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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Top Undergraduate Engineering Schools On The East Coast

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If you are looking for facts and statistics on the top engineering colleges on the Eastern Coast of the United States, I have those for you. What’s more? I know the college search can be intense and confusing at times. That is why I also have a personal story to share of my daughter’s journey to select the best engineering school for her. I will also include information about our campus tour visits to some of best engineering schools in the northeast. I hope hearing this first hand information will be helpful to other parents and students in selecting from top undergraduate engineering schools.

The Process Of Selecting The Best Engineering Colleges And Universities

When it comes time to select the perfect university, people usually ask some very general questions to start narrowing down the pool:

  • What size school do you want?
  • Public or Private?
  • What geographical area?
  • Big city or not?

I imagine that for some people these questions can really help them start to eliminate certain colleges. For my daughter, not so much. She was primarily interested in going to a “good engineering school”. The answer to those above listed questions were not really clear to her. So help her gain more insight into what these choices really mean, I planned a few college visits so she could see and compare with her own eyes.

We live in Nashville, Tennessee. So first we started with schools within a reasonable road trip distance. She had heard good things about Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. So her junior year, we kicked off the college visits over her fall break with a quick trip up to Rose-Hulman (small student body-2K, private, tiny town). While we were planning that I threw in a stop at Purdue University, West Lafayette campus (large student body-37K, public, small city). I also added a stop at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (large student body-35K, public, large city). These three universities were all close to each other, had very highly ranked engineering departments, and provided her with 3 different campuses to compare and learn from.

After this trip she began to have a much more clear idea of what appealed to her and what didn’t. She liked Rose-Hulman as she thought she would but didn’t know if a small town/ small campus was really up her alley. She absolutely loved Purdue which we were all shocked about. I thought it would be much too big but it had a nice centralized campus that made it feel smaller and more welcoming. She was not a fan of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and how integrated it was with the city. It felt sprawling and much less personal to her. This was good information for us to use as a jumping off point.

Top Engineering Colleges- Boston University Campus
Boston University Campus

List of Top Engineering Colleges On The East Coast

Next, we made a list of top engineering colleges. I know that college rankings systems should certainly not be the only source of information but they do help give you a pretty good overall picture. We used U.S. News And World Report rankings which use peer assessment score, employer recruiter, assessment score, faculty resources, and research activity among other factors. We used the 2022 data.

First, I looked up our state university’s engineering program because your in-state tuition is going to be the most affordable. I thought of this as her financial aid safety school. For us, that school is University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I was happy to see they have a very good rating (#62). We visited the campus and it was very welcoming and inviting. So I set this as the bar for all other schools she would apply to. She has excellent grades and excellent ACT scores as well as strong extracurricular involvement. Because of this, I figured her selections for colleges to apply to should probably exceed the ranking of her safety school.

Then you could assume that 61 other schools would still be on her list so we began to narrow that down. I told her to go through and the list and just cross off ones that she knew didn’t really interest her and circle ones that she knew she wanted to learn more about. It turns out almost all of top engineering colleges she chose were on the East Coast. As someone who grew up in New England myself, I understood the draw. She was briefly considering Stanford University and University of Colorado–Boulder, but they came off the list for various reasons.

In this initial part of the list making, I told her not to consider tuition costs. This is because they are so hard to predict before you fill out the FAFSA and get a general idea of your EFC and before you do in depth research on financial and merit aid at each school.

Best Engineering Schools
Collect important stats on Engineering Schools to help you refine your list.

The Best Engineering Schools In The Eastern United States

The colleges listed below combine the U.S. News World Report rankings I referenced in the section above as well as her own personal preferences based on geography as well as other personal opinions. For example, Columbia University (#13 tie) and New York University (#33) were eliminated because she knew that NYC was too big of a city for her. I mention them here though in case you want to add them to your list.

