What is ABET accreditation and does it matter?

Written by CIT Consultant Marit Lunstad

I’m thinking about declaring engineering as my college major. . What is ABET accreditation, and why do I care? To what extent should accreditation factor into my decision making, as I construct my college list?

Let’s begin with the question of what accreditation is. Accreditation is, essentially, a seal of approval for the school or program indicating that it is meeting a standard. Most colleges pursue a basic accreditation that enables their students to receive federal financial aid. At the graduate education level, medical and law schools are accredited because students who go there want to make sure they can pass their boards or bar exam and competently practice medicine or law.

So why are engineering programs accredited? Put simply, it’s because we want the cars we drive, the bridges we drive over and the buildings we live in to, well, not fail catastrophically! ABET is the nonprofit organization that helps ensure this. They accredit over 4500 programs in 42 countries that educate the engineers who design the infrastructure we all rely on every day. 

How does ABET accreditation work? It works by accrediting each engineering program at each school individually. In other words, each engineering program — chemical, mechanical, electrical, etc — is evaluated on its own merits. And graduating from an ABET-accredited program opens doors:

  • It indicates that your education meets a global standard for engineers.
  • It supports your licensure, registration and certification as a professional engineer.
  • It opens scholarship programs.
  • Follow this link for more details.

Is it hard to find an ABET-accredited program? No, not really. With over 4,500 programs to choose from around the world and a searchable database, it’s just a matter of looking for it. And schools are not shy about sharing this information with you in some detail

Do I need to go to a program that is ABET-accredited? Maybe. Some elite institutions have a reputation and approach that is effective but not aligned with ABET philosophy for a particular discipline. Some programs are too new to be accredited, but will probably be before you graduate. And, depending on your career aspirations, licensure and accreditation may be less important than other educational and career goals. 

A misplaced, comma or an inapt simile might, like an angry panda, be painful to read. But nobody gets hurt. On the other hand, if you want to pursue engineering — if you want to be one of the people designing things that make people’s lives better if done correctly but put those same lives at risk if not — ABET accreditation may be an important piece of your educational and career path. Ask your College Inside Track consultant if you are not certain.