Match/safety suggestions for my daughter interested in mechanical engineering or engineering des

tl;dr - Typical high achieving kid gunning for the stars, but has little idea where else to consider applying. It’d be great if she could identify a safety or low match school she would genuinely be happy to attend.

My daughter just started her junior year. She’s taken 2 APs so far (AP Comp Sci and AP World History) with 5s on both. She’s taking 7 APs this year (Calc AB, Lang, US History, Bio, Japanese, Psych, and Studio Art). She got 1 B+ (in her honors pre-calc course) one semester but otherwise all As. Assuming she maintains her grades this year (which could be a big assumption given her course load), that’ll put her around a 3.98 UW GPA. She’s also planning on maxing out the rigor of her schedule her senior year as well, winding up with about 14-15 APs in total. (Context: Her school offers 22 APs. It’s a highly regarded public school in Washington state. Last year, about 5-10 kids went to Stanford, Princeton, MIT, Harvard, etc.) She keeps signing up for the ACT, and they keep rescheduling on her, but in her practice tests, she usually averages around a 35 on each section. Sometimes a 36, sometimes a 34. She would probably be the first to admit that her grades and test scores are more due to her strong work ethic rather than everything coming to her naturally and easily.

I think her main EC is genuinely pretty impressive, and I don’t know of anyone else doing something similar. Essentially, she designs and creates things for people. (I apologize for being vague, but I don’t want to doxx her.) She was supposed to go to YYGS (Applied Science and Engineering section) this summer but obviously had to postpone due to COVID. She also paints a lot (thus her taking AP Studio Art this year) in her spare time, but in all honesty, I don’t think her art would be considered among the best in the country or anything. She paints because she enjoys it. I think if there’s a theme to what she’s interested in, it’s creating stuff. Whether that’s art or making physical, useful things or even baking, she just likes making stuff.

What she’s looking for:
Right now she’s thinking of majoring in engineering–either mechanical or bio. The Product Design major within Stanford’s engineering department sounds ideal, since it’s got a good combination of engineering and the arts while emphasizing creating things. The Product Design major at a lot of other schools is a fine arts degree, which my daughter isn’t interested in. However, she doesn’t want to go to a nearly 100% STEM school like MIT either, since she wants the flexibility to see if there are other things she might want to pursue instead of engineering that she’s currently unaware of.

Finances aren’t a concern. Most private universities are around the same price, and we won’t qualify for financial aid. She doesn’t have a strong preference for geographic location. She doesn’t like hot climates, but she said for the right school, she could deal with it. There are things she likes and dislikes about large vs. small schools, so in the end the pros/cons cancel each other out, so school size is pretty much a non-factor.

Culturally, she would like a collaborative/friendly rather than competitive student body. (She puts enough pressure on herself, so it’d be best not to have a pressure cooker-type culture adding fuel to the fire.) That said, she wants to be around people of her ability and work ethic. Essentially, she wants to be at a school where people are there to learn and work. Don’t get me wrong: fun is great too, but only if the students are taking their academics seriously. (She attended a summer program on neuroengineering at the University of Washington a year ago, and she said it was like a breath of fresh air. During downtime, the other kids there were talking about the material they had just learned, classes they were going to take, projects they were working on, college admissions, etc., rather than their favorite YouTubers and TV shows.) She is not interested in Greek life, but it’s not a showstopper for her unless Greek life dominates the social scene. Same goes for sports. Last but not least, she’s currently very fixated in prestige, but I’m trying to help her move off of that!

Where she’s currently thinking of applying (in very rough order of preference since she doesn’t know them that well, and we sadly can’t visit):
Reaches - Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Rice, Duke, Cornell, Penn, Northwestern
High matches/low reaches - University of Washington (engineering department has separate admissions process, otherwise it’d be a match), Berkeley, UCLA, CMU
Regular matches - University of Michigan, Northeastern, Boston U, UT Austin (these could still be on the high match side tbh)
Low matches - Colorado School of Mines, Case Western Reserve, University of Rochester
Safeties - Purdue?