  • #1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • #4 Carnegie Mellon University
  • #4 Purdue University–West Lafayette (tie)
  • #7 Georgia Institute of Technology (AKA Georgia Tech)
  • #9 University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
  • #13 Cornell University
  • #16 John Hopkins University
  • #18 Northwestern University
  • #18 University of Pennsylvania
  • #20 Princeton
  • #21 Harvard University
  • #21 University of Maryland–College Park (tie)
  • #24 Duke University
  • #26 North Carolina State University
  • #27 Rice University (Ok, so Texas is not exactly on the eastern side of the United States but has its own appeal and isn’t too far away.)
  • #30 Ohio State University
  • #30 Virginia Tech (tie)
  • #32 Pennsylvania State University–University Park
  • #33 Northeastern University
  • #35 Boston University
  • #37 University of Virginia
  • #38 Yale University
  • #40 Arizona State University
  • #41 University of Florida
  • #43 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • #43 Vanderbilt University (tie)
  • #45 Case Western University
  • #45 University of Delaware (tie)
  • #45 University of Rochester (tie)
  • #48 Iowa State University
  • #48 Dayton University (tie)
  • #48 University of Notre Dame (tie)
  • #48 University of Pittsburg (tie)
  • #48 Washington University in St. Louis (tie)
  • #53 Brown University
  • #53 Dartmouth University (tie)

That list of 35 engineering schools was our starting point. You may want to consider if your child is positive they are interested in engineering or it if would be better to choose a liberal arts school that leaves the option open to pursue other interests.

She then did research on the type of engineering programs offered and narrowed them down much further. Knowing what type of engineering degree you may want makes it easy to eliminate some schools because they don’t all off the same choices (civil engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, computer engineering, petroleum engineering, electrical engineering, nuclear engineering, materials engineering, environmental engineering, aerospace engineering, or biological engineering). The best undergraduate engineering programs can also differ by degree programs they have. For example some schools may offer only bachelor’s degrees while others (like Northeastern) may offer PlusOne programs that allow undergraduate students to earn a Master’s degree with as little as one year of additional study.

Finally, after doing the FAFSA and researching financial aid and merit information for each school, we narrowed it down even more. As I mentioned rankings aren’t everything and she added two additional schools to her list that she liked.

Visiting The Best Engineering Schools In The Northeast

With the list reduced to about 15 schools, I could see that visiting Boston would allow us to tour several college campuses at once. Therefore I planned a college tour trip to help her get a more realistic view of both the schools and the city. While we were going up to visit Boston, I added a few more of the best engineering schools in the northeast to our itinerary so make sure we got the most for our money.

Boston Visit to see engineering colleges and universities
Deciding if Boston would be a good fit.

Campus Tours of Boston’s Top Colleges For Engineering

Sierra had a week off for Fall Break. I planned ahead and found cheap tickets into Boston. We stayed with a college friend and we used public transportation. On our Boston Engineering School itinerary were 5 colleges: MIT, Harvard, Northeastern University, Boston University, and Tufts (#64). I was able to get official tours at 4 out of the 5 university campuses and we did a self-guided tour at the 5th. I suggest you try to book the campus tours as far in advance as possible because they fill up pretty quickly. We visited two campuses in one day when possible. They were all nice campuses and she loved absolutely Boston even though she had feared it would be too big for her.

Harvard Chemical Lab

First we visited Harvard because it was a Sunday and all of their official tours were booked anyway. It was a nice campus and the Harvard Square area of Boston is always bustling.

Northeastern Campus Tour

Then we visited Northeastern on Monday. She really liked it a lot. The campus had a very modern feel and it was fairly compact. Even though you are in a big city, it is a centralized campus so that it feels a bit isolated in a good way. They have Co-ops built into their academic study. She loved the idea of all that hands-on research and learning.

MIT Campus
MIT Campus

On Tuesday we started out with MIT. As we toured the campus, she was impressed with the UROP opportunities that her tour guide spoke about. The MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program gives students the chance to work with professors on their research projects providing invaluable learning and networking experience. The MISTI program for internships abroad was another very appealing element to my daughter. She felt like she was surrounded by people who had very specific interests and that enjoyed figuring out how things worked. She liked the idea of having found her tribe.

In the afternoon, we toured Boston University. This campus was really beautiful as well and right across the river from MIT. The campus is a bit more integrated with the city and you really feel like you are part of Boston! We also got to tour a Biochemistry lab while we were there thanks to a connection. She absolutely loved getting to see the lab and the research that was being conducted.

