Low-cost [<$30k] (with merit?) schools with engineering [MA resident, 3.91, 1500, not NMSF]

S24 is trying to finalize a list of schools to apply to after the disappointment of missing the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff for MA by one point (he has 221; needed a 222 in MA :sob:). Before the news he had decided that he preferred the schools with very low cost NM packages over all his other possibilities. Now he isn’t sure what to do. I’m trying to help him find some other potential low-cost options (under $30K/year if possible).

The University of St. Thomas (in MN) has been recommended on here as a possible low-cost liberal arts college with engineering (but probably over $30K), so we are looking into that. I’ve seen Miami University of Ohio recommended as a good option that can be inexpensive, but I don’t think S24 will qualify for max merit (see GPA situation below). We’re looking for other possibilities to try to find some that spark his interest.

Basically, all the schools he likes well are either very expensive for us (Rochester), or very selective (Brown), or both (Tufts). And if he can’t go to a school that he feels excited about, he would rather pay as little as possible to go to a school that is fine than spend all his money and go into debt to go to a school that is also just fine (for him) or slightly better than fine.

Trying to sum up the situation, he really doesn’t know what he wants to do but he wants to keep engineering as an option and he doesn’t want to consider 3+2 programs. He wants to go somewhere he can have some flexibility in the first 2 years to pursue engineering but also take classes outside engineering, and still finish in 4 years (due to finances) whether he decides to stick with engineering or do a different major. He knows this might not be a possibility at many schools, and that is part of the reason he wants to keep his costs low so if he needs more schooling after four years it could be possible.

We aren’t sure how much financial aid we will qualify for. Our EFC last year (when S23 was applying to college) was ~72K. The financial aid package at the only school he applied to that (I think) said they met full need had us paying ~65K/year. The NPCs I have run for S24 have ranged from $31K to $50K. I am skeptical of the low numbers, though.

Our state flagship (UMass Amherst) at ~$35K/year is (1) much bigger than he’d prefer, and (2) unlikely to offer him Honors College as an engineering major to make it feel smaller & more comfortable.

Info to help get an idea of what merit might be possible:

  • Homeschooled using mostly online class providers, DE in person at community college senior year only
  • SAT 1500 (750/750)
  • GPA 3.91UW (B in economics/US gov in 10th; B in AP Physics 1 in 11th) (because the classes he took online did not offer honors versions & I didn’t let him take AP classes until junior year, his weighted GPA is not much higher ~4.09)
  • 3 APs completed with 4s (Physics 1, Comp Sci A, Calc AB); taking AP Lit this year
  • 4 DE classes this semester (Calc 2, Bio for Sci majors, French 3, Psychology) and another 3 or 4 next semester
  • Recommendations will unfortunately probably be very generic. We found out at the beginning of junior year that all of his online AP classes would not be holding virtual meetings, they were all asynchronous with no teacher support. His junior year American literature teacher offered to write him a recommendation, but they only met online for 60 minutes once a week, so I’m not sure how good it can be. And it can’t really speak to one of his biggest strengths, which is his positive interactions with other people and his desire to help everybody around him do their best. He will probably ask either his Calc or Bio DE teacher for a recommendation, but it is not ideal, because if they are even willing to write it, they will not have known him for very long.
  • ECs: working 20 hours a week as a home health aide for his disabled brothers, although recently it has been more like 30 hours a week. Regular involvement in a games group with friends. Strong involvement through church, including youth leadership and volunteering.

Currently planning to apply to UMaine, UMass Lowell, SUNY Oswego & Binghamton as schools he isn’t thrilled about but would be lower cost and are probably fine, possibly Lehigh or Lafayette as more expensive but potentially still affordable schools that he has some excitement for

What schools do you know of where he might get the cost under $30K/year? State universities that might be lower cost, but would have flexibility about major & opportunities for honors college to make a big school smaller? (His only environment preference is he doesn’t like total city campuses—he hated BU, but found Northeastern okay, though he prefers more suburban or rural)

University of New Mexico would be worth checking out.

ASU and University of Arizona

University of Alabama


Kansas State would hit your budget with merit. COL is inexpensive, engineering school very good (new building). Professors that take time to get to know you. Son went there from a big city in TX and was very happy with the quality of education in the sciences. He was pre-vet.


I think Alabama has a pretty good program and would come in around your budget. I know one of the regular posters had a son who went there and liked it - had no trouble getting an excellent job afterwards.