(Everyone defines reaches, matches, etc. differently. My definition is that for a reach, her chance of getting in given her stats and ECs is <10%. High matches are 10-35%. Regular matches are 35-60%. Low matches are 60-95%. Safeties are 95-100%.)

I realize the list of schools is very reach-heavy and also probably has too many schools on it. How might you modify this list? In particular, she’s very concerned she might have to settle for a low match or safety school, so if there are any safety schools you can think of that would be a great fit for her that she’d be happy to attend, that would be enormously helpful.

Thank you!

UT Austin is a reach for students who are not in the automatic admission category (top 6% rank Texas residents). Engineering there is additionally competitive. Also, class rank is used instead of GPA.

Purdue is probably not a safety for engineering.

Washington State University is a safety for frosh applicants with a HS GPA >= 3.6. However, check to make sure that this includes admission to the major of choice.

I know a happy female mech eng student at SLU which would likely be a safety for your daughter.
Materials engineering at Iowa State might be a fit?

The problem is that students who define “fit” in terms of high admission selectivity will not be able to find any safeties that they like. I.e. like the line “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member” that is commonly attributed to Groucho Marx.

@ucbalumnus - Thanks for the info on UT Austin’s admissions. Her HS doesn’t rank students. I wonder how they handle those cases? Also good to know about Purdue engineering. I’ll have to dig deeper into those admissions stats to see if there’s a breakdown for engineering majors. As for WSU, I don’t think she’d be interested in that since a lot of kids from her high school wind up going there. Other than UW engineering, I don’t think she’ll want to go in-state. That said, it’s probably not a bad idea to take a closer look.

@2plustrio - Thanks for letting me know about SLU and Iowa State. I didn’t even know SLU existed. I’ll look into it a bit more. I don’t think materials engineering would be a good fit, since my understanding is that that’s very similar to chemical engineering. She’d be able to “create” new compounds or materials, but I don’t think she’d get the same satisfaction as when she creates tangible things.

@ucbalumnus - Agreed that she needs to move away from focusing so much on prestige. This is why I was describing the kinds of environments she likes and thrives in. Ones where the other students are motivated but not overly focused on competing for the sake of competition. Where she can have a lot of resources to build and create things. Where she doesn’t feel like the only social scene is frat parties. Etc.

Hey, here are my comments on your post. I really have no idea about your High Reach to Safety ranking. Could be, but not really relevant to my point. (I was a little miffed to see you rank my undergrad Alma Mater so low on your list, but uplifted by my Graduate school listed so high).

I’m a 35+ year engineer who had a son just graduate with a engineering like (CS, but much of what I say applies to both CS and Engineering).

I’d go where your student is most comfortable and likes it the best. The classroom experience and the material won’t be materially different. If you want to learn from a researcher, go to a research university. If you want to learn from a professor, go to a smaller school. There is very little difference between the education you’d get a Northwestern as an ME then you’d get at Purdue and an ME (the two schools I know the most about) on your list. The difference might very well be that 4 years at Northwestern will cost you ($65k x4) and four years at Purdue will cost you ($35k x4). For the same degree, looked at the same by employers. Of course Purdue is much bigger and does except some less stellar students on campus, but size does have its advantages. When I recruited at Purdue, the engineering job fair was by far the largest of the schools we visited.

I’m not saying Purdue is where you should go, or any of these listed really. Engineering is not different at the top 100 schools. You’ll get a great job out of any of them as engineers. What matters is the fluff. “I like the greek scene.” “I don’t like the greek scene.” “XMU has a cool Formula One program.” “ZU has an awesome football team.” IF you can get into any engineering program, go to one you will enjoy. You will be successful anywhere, might as well have fun doing it.

