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The Top 10 Most Underrated Engineering Colleges in the U.S.

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When people talk about choosing a good college, they usually discuss college rankings. Well-known ranking systems by news sources like U.S. News and World Report and Forbes tend to dominate the discussion and shape our perceptions of what makes a certain college worth considering.


However, these allover ranking systems aren’t the be-all and end-all of college research; if you dive into their methodologies, you may find that they don’t place enough emphasis upon the factors that really matter to you. With over 7,000 post-secondary educational institutions operating in the U.S. today, there are a lot of opportunities out there, and some lesser-known schools may be hidden educational gems.


Here at CollegeVine, we’ve been considering a particular category of colleges: those that are underrated, or which haven’t quite received the attention they deserve for the quality and outcomes they provide. In this post, we’ll explain our top ten picks for the most underrated engineering colleges in the country, based on the data we’ve collected from working with over 6,000 aspiring college students. Your future alma mater might be among them.


How We Put This List Together


There are a lot of different ways to approach the task of ranking colleges. For our lists of underrated colleges, we’ve chosen to focus on practical factors, especially those having to do with outcomes for students. A major purpose of getting a college education, after all, is to prepare you for a future career.


With that in mind, we’ve prioritized factors like job placement and salary for graduates when considering these colleges. We’ve asked where graduates find themselves in their careers one year and five years after graduation, and what your return on investment (ROI) is likely to be for each school. We’ve made use of the unique data and insight that CollegeVine has compiled over the years we’ve spent assisting thousands of motivated college applicants.


In our book, an underrated college is one whose prestige and public profile, including its mainstream college rankings, doesn’t truly reflect the value of the education you can receive there. Underrated colleges are often able to produce positive outcomes for students more affordably and with less stressful admissions competition than better-known schools.


For this list, we’ve chosen to look specifically at engineering programs offered by various colleges. (The field of engineering covers subfields like mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering, among others.) This shows another way in which a college can be underrated: when a lower overall ranking or worse outcomes for some majors conceal the fact that a particular program or major within that college actually offers much better results.


The Top 10 Most Underrated Engineering Colleges in the U.S.


1. San Jose State University


San Jose State also appears on our list of The Top 10 Most Underrated Colleges in the U.S., and there’s a good reason for that. This public university in California (where it’s part of the California State University system) offers some of the resources and benefits of much more prestigious schools, but at a lower price and with a more accessible acceptance rate. This is particularly true in engineering fields related to technology.


San Jose State’s location in Silicon Valley means that students enjoy convenient access to the job prospects and cutting-edge innovation in that area of the country. The benefit of this proximity is real, and we’ve found its student outcomes to be very impressive compared to its public profile. While SJSU ranks outside the top 300 in the U.S. News and World Report, their ROI is a respectable top 40.


2. University of Houston


According to our research, the University of Houston’s engineering programs are significantly stronger than its overall rankings would indicate. The school also has connections and other features that make it worth considering for engineering.


Due to its location in Texas, the University of Houston enjoys especially strong connections to the petroleum industry and related companies, making it a particularly good choice for students who are potentially interested in working within that field. (You’ll see that several other colleges on this list are in a similar position.)


However, the overall strength of the University of Houston’s engineering programs, as well as its other STEM offerings, means that even if you’re not interested in working for an oil company, your engineering degree from this college will still benefit you. It also might be a great deal for you financially; the university offers generous merit scholarships, including excellent provisions for students who rank highly in the National Merit Scholarship competition. The University of Houston places 171 in U.S. News, but its career outcomes give it a top 50 ROI.


3. Worcester Polytechnic Institute


Worcester Polytechnic Institute, commonly known as WPI, is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, an hour’s drive or commuter train ride from Boston. In addition to strong engineering programs, we’ve found that it provides solid offerings in business, pre-med, and other STEM fields.


One of WPI’s greatest assets is its proximity to Boston, which has a rich and growing job market in healthcare technology, software development, and other engineering-related fields. WPI may not have the cachet of some other schools in the Boston area, but it still provides engineering students with valuable access to career opportunities. WPI ranks 59 on the U.S. News and World report. According to CollegeVine’s data, WPI produces a top 35 ROI.


4. University of Texas – Austin


UT Austin is the flagship campus of the University of Texas system. While its rank of 49 on the popular U.S. News and World Report shows that it is appreciated for the excellent education it provides in many different fields, our own in-house analysis indicates that it deserves even more recognition than it’s received, particularly in the field of engineering.