If the NPC comes in at $30k, I think it would still be worth an application to a school he likes. What happens if you run the NPC at “best value” schools like Olin College of Engineering or Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology?

For a more sure bet lower cost option, maybe look at New Jersey Institute of Technology, also.


OP’s son would need $20k/yr in merit - and unfortunately it’s become harder recently to get that much for students with these (very good, no doubt) stats. But worth a shot.

If open to NJ, I suggest looking into The College of New Jersey. Much more likely to get merit money, and it’s an admissions safety.


Another option that looks to be under $30k for even nonresidents is University of North Dakota, but run your specific numbers through their calculator to see.


In addition to the above, maybe the Jesuits that have engineering such as Marquette, St. Louis University? Maybe the University of Wisconsin directionals such as Milwaukee, Stout etc? Maybe UT-Dallas (he would qualify for in-state tuition if he gets any school-sponsored scholarship of $1,000 or more)? Perhaps schools with newer engineering programs that are looking to grow (as long as they are ABET accredited or have a solid plan for becoming so.)

I do think he will be in the running for excellent scholarships at many schools that will bring the COA lower than what might be estimated on the NPC. His job being a PCA to his younger siblings is very compelling, and worth considering as an essay topic. I hope he will not be shy about mentioning it, because he really does have an experience that brings a special perspective and special skills to campus.


What kinds of engineering are of interest?

Some suggestions:

Iowa State
Texas Tech
New Mexico
Nevado (Reno)
Ole Miss
Mississippi State

WIth scholarships, you should be able to get these down to the $30K range, some, like Arizona have tuition guarantees (meaning that the cost will not go up over your four years). It may not be your preferred geographic area, but there are some excellent programs in the list above.


I think - again, one has to look past selectivity. If you get into engineering and you can stay in engineering - then it’s a home run. You’re legit and if my kid is an example of the reality, these kids with effort will find jobs - as in plural. Or at least get interviews - after that it’s up to them.

So you’ve heard of some of the schools.

Alabama is $33K and you get $30.5K off - so you’re high teens and a bit cheaper later years.

UAH - smaller school - about 10K kids - will be similar. No football (hockey is their thing) - and Huntsville is a city with a ton of jobs - as it’s NASA’s second home.

Mississippi State would be inexpensive as well.

Heading to the midwest, Iowa State, and maybe KU and Kansas State.

The 3.91 gets $30K off of $40K tuition at Arizona - so that will be under $30K all in.

I don’t see anyway for someone with a $70K EFC to get a Lehigh of Lafayette at $30K.

But in addition to a UAH and if you want some travel adventure and AWESOME scenery, SD School of Mines is full pay $25,500. Western Carolina and Southern Illinois would both be under $30K. btw - both U of SD and SD State have ABET majors - and would make cost - so you never know where one might need to go to afford. You never hear of those schools but they could work.

You say schools with Engineering - so others may come into play - a Christopher Newport in Virginia has some majors. You mention Oswego - it looks like they have Computer and Electrical and Software - but not others. Is that his interest? Engineering is broad.

SUNY does offer the flagship match program with 22 of 34 programs participating - so not sure which - but some even say Bing gets down to their in state costs, etc.

One flyer I’d take is Purdue - will be $42K ish (engineering has a premium) but they offer some kids $10K merit. Not a ton but some - not sure if home schools is excluded.

Also, Hofstra and Bradley at least used to show merit aid on their NPCs and both were aggressive - aggressive enough I don’t know but worth a look. You might look at Dayton too - many speak highly - not sure if can get to cost.

Good luck - $30K is tough but not impossible with flexibility - and by flexibility - I mean geographic, pedigree, size and the like - but I promise you, at any school the engineering students are super qualified - or - as 40-60% nationwide depending on the study drop the major - they’re gone. So if your son survives, he’ll be with smart kids. And many colleges have Honors Colleges to even further add a layer of seriousness - but some Honors Colleges have fees so watch out of that.

Best of luck to your son - I hope he find what he is seeking.


Is industrial engineering one of the areas he still wants to have available? Linguistics? Any other majors that he’d like to be at the school?

