The Many Benefits of Studying Engineering at a STEM-Focused School

Written by CIT Consultant Lessa Scherrer

Engineering is a popular major for many reasons. The opportunity to build something new or improve upon existing products, machines, or infrastructure draws students, as do sunny employment outlooks and higher-than-average beginning salaries. Many state universities do engineering well, but studying engineering at STEM-focused schools like Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) or the Colorado School of Mines (Mines) instead of a large state school like the University of Minnesota or Purdue University can offer several unique benefits:

  1. Specialized Focus: Institutions like RIT and Mines strongly focus on engineering and technology-related fields. This specialization can lead to more tailored and focused programs, such as metallurgy or mining engineering, allowing students to delve deeper into their engineering disciplines. It may also be easier for techy kids to find their tribe at a school where everyone has that same devotion.
  2. Smaller Class Sizes: Compared to large state schools, STEM-focused schools typically have smaller classes. This can foster more personalized attention from professors, greater opportunities for collaboration, and a tighter-knit community among engineering students. In addition, a smaller campus offers more opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research. For example, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) offers undergraduate research opportunities year-round, not only in the summer.
  3. Hands-on Learning: STEM schools emphasize hands-on learning experiences. They often have well-equipped labs, research facilities, and opportunities for internships and co-op programs, which can provide valuable practical skills and industry experience. Some schools like RIT also incorporate study abroad as part of their curriculum. Worcester Polytechnic Institute outside of Boston is known for its project-based learning focus. Known as the WPI Plan, this focus allows students to engage with real-life projects and develop innovative solutions while learning to work in teams as they will in industry.
  4. Strong Industry Connections: These institutions often have strong connections with industry partners, leading to internship opportunities, research collaborations, and potential job placements upon graduation. The proximity to major tech hubs facilitates networking and career advancement. Even schools outside of traditional tech hubs can have massive recruiting networks. The South Dakota School of Mining and Technology boasts more than 220 companies recruiting at each of their twice-yearly job fairs.
  5. Emphasis on Innovation and Research: STEM schools are known for their emphasis on innovation and research. For example, team projects, competitions, and maker spaces abound at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a STEM-focused college in Indiana. Students may have the chance to work on cutting-edge projects, participate in research initiatives, and collaborate with faculty members who are leaders in their fields.
  6. Robust Alumni Network: STEM schools’ fantastic job placement rates create extensive alumni networks that can offer students and recent graduates valuable resources, mentorship, and career support. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have recently been recognized for the size and quality of their alumni networks. These networks can be beneficial in finding job opportunities and advancing one’s career.

While large state schools like the University of Minnesota or Purdue also offer vital engineering programs and have their own set of advantages, such as diverse campus life, extensive resources, and a wide range of academic offerings, students who prefer a more specialized, hands-on, and tightly-knit learning environment may find STEM schools more suitable for their engineering education. Ultimately, the choice depends on individual preferences, career goals, and learning styles.