Purdue vs SLO vs GA Tech vs CU Boulder vs U of Maryland vs UW for Aerospace Engineering

My son is down to the wire for deciding on which college to accept! We are in Boulder, CO, he’s our only child, and we’re not getting any financial aid. He wants to major in AE and has been accepted directly as first year AE at Cal Poly SLO, CU Boulder, Georgia Tech, U of Maryland. He’s been accepted into engineering (can apply for AE only in 2nd year) at Purdue and U of Washington. He’s considering a Bachelor’s/Master’s combined/accelerated program as well as great co-ops and study aboard oppty.

To narrow the list, we are prioritizing reputation/prestige, quality of education, collaborative and inclusive culture, diversity of student interests (meaning lots of different students w/ varied majors), well balanced, well rounded and healthy environment, opportunities for outdoor activities, as well as the risk of not getting into first choice AE program. His secondary choice would be ME, Comp Sci, or Physics.

Here’s my ranking:
#1 - Cal Poly SLO
Pros: Fairly even ratio of male/female, beautiful location close to outdoor activities, great weather, learn by doing model, focus on undergrad teaching, smart but fun loving student body, friendly and collaborative culture, SLO is like a mini Boulder next to the sea.
Cons: not as well known, low ethnic diversity, far from major city, small or no grad programs - will this limit opportunities (???)), difficulty in changing majors.
#2 - Purdue
Pros: global reputation, great facilities, engineering centric, diversity, friendly, collaborative
Cons: risk not getting into AE, middle of nowhere, boring town, very midwest sensibilities, Midwest weather)
#3 - CU Boulder
Pros: support system close by, logistics are easy, most affordable option (instate), lots of outdoor activities, Boulder is beautiful, sunny and very fun.
Cons: too close to home so it feels like he’s just continuing HS, less prestigious, engineering is separated from main campus and not the main draw, engineering majors (aside from AE) is as well regarded, big party school, little ethnic diversity, big univ bureaucracy.
#4 - Georgia Tech
Pros: reputation, in major city (food, culture, diversity)
Cons: high unhealthy stress, lack of balance, tough grading, prestigious level coursework without the prestigious name and recognition), focus on research rather than teaching, lack of females and diversity of interests), very nerdy student body, dorms and food rates low.
#5 - U of Washington
Cons: very competitive, unfriendly, dreary weather
#6- U of Maryland
This was a safety school and haven’t done much research.

Very curious about your thoughts. Any other factors we should consider? Agree/Disagree???

First, to be totally honest - none of these schools have a global reputation. Very few US schools are well known around the world - some of the Ivys, MIT and Stanford. Certainly not Purdue - which is no doubt an excellent school, but just not as world famous as you might think (if that’s an important criteria). These are all very good schools and global reputation shouldn’t really guide your selection unless your son plans to work overseas after graduation.

Second, I’m a bit amused to see you call Maryland, which is rated #13 best school in the country for AE by USNWR a “safety school”, but then you did say you don’t know much about it :slight_smile:

I think you will find that at all these schools. Maybe a tad less at GT based on anecdata, but not enough to be concerning.

CalPoly and GT are more “STEMy” - is he looking to pursue interests outside AE?

What is the cost to you at each of these schools?
What else is important? Weather? Sports?


Congrats on your son getting into some great schools! My son is also interested in pursuing aerospace engineering, and Cal Poly was his top choice, but he got waitlisted there. Now, he’s choosing between UC Davis and U of Md. (both direct admit to major). He also got into Auburn (aerospace) and Michigan State (physics) with scholarships and Cal Poly Pomona (aerospace), but has narrowed it down to UCD and UMD. I agree with your listing with the caveat that I would put Md above WA (and maybe a few of the others, although it is really a personal decision). One of the Md advantages is being so close to NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Lots of opportunities there for internships great diversity, the kids are generally friendly and collaborative. But if it is bottom of the list, probably not worth too much explanation. With your admissions list, my son would definitely choose SLO!

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CU Boulder instate for AE sounds like a great opportunity to have. It does not need to seem like “high school” unless you let it.
What is the budget? What does he prefer?


This was my response to him as well. He’s itching to stretch his legs and see a bit more of the world. On the other hand, if AE is as tough a major as others say, it may be good to have the local support system when the stress levels get high. CU is definitely the most affordable option and the “safest” choice. Instate cost will be around $40K.