I just wrote a post for a kid looking for CS. Although the costs on the Missouri schools and the MSEP rate schools would be different, the others would be pretty aligned with costs, and I’m pretty sure all of these have engineering and would not restrict your son from switching between majors. I will put my thinking cap on for other suggestions:


So, this is why I say “with engineering“ and it is one of the challenges. He’s not really sure. When I discuss with him what the various types of engineering might be like, he is more interested in things like systems engineering and industrial engineering and computer engineering, possibly electrical or robotics.

But, I don’t think he is an engineer. He has the brain for it, but I don’t think he has the passion for it. I actually expect him to end up majoring in something else. (Maybe something people related. He really loves people!) But he is set on starting in engineering. That’s why we are looking for schools that have engineering, but are flexible enough that if he decides “not engineering“ he’ll be able to finish in four years, or cheap enough that he afford to do a fifth year (or grad school).

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Yep, start in engineering but a school like Oswego is too limiting. It’s easier to transfer out then in.

If he likes people, many engineers end up in technical sales or otherwise.

The good news is - he doesn’t need to know now or next year which majors excite him. But he does need to be at a school with possibilities.

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Engineering work is that of designing things using principles based on math and science. For systems and industrial engineering, it is about designing processes and such rather than things that some other engineers design. Is he more interested in designing processes or things, or studying the world / universe as it exists and inferring ideas from that study (which is more along the lines of liberal arts including math and science)?

A student who starts the first year in college with engineering major courses can usually switch to math, statistics, or physics fairly easily without needing much or any “catch up” courses. Social science and humanities majors typically have shorter prerequisite sequences, so that even if “catch up” courses are needed, they may be doable without delaying graduation even if started late (but note that engineering majors do have to take social science and/or humanities courses for general education, so if those are the ones of interest, less “catch up” may be needed if switching to such a major).

Being an engineer (or any other profession or college major) does not necessarily mean one does not like people.


Olin NPC says $39,000. RHIT just uses the FAFSA EFC and says 68,000, but also says that students get merit awards ranging from 15,000 to 25,000… (He would not consider either of those schools anyway because they only have engineering/technical majors. Even though he wants to go somewhere where engineering is an option, he also does not want to go somewhere or engineering is the only option.)


I would really look at Iowa State. S22 nearly went there. We met with the head of the Honors Program. It is a neat program. The campus is beautiful. But for the fact it is in Iowa, everyone would want to go there. The application is, literally, a snap. You will get your admission in…maybe two minutes because of the RAI requirements in the state (in other words, meet the metrics and you are admitted).


What I was trying to convey was that he likes thinking about people (what motivates them, how to communicate with them, how to help them) more than he likes thinking about math or science. He is very competent at his math and science classes, and when he has a good teacher, he enjoys them. But, he is energized by his literature & psychology classes.

But, I’m just his mom, so what I think is not important. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: He is adamant that he’s going to start as an engineering major of some sort, and so I’m just trying to help him do that in a way & at a college where he can either love it or change to something else if he doesn’t.


University of Delaware? They’ll probably offer $17,000 a year and I believe he would get into honors. My 3.9 gpa 34 act loved it there, met her crew in the (very nice) honors freshman dorm. They accepted 9 AP credits so she graduated a year early.


You might have the best luck with a public (tend to be cheaper but bigger which he may not love) or privates that aren’t super selective (e.g., St Thomas is more likely to give big merit than Lafayette). It’s hard for small schools to offer engineering because of the amount of physical resources needed and the accreditation requirements, so the choices are somewhat limited.

You’ve gotten some great suggestions. My son also found that he was most interested in smaller engineering departments and honors programs; for him that was <3000 undergrad engineering majors. I’ll list some well-regarded programs that might get to your budget, the approximate number of undergrad engineering majors, what they offered S23 in regular merit aid (apart from any special scholarships), and honors admission:

• Rose-Hulman; >1K? eng enrollment; $27,500 merit
• U Dayton; 1700 eng enrollment; $30,000 merit; honors
• U Delaware; 2500 eng enrollment; $17,000 merit; honors
• U Louisville; 2000 eng enrollment; $20,000 merit; honors
• U Pittsburgh (urban); 2600 eng enrollment; $22,000 merit; didn’t apply to honors
• U Missouri; 2700 eng enrollment; merit to equal in-state rate; honors
• Milwaukee School of Engineering; <2K eng enrollment; gave good merit, don’t have exact amount – also invited to apply for big scholarships; honors

For scale, Purdue has ~10,000 undergrad engineering majors.