On Wednesday we had a Tufts tour scheduled in the morning. It is a beautiful campus and it is located in a northeast direction from Boston. Then we got a rental car and drove about an hour outside of Boston to see Worcester Polytechnic Institute. We couldn’t get a tour because of our timing but we self-toured. It was a cozy New England town with a centralized campus.

Places to eat while you are visiting Boston: Little Whale Oyster Bar, Legal Sea Foods, Eataly, and Time Out Market.

Campus Tour of Rhode Island Top University

Next up on our list was Brown University in Rhode Island (about an hour further). We spent the night in Providence in order to ready for our tour Thursday morning. It provided a nice evening to explore Providence itself and we really enjoyed it.

Brown University

This was Sierra’s favorite campus of all the ones she had been to up to that point. However, she reminded me that the education is not all about how pretty the campus is! Unfortunately, we did not get to go inside the Engineering buildings on the tour and our tour guide was a humanities major. However, he did say that he was sure internship opportunities would be available through the career resources office.

Places to eat while you are visiting Providence: Ocean State Sandwich Company, Blue Room Cafe and Hemenway’s Restaurant.

Campus Tour of New Jersey Top University

Finally, we drove on down to Princeton University in New Jersey. It was about a four and half hour dive. We wouldn’t have added this last leg to the trip if Princeton wasn’t so high up on her list. It was worth the drive!

Princeton University

The campus tour guide was very informative and she made it clear just how many unique opportunities there were at Princeton. The campus was just gorgeous, especially if you love Gothic architecture, and Sierra got a feel for what to expect out of Princeton, NJ as well.

Places to eat while you are visiting Princeton: Rita’s Italian Ice, Nino’s Pizza, and PJ’s Pancake House.

We returned out rental car in Philadelphia and flew home from there. We almost visited Lehigh University before returning our rental but that would have added about another 3 hours to our trip and we were kind worn out by then.

Our engineering colleges New England tour had come to a close and it was so helpful. Even though you can’t visit every single engineering campus, the information you find out at the ones you do visit can help you generalize about various features you like.

How Many Colleges To Apply To?

This college tour visit helped her finalize her list and come up with a list of 9 engineering colleges she would love to attend.

I can see her totally happy at any one of these schools. We chose a final 9 list because you don’t want to pick too many schools and get lost applying (not to mention the fees). You also don’t want to have too few and not have enough options, financially speaking. We mixed in schools with different acceptance rates and merit based scholarships to keep her options open.

Early Action Or Early Decision or Regular Admission

The next thing to consider is how and when to apply to these engineering universities. First, you have to know the definitions the terms early action and early decision and be aware that they can vary slightly at each school. In general, however, most schools use November 1st at the deadline for both Early Action and Early Decision. While early action is non-binding and in most cases not exclusive, early decision is binding and exclusive.

In my mind, that places Early Decision out of the picture for those that are unable to be sure they can afford the tuition costs or even the EFC. That was the case for us. Luckily, Sierra’s first choice is MIT and they have an open Early Action application option. The bonus there is that she was also able to apply to several other schools through early action. She can expect answers back from them by December 15th. Then she can still apply by regular admission to other schools on her list if she so desires.


There are lots of really great engineering colleges and universities in the USA. That is why it can be so hard to pick and narrow your list of best engineering schools for you (or your young adult).

I suggest starting with taking a look at the best public engineering schools that will provide you with in-state tuition. Public universities will usually be the most affordable option and it is always good to have somewhere to start. Then if you have great grades, test scores, and extracurricular involvement, find a few more that seem like reasonable choices as well as a few reach schools. Consider the size of the undergraduate population at each school as well the acceptance rate. Consider the size of the town or city that the school is located in as well as how easily you can get to this campus (by plane, train, bus, and/or car) from where you live.

I hope you enjoyed learning how we chose the best engineering schools located on the East Coast for Sierra. Learning how to plan college visits to include various examples of campus sizes and city sizes is very helpful too. Which of these top undergraduate engineering schools is your child most interested in?

If you have any experience with top engineering colleges as a current student, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be sure to share on social media at @familyfocusblog!

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