BTW, UofM is really in the wrong category. Most definitely the second grouping (what you call Low Reach/High Match) along with Northwestern (sigh) and Cal and Washington et. al. And I’d never consider an Ivy League school for engineering. I just don’t think they have the mass to offer as much as you’d get at a much larger engineering focused school like say Ga Tech, Purdue, UIUC, Wisconsin, UofM, Washington, Berkley, etc.

@BrianBoiler Didn’t mean to cause offense about where I put the schools. :slight_smile: I was mostly categorizing them based on their admission rate. Purdue’s common data set reports that in '19-20, they accepted 66% of female applicants. Like I said to @ucbalumnus, there may very well be a separate admissions rate for their engineering department. And FWIW, the main reason it’s on this list is that I used to work with a really talented engineer who got his degree at Purdue. :slight_smile:

Agreed that the “fluff” stuff is really important, which is why I spent a lot of time talking about her likes and dislikes. I don’t think she’ll like the greek scene. She won’t care at all about football, and if it’s a big part of the campus culture, she will probably grow to resent it.

In another post I shared my son’s experience. He chose to go to UMD for various reasons to study CS. He wasn’t very happy, but stuck it out and ended up getting a job in the middle of COVID right after graduation this past May. He looked at rankings and that drove his search. After he started he stated many times he wished he’d have applied to Purdue. If I can figure out how to link, his story is similar to your daughters as far as application qualifications.

Thanks! I’ll read through your son’s story. I’m definitely hoping my daughter doesn’t feel like she just has to “stick it out” to get through college. I’m hoping she can find a place she really enjoys!

But every school you named (maybe not BU?) has Greek life and sports are a big part of the school. Stanford is pretty big in both. Even Harvard and Yale have Greeks and some sports (Hockey, lacrosse, crew) that draw a crowd. Can she find other things to do? Sure, but the stereotypical college life stuff is there.

I say don’t let that influence her decision. It’s there, so just accept it and find other things that interest her to attract her to the school.

Rochester has Greek but it doesn’t dominate. Sports are not a big part of the school either. Seems as far as fit that may be a good one to keep on the list.

Biased, as my daughter is a sophomore ME student there, but Rice sounds like a great fit for her! They have a minor in Engineering Design (my daughter is considering it - she sounds similar to yours but without the artsy side).

DD also considered Northwestern - I loved that all freshman have to take an engineering design course (it’s optional at Rice). And we know a professor in the engineering design department (Segal Design Institute) so I know it’s a good program.

Wash U was up there for her as well. She applied ED at Rice (father is an alum) and never looked back!

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is another good large state university to consider - great engineering school. In-state for our daughter - I made her apply.

Northeastern was on her list as well although she never found out whether or not she was accepted (had to withdraw her application with the ED acceptance at Rice). They have a great co-op program.

As for your daughter’s reaches (Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Rice, Duke, Cornell, Penn, Northwestern) - I understand Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Columbia and Cornell - but Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Penn don’t make sense to me for someone interested in engineering. (Besides, 6 Ivy’s is too many - and they are all different - which would be best fit for her?) CMU probably fits here as well.

Any out of state engineering school (Michigan, Berkeley, Purdue (?), UCLA, UIUC) is going to be a reach - some admit by major (as opposed to the School of Engineering) so be aware of that if she is not certain of which engineering discipline - and it can be hard to switch majors. Wisconsin has a progression requirements (GPA and courses completed) in their engineering school.

UCLA - you can determine her UC GPA ( - I couldn’t dig it up quickly but I think there are statistics on what percentage of applicants are admitted based on UC GPA (not sure if engineering specifically).

Not to add to the reach list but have you considered Harvey Mudd or the Olin School of Engineering (my DD thought both were too small for her).

Good luck to your daughter!

Ferris State? Grand Valley State? I believe they have product design engineering.

