Most of you (especially considering you are all in FIRST!) will begin the process of looking at schools and determining what college is right for you. Whether you’re going to an engineering school or not, take a look at the questions below to help you in choosing between schools. I’ve broken down these questions into general college questions and engineering specific questions, but everything below may be applicable to your college search. Good luck!
General College Questions
1. What is your “circle”?
For everyone, there is a radius of how far away from home you are willing to travel for college. Before you make that list of what schools to apply to as a senior, start by asking yourself how far you’re willing to travel EVERY year for four years or more years. Are you comfortable traveling across the country, or are you more comfortable with an hour long drive? By creating this boundary for yourself, you will be able to more easily eliminate schools that are “outside of the circle” and focus on the ones that are in the right area.
2. Are you interested in suburban, urban, or rural schools?
While this may seem like a trivial question, many students are still unsure of the answer to this question even during the application process! What’s the best way to figure out this answer- pick three schools that are close to where you live (even if you don’t plan on going there…but if you do, BONUS!) This will give you the exposure to what being a student in each of these environments is like, as they truly are different.
3. Are you looking for a certain atmosphere in a school: i.e. athletic teams to root for, theatre shows to watch, a political charged campus?
Clearly every school is different, but is there an aspect from you high school that you loved (or was missing) that you would like to see in your college? For example, I really wanted a team to root for, as my high school didn’t have a lot of school spirit; so I looked at schools that had football or basketball teams and tons of school spirit. In contrast, my sister, who is also a FIRST alumnae, was more interested in schools with great theatre departments, as that’s what she participated in in high school and wanted to continue with in college.
4. Is the presence of Greek Life important to you?
Not every school has Greek Life (fraternities and sororities) on campus. What’s more confusing, is that not all schools allow fraternities and sororities to have housing on campus. This information will most likely be available on the school website. When in doubt, contact the college.
5. If you do know what you want to major in- what schools excel in that department?
If you’ve already chosen your major, keep some things in mind. For starters, I highly recommend not applying to a technical college if you plan on going to business school or being a liberal arts major. While these schools may say otherwise, keep in mind that the college was designed majors other than your own so there’s the potential that you may not get as much attention as you’d get at other schools. Instead, check out colleges where the department has received awards or the professors are the top in their field. Check with the guidance department at your school or use a “best of” college book, where you can often find the best schools for biology majors, the best schools for math majors, the best schools for english majors, etc. Also remember that there’s a difference between a “top prof” and a professor that actually teaches, as not all professors teach, but instead they have a teaching assistant teach the class or the break out sessions while the professor focuses on research. This information can usually be found on the college website and of course, those “best of” college books.
6. What is the housing situation for the school?
Not all housing is equal. For example, at some schools freshman are put on their own campus. I happen to know of one college that puts freshman on a campus a few MILES away from the main campus of the school. Some colleges do not provide housing for juniors, as they assume that most junior students chose to study abroad that year and will not need campus housing. Most common is for schools to not provide on campus housing to seniors.
While it is rare nowadays to receive four years of on campus housing from your college, it is still out there. Most commonly it is given to students who have received particular scholarships, students that are varsity athletes, or students who may have a special major. Be sure to check the campus housing and residence life sections of the website for any schools you may be looking at. There you’ll be able to find if housing is available for students all four years. If it is not- check to see if the school supports students in finding suitable off-campus housing or has “university approved” housing options.
Engineering/ Computer Science Specific Questions
1. Is the school ABET accredited?
I can not emphasize the importance of this enough: you MUST GO TO AN ABET ACCREDITED SCHOOL! ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) is in charge of accrediting all of the engineering and computer science schools in the country. Why is this important? Employers will only hire engineering and computer science majors if they’ve attended an ABET accredited program or school. So don’t waste your time and money, and go to an ABET school!
2. What is the male/female ratio?
Current engineering schools have a class that is between 18% and 21% female. This sounds intimidating until it is broken down into each of the disciplines. This ratio usually gets closer to 50/50 when looking at popular majors such as Chemical or Civil Engineering, and get be skewed to 90/10 when looking at majors such as Electrical or Computer Engineering. Keep in mind that this male to female ratio changes from school to school, as well as from year to year based on the students! However, if being the only girl in your class is an important factor or may influence your decision, bring this point up at a campus tour or contact the university. No one can answer this question better than a student who is currently in that class or a professor who is teaching it.
3. What is the student return percentage?
This may be the most important question in this section. If the students aren’t returning after freshman year, then you don’t want to be there. Also keep in mind that there’s a difference between returning to the engineering school and returning to the university. After freshman year, some students decide that engineering is not the right choice for them and they switch majors to sciences, maths, business, etc. While these students have not left the university, they have left the engineering department, and as an engineering major you need to be in an environment where people want to be there.
4. What type of schools are you looking at?
For engineers, there are two types of schools: technical schools and liberal arts schools. At a technical school, the emphasis is on technical majors (duh), however at a liberal arts school there are many more directions to go. An important thing to take into consideration is if you DO decide to change your mind and leave engineering. If you’re at a technical school, it may be difficult to find a major at that college that you’re interested it and transferring to a different university may be the only option. At a liberal arts college, there is much more freedom to change majors and switch departments within the university.
Another thing to keep in mind is the type of activities that will be available at the school. At a liberal arts school, there will most likely be a plethora of extracurriculars outside of engineering that will allow you meet other students and become involved. However, at a technical school, as most of the students are on the same wavelength, many of the extracurriculars are likely to have the same technical undertones.
5. Is there a freshman curriculum?
Many universities are now implementing a freshman curriculum for either the first semester or the first year for freshman. Take a look at these different programs: How are they designed? Do any of the projects sound interesting? Does the curriculum allow students to have an introduction to more than one engineering discipline? The entire purpose of the freshman curriculum is to allow students to have exposure to disciplines that they may not have been and to gain a very basic knowledge of what engineering and the engineering process is. Be sure to learn as much about this class as you can as it will lay the foundation of your engineering career.
6. What majors are offered?
**** Not all majors are offered at all engineering schools*****
If you are interested in Aerospace or Industrial engineering as your major for example, your list of schools is going to be much smaller than someone who is interested in Mechanical or Electrical Engineering, which is offered at almost every school across the country. Check on the school’s website to see if your desired major if offered. Keep in mind that some popular majors may be offered as minors, dual degrees or as masters degrees.
These are just a few questions to help you begin your list of schools and start off your college search. Best of luck to all!!
This blog was written by Michelle Parziale. If you are interested in blogging for blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.