his SAT needs to come up, substantially, or (and there’s nothing wrong with this) he needs to consider non-selective schools.

A school that I would highly recommend, but probably would fall outside of the financial budget is WPI. Depending on your eligibility for need based aid, it might come in line. Like all private schools though it’s about $70k per year all in before aid.

I’ve also read great things about Miami of Ohio. I wouldn’t write off Binghamton or Buffalo either. I second SD and NM, but they are both in the boons. It would take a special personality to leave the city and feel that either of those were a fit. In the same realm, Wyoming is an underrated engineering program and VERY affordable.

Good luck.

My son’s friend was a hard worker with a good GPA but barely broke 1000 on the SAT’s. His determination got him into Binghamton and he is now working as an engineer, though I admit that I have no clue what type of engineering he does. He loved his experience there. My H also knows another kid who graduated from the same school and now works for a car company as an engineer.

New Paltz isn’t really known for engineering.

Easiest way I know to look at school data for engineering is via the online profiles at You can look at ABET accreditation, costs, standardized test scores (ACT, SAT and math specifically), which has ME, how many are admitted vs graduate, max costs, etc. I went there today to see where a 1200 SAT falls at Valparaiso University since it sounds like a good fit otherwise for your son. Do not be scared away by the sticker price because there are scholarships available to bring it into your price range and they accept new scores until rather late into senior year (check with admissions for that last accepted test date) to increase the scholarship amount. Suburban Chicago has been a great mix of small town/big city for our DS and there is definitely a supportive atmosphere. Feel free to PM me if you have specific questions. Good luck to your son!

VU also has a full range of majors if ME does not end up being his thing. Advising is excellent.

The sticker prices are high at some schools but don’t give up until you know what YOUR student will get. My daughter looked at a school where the COA was $50k (now closer to $60k) and I thought ‘no way’, but we stuck with it through the application process and we found that the school had merit and the state had grants and then there was this and that (FIRST scholarship, Eagle Scout) and that stacking them all up got us to…FREE!

My friend’s daughter went to New Paltz in engineering and really liked it.

The engineering college of a big school tends to be a more intimate group. In engineering, almost all the first year students are in the same classes, often in the same building. My nephew had a core group that he had 2-3 classes with the first year. It was fine if someone was more advanced in math and took a different Calc level, but that person would return to ‘the group’ for chemistry and intro to engineering.

My daughter went to a STEM school and it was sort of the same, that her group from ‘general engineering’ all had the same schedule. IMO, the big difference in going to a STEM school is that if the student decides engineering is not for him, there isn’t much that the school offers in music or history or French. It was fine for daughter because even if she hadn’t stayed with engineering, she would have picked another STEM major like math or chemistry. My other daughter changed majors 3-4 times so she did better at a bigger (although not that big) university.

New Mexico school of mines is a really unique. Just learned a bit more about it.

Located on a beautiful campus. Shares the national observatory center and resources. Has a golf course on campus. Offers engineering a high level.

Has a major in explosives engineering, only one in the country. That’s fascinating to me. Building roads and mines. Demolition of skyscrapers.

NMT doesn’t offer an undergraduate degree in explosives per se. It is a concentration of ME. Missouri S&T also offers an explosives cert for undergraduate students, but it it’s a concentration of mining engineering. Both offer a MS and PhD.

NMT also has the distinction of being the highest listed public institution on the per capita ranking of schools whose undergrads ultimately go on to earn PhDs.