A few years ago, in the course of mentoring a student I had interviewed for Brown who ended up at a UC, I put the “ABET” question to an engineering VP who had hired hundreds of people for his mechanical engineering consulting company. I’ll leave his reply unedited, vs trying to mention what might be different in the case of CE:
When my company interviews college graduates, we look for some combination of the following items:
- Reasonable school. Big school with significant engineering department (like UCSD/UCLA/UCSB, or Big 10, or MIT/Cal Tech/Georgia Tech, or similar) preferred.
- Reasonable degree. Mechanical engineering, Engineering Mechanics, Aero/Astro, etc. Also, we look for applicable classes (strength of materials, finite element analysis, CFD, etc.). We're not looking for "Fine Arts" graduates.
- Reasonable grade point average. 3.2 is good, 3.5 or higher is better.
- Something beyond just text book engineering. Did the candidate do any interesting lab courses/contests? Undergrad or graduate research? Or participate in additional activities such as SAE race cars, AIAA design/build/fly contests, etc.
- Any prior experience (jobs, internships)
- Signs of excellence. Deans list, awards, etc.
- Communications skills. Can the person talk? Present? Answer questions? Fit in with other employees? Be able to present to customers?
I think that’s most of it. FWIW, I’m not familiar with ABET (it’s never come up before). I think we’re normally satisfied if a known university (UCSD, etc.) has awarded a diploma.
As to your more general question, I wouldn’t worry too much about the size/reputation of the college regardless of what was said above. If the small school is where you will thrive and do your best work, that will be reflected in things like grades and EC’s which definitely matter.
When I would sort through a bunch of resumes looking for someone to hire, the supposed “prestige” of the college didn’t matter compared to grades, specific courses relevant to what my group did, and enthusiasm for the discipline. The best students will always find ways to set themselves apart… wherever they are.