At colleges where aerospace engineering is “full” and requires more competitive frosh admission or secondary admission, mechanical engineering or computer science is likely to be in the same situation where getting into the major is more competitive.

Physics is less likely to be a competitive major to get into, although it is different in nature from engineering, and can be intellectually difficult.

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Also, have you visited all these campuses and seen the facilities? Attended admitted student days?

He’s leaning towards GT because of the prestige and reputation (despite my advice) but it’s not a sure thing since he wants the full big college experience. No financial aid or scholarships at this time for any of the schools so full OOS tuition for us. Luckily, it’s not a big factor for us.

We went to CU and Purdue admitted days and a Cal Poly tour. Need to still visit GT and U of MD.

I’m grabbing this to respond to later, but GT and Cal Poly are quite different. Roughly 25% of Cal Poly students are engineers. They have an Ag school B school and a host of other options.


D21 is in the “Ag college” at Cal Poly and “Ag” students represent about another 25%-ish of students at SLO.

Yes, I strongly recommend visiting before committing to a school. It’s important to see the campus, surrounding areas, engineering department facilities and “feel the vibe” of the student body. Sit in a class if you get a chance.

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@cara_baer Good luck to your son too! Sounds like we need to look into MD more. That’s might be a good all around choice.

Cal Poly offers 4+1 Masters programs for various majors including Aerospace.

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Not sure what diversity you are referring to at Purdue, but its ethnic diversity is somewhat similar to CU Boulder or CPSLO, and all three of these schools have only 14% of undergraduates on Pell grants (i.e. students from the bottom 40-50% family income range are significantly underrepresented).

The main difference in ethnic diversity is that CU Boulder’s second largest ethnic group is Hispanic / Latino, versus Asian at the other two.

All three schools have a wide range of majors, so they have more diversity on that front than schools like Georgia Tech.

Agreed! We’re trying to fit these in before the deadlines!

As for Cal Poly and GT, yes they are very different despite both being STEM-y. I like the diversity of interests at Cal Poly. They seem a bit more laid back, outdoorsy, and fun loving which I think will fit my son’s personality better. Maybe I have a bad impression of GT but they do seem to fit the STEM stereotype.

@uclalumnus Purdue seems to have more out of state and international students than the other options. Not true?

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Yes, this is true at Purdue.

Per Purdue, 96.7% of students got their first choice major from FYE so I would not worry about that “con”.

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

Boiler Up (Cradle of Astronauts :wink:)

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Yes from your list I believe Purdue does have the highest number of OOS+intl students (57%). But since you also mentioned gender diversity, it’s a bit off at 57-43 M/F. Not as bad as GT (61-39). On the other hand, CalPoly SLO and UMD gender ratios are close to 50-50.

quality of education - how are you quantifying this?

All these schools are great - as are many many others. Find the right fit!!

Oh, and UMD Engineering is not a safety for anyone - but your kid must be super bright.

What you want is ABET - and a good environment for your kid.

That’s it.

Good environment might mean campus, weather, class size, semester type (quarter, semester), nice dorms, facilities, certain clubs, etc.

For my kid, it was the dorm. At Alabama he got his own dorm room and turned down Purdue with merit. He did just fine job wise.

Co-op - all schools offer co op - or have access. Purdue has a formal program from what I read but you can co op anywhere. Schools have listings, co op admins, etc.

Study abroad is harder for engineering - it can be done. I believe Ga Tech has a campus in France that’s integrated.

Love your ranking - you’re the first one ever to put CU (great school by the way) ahead of Ga Tech in engineering.

Frankly, any of these schools - and numerous others - would be great for AE - as long as they’re ABET. Prestige is - but what a magazine brainwashed people with.

btw - you can do equally as well in an aerospace career with an MechE major - and honestly, have more flexibility.

I’ve said it too many times - but my son wanted to be in automotive - roomed with two Ga Tech kids during the summer. He was invited back. They weren’t.

He’ll be working in aero - had 5 offers in the Fall, two in aero.

His school is a lot less “prestigious” then any school on the list.

Find the right fit - where does he feel best!! And that you can afford.

That’s the right school - not the one you rank highest.

Best of luck.