Purdue vs. Olin vs. UCD for Aerospace or Mechanical Engineering

My son has been admitted to several schools, including Purdue (honors college), Olin, UCD, RPI, Cal Poly SLO, SCU, and Rose-Hulman for Aerospace or Mechanical Engineering. We are thrilled to have such great options.

However, we are now faced with the difficult decision of selecting the best university for him. About the estimated family contribution, Olin has offered the most generous financial aid package, with us only paying about $10k. UCD is the second cheapest at $13k, followed by Purdue at $19k, and Cal Poly at $25k. All other options are over $40k.

While Purdue has a strong and high-ranking Aerospace Engineering program, my son is interested in the smaller, tight-knit community that Olin offers. He believes he would thrive in an environment with more connection to his professors, but we are not sure whether it is too small for a university though. UC Davis is pretty close to our home, but it is also a big school.

We are also considering research and internship opportunities, as well as job placement rates among these universities. If possible, we would greatly appreciate your knowledge and opinions on these factors.

My son too wanted smaller classes and a tight knit community. After visiting, he felt Olin was just too small. RPI didn’t resonate, even though he was a Rensselaer Medalist. Rose is in Terre Haute and has a rough M:F ratio. He didn’t apply to any of the UCs figuring if he wanted the big lecture experience, he’d just stay in Oregon.

Cal Poly was the best fit for him. They have the facilities of a big program, but classes are small and collaborative. Calculus for example is capped at 35. There’s lots of opportunity for hands on learning in labs, clubs and with senior project. He stayed for his MS and is now almost 4 years in the workforce. Feel free to PM me with question.

I have a daughter graduating from Purdue engineering honors this year. It’s been an amazing program and really makes a large school feel smaller. The aero department and facilities here are amazing. My D is a Chem E but currently working on a materials project for Lockheed. She did some shadowing back in the day for NASA and when she introduced herself at a meeting with the site senior leadership, half the room yelled “Boiler Up” when she said she was heading to Purdue.

I’m happy to answer any Purdue specific questions you may have.


Wow - great list but different.

Has he been to Olin ? It’s a focus school whereas yes the others are bigger but also part of a larger university that will have sports, Greek life etc. but it doesn’t mean he can’t get a personal touch.

If he’s been to Olin and it feels right, then great. If not he needs to go see it.

The four you listed are wonderful in their own way. You can check average class size for each.

Connecting with professors is up to the students. If they make the effort, it can and does happen anywhere.

Olin can let him know where they place kids. My son interned with an Olin student last summer. Transferred there from WPI.

Good luck. What you can afford and fits best for him is best. But you can’t decide fit without seeing or you could make a mistake, even from day 1.

Best of luck.

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I so agree: students can make strong connections with professors even at large institutions. I teach at a Big 10 (not Purdue) and have many fantastic relationships with students past and present.

You’re right that it is up to the students, though, especially at a big institution. The student will have to make the effort and take initiative. That said, it’s doesn’t always require a massive amount of effort (at least in my case). If a student visited my office hours twice in a semester, that would really stand out to me and I’d know them better than the majority. Raising a hand in class and participating is another way to connect with professors (in sometimes meaningful ways). I’ve also done independent studies one-on-one with undergraduate students, and I’ve hired many as research assistants.

Best of luck to you - these are great options.

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My child is making a very similar choice!!

The projects and teams the Olin students are on are very impressive. And my kid really does well with project based learning. Not a great lover of the exams that are a staple at a big university.

But Purdue is… Purdue. Powerhouse engineering, and kid is honors college as well so it wouldn’t feel as big. The path there is more clearly laid out vs more depending on the student at Olin.

We are diving into curriculum this weekend to compare.

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