One major benefit of attending UT Austin is that the school is exceptionally well-funded, particularly for a public university. In fact, the Texas Tribune just reported that with recent donations, UT Austin has attained the second-largest endowment among universities in the U.S. This healthy budget translates into improved resources for its students. They also benefit from access to burgeoning job markets in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.


While the cost of attendance at UT Austin varies by program and residency status, it’s generally an excellent deal for in-state students, and affordable even for those from out of state. The strong career outcomes that we see among graduates give the university a top 25 ROI.


5. University of Iowa


The University of Iowa provides better results for engineering students than one might think. Its cost of attendance (even for out-of-state students) is on the lower end of the range for Big Ten universities, making it fairly affordable while still providing the resources of a large state university. Its rural location brings with it the advantage of a lower cost of living, so especially if money is tight, it’s definitely an option worth considering.


Chicago, the nearest major city and job market, is around a three hour’s drive from campus, and that’s where many engineering graduates eventually end up. We’ve found that the career and salary prospects for engineering students are quite strong; overall, the university offers a top 25 ROI in this field, despite ranking 89 on the U.S. News and World Report.

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6. Brigham Young University


BYU  is located in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is an up-and-coming area of the country for careers in technology and engineering (it’s sometimes referred to as the “Silicon Slopes”). With various large companies opening offices and facilities in this area, the job market for engineering graduates is promising, placing BYU students in a favorable position to grow connections and start their careers strong.


If you’re interested in BYU, you should know that the university has a strong affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, popularly known as the Mormon church. You don’t have to be Mormon to attend, but members of the church receive a tuition discount, and this affiliation has a significant impact on the campus culture and student life, which could be a positive or a negative for you.


BYU is also quite affordable, even for non-members of the LDS church, whose cost of attendance is only around $25,000 per year. This relatively low cost helps make the school a good deal for the quality of the education it provides. The school places in our top 30 for ROI in engineering. U.S. News ranks it at 66 among national universities.


7. Oklahoma State University, main campus


OSU’s main campus is located in Stillwater, OK. Stillwater is near Oklahoma City, so OSU students benefit from the job market there. It’s also only about a 2.5-hour drive from the larger city of Dallas. Like other schools in the area, it has strong ties to the petroleum industry, and many graduates make use of those opportunities.


If you don’t want to go into the petroleum industry, our research still indicates that OSU is a worthwhile option for students interested in engineering. Regardless of where you eventually end up, this university will provide you with a strong engineering background at the reasonable price of a state institution. OSU ranks 157 in the U.S. News and World Report, but its engineering ROI is in the top 75.


8. Texas Tech University


Texas Tech’s is based in Lubbock, the major population center in the Northwest part of the state. Lubbock may seem isolated, but it’s the second-largest city in West Texas, and its role as a regional hub for a large rural area results in more resources available to students.


Like the University of Houston and Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech’s ties to the petroleum industry are particularly strong, providing opportunities for students who want to pursue that field. Tuition is affordable, the cost of living is low; overall, we’ve found the school to provide top 75 ROI and career outcomes for engineering students. U.S. News ranks the school at 187.


9. University of Texas, El Paso


Another member of the University of Texas system, UT El Paso (also called UTEP) is located in the westernmost corner of Texas. Situated right on the border, it’s part of a larger metropolitan area that includes Ciudad Juárez and Las Cruces in Mexico, making for a community with international ties. It’s also within reach of job markets throughout West Texas and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.


The “underrated” label definitely fits UTEP; while it’s ranked outside the top 300 schools in the country according to U.S. News, our own research at CollegeVine has shown it to offer a top 150 ROI for students looking to become engineers. Like other schools in the area, its engineering program has close ties to the petroleum industry, making it a particularly good choice if you’re looking to enter this field.


10. Virginia Tech


Virginia Tech is located in Blacksburg, Virginia, just a stone’s throw from the job market in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding region—a plus for all graduates, including those in engineering. The school has a respectable ranking of 76 on the U.S. News charts. But based on the top 45 ROI this school offers for its engineering students, we think that traditional rankings understate VT’s quality in the field.


Virginia Tech has the second-largest enrollment in the state, and it’s especially notable for the size and active nature of its research portfolio, which is the largest in Virginia. The university conducts cutting-edge research in fields including engineering, so undergrads might be exposed to some truly innovative avenues for academic work and career opportunities.


Looking for more colleges that might slip under the radar, but offer surprisingly good outcomes for their students? Stay tuned to the CollegeVine blog for more of our series of posts on this topic, starting with our list of The Top 10 Most Underrated Colleges in the U.S.


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.