Purdue admits by college. The overall University acceptance rate is not representative of CoE or CS. Definitely not a safety, especially for an OOS applicant. Many of the big state school engineering powerhouses are like that so you need to look for admission rates for engineering and for OOS applicants.

The vast majority of your list is various levels of reach. UT, UM are extremely competitive for OOS applicants. Definitely not a match.

So many of the schools on the list are not strong in engineering. Of the Ivies, Cornell is the strongest for engineering but is not the collaborative/friendly non competitive vibe your D is seeking (Cornell grad here, married to a Cornell engineer and very involved as an alumna).

A safety is a school where your D will absolutely without a doubt be accepted. For us, we defined that as 70% acceptance rate+ along with being over the 75th percentile for scores/grades. Safeties have to be a sure thing otherwise they aren’t safeties. My D’s engineering safeties were Clarkson U and a regional university.

Lastly, college admission is not a race for the most APs.

I can recommend colleges to screen, but most of them in your Ds seeming capability range will likely have a competitive student body, whatever the veneer.

IMO OP will have challenges to fully meet all objectives:

  • she wants to be around people of her ability and work ethic.
    -Culturally, she would like a collaborative/friendly rather than competitive student body.
    -“Right now she’s thinking of majoring in engineering.”

The brightest students typically want the best future destinations for themselves, and in many cases that means getting good grades. At most engineering programs many lower level (at least) courses are curved, so not everybody will get good grades. So however touchy-feely and collaborative it may seem, there is an inherent underlying level of competition, which will likely be tougher the smarter the student body is.

As for Purdue engineering, data can be found here

It shows for 2018 Purdue Engineering accepted 9,773 out of 18,901 applicants, which is a 52% admit rate. Of course this does not isolate out of state applicants.

Engineering class ACT scores 25%-75% range was math 29-34, Comp 30-33

I don’t know how “collaborative and friendly” it may seem there, but if I read the table
“Retention and Graduation Rates By Academic College” from here
correctly, only 68.7% of the engineering class of 2013 graduated from the engineering college within 6 years.

I normally agree with @momofboiler1, but I tend to disagree with this blanket statement. If most of your classmates are loading up on APs, I think you have to show that you did as well. It will be reported in the school report and schools (especially the tippy tops) do look that you took a compatible schedule with your peers. If the school has done a good job of limiting the AP bonanza, then she is correct. But at my kids school it was a free-for-all and all of my kids ended up taking a full AP slate. The guidance counselors every year would stand up in front of us parents and say things like, only take the APs you are interested in and 4-5 over your HS career should be what you shoot for. As we walk out of the auditorium, my kids would say something like “yeah, they have to say that but everyone knows that you need more if you want to be Valedictorian or even top 10.” “They also say they don’t publish class rank, but if you ask they can tell you.”

So, I’m in the camp that believes that what college you go to does matter even for engineering. More precisely, what engineering program you enroll in is what really matters . It seems like your D has a nice list of what she wants in a school and she appears to be academically qualified to apply to any.

While @monydad feels that her wants objectives are at odds I don not.

I think she can reach her objectives at several schools, and I do think (from experience) that Stanford is one such school. Hard to get in, but Product Design major sounds like a good match as would any engineering degree where she can include classes from the Stanford D School to quench her arts desires.

Level of competition can depend on whether there is a secondary admission process later to get into specific majors (e.g. at Purdue, Texas A&M, NCSU, Washington, and some other colleges with first year engineering programs) or where there is a weed-out process requiring high college GPA (Wisconsin). Competition for grades may also be increased in biomedical engineering, due to the larger number of pre-meds there.

However, the OP was looking for match or safety suggestions. Stanford would not be a match or safety.

When my son was looking at colleges, Stevens Institute of Technology was very appealing. Beautiful campus, potential for merit aid, and a great location just across the river from Manhattan. Ivy’s weren’t really considered given his focus on mech E. Personally, unless you have a hook, I think applying to Stanford is a waste of time and application fee.