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Do you want to study engineering at college or university in California? This is an excellent choice! Engineers can look forward to a well-paid and stable career in which they know they are making a constructive difference in the world. California has many of the best engineering schools in the world as well as ample higher education facilities and research opportunities. There is perhaps no better place in the world to study to be an engineer.
In this guide, we will explain how to assess the merits of different colleges, what to expect from your engineering degree, and how to maximize your experience as an undergraduate. We will also discuss the ten best engineering universities in California and their various merits.
What makes a good engineering school?
When applying to engineering school, there are numerous factors that you should consider. There is a wide variety of engineering schools in the state of California and you need to be sure you have researched as much as possible about the different options available to you. The factors that are most important to you will be based on personal considerations, but the following factors are all worth investigation.
Does the school have ABET Accreditation?
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is a non-profit organization that exists as a means of quality control for engineering schools in the United States. Future employers will be much more likely to accept candidates who attended schools with ABET accreditation, so make sure to verify the status of your chosen school before attending.
What work experience and postgraduate career opportunities exist?
You should consider what internship and work experience opportunities will be available at any school you might attend. Some universities prioritize career development more than others. Be sure to establish whether any universities you are considering offer career guidance and job fairs. Consider that schools in urban areas tend to offer greater postgraduate career opportunities than schools in rural areas; however, large public schools tend to be connected to a wider network of resources regardless of their geographic isolation.
What is the tuition and what scholarships and financial aid are available?
Always make sure you can afford the cost of any schools that you are considering attending. In-state tuition tends to be cheaper than out-of-state tuition, so if you live in California, you should strongly consider applying to the state’s public universities. Additionally, you should establish what scholarships and financial aid options are available. Do not be shy to call the admissions department and discuss your situation or talk to your high school guidance counselor.
What professors teach there and what research opportunities are available?
The quality and prestige of the faculty plays an important role in determining the level of education you will receive. Check the faculty of the engineering departments at schools you are considering. You may find that some professors’ values and expertise align neatly with your own chosen interests, giving you an obvious mentor and clear trajectory for your academic career. Similarly, you need to determine what engineering research opportunities exist. California is home to many of the world’s leading research institutions for engineering, so you should make sure you don’t miss out on any world-class opportunities in your desired major.
What is the curriculum like and what majors are offered?
Engineering is a broad category and as such the curriculum can vary widely from school to school. Verify that your desired major is available at every school you are applying to. Additionally, you should look over the curriculum of any school you are considering. Ask yourself whether the material appears challenging, easy, or useful to your ultimate ambitions.
What do you study at engineering school?
In preparation to study engineering, you should take as many high-level science and math classes as your high school will allow. AP Calculus, Physics, and Statistics are particularly useful. Additionally, if your school offers any computer science classes or programs, you should definitely participate since these courses will train you in the necessary skills needed to study engineering at college.
Once at college, your classes will vary considerably depending on your chosen major and what university you attend. However, you will definitely be taking applied and theoretical math and science classes. You will also most likely have to take humanities classes to fulfill graduation requirements, but this depends on which school you attend.
There are numerous majors for engineering students to choose from. Some of the common majors chosen by Californian undergraduates include Civil, Computer and Computer Software, Electronics, Environmental, General, and Mechanical Engineering.
You should consider which major you want to specialize in throughout your high school experience and try to tailor your classes and extracurriculars appropriately.
What kinds of students thrive at engineering school?
The students who enjoy the most success at engineering schools demonstrate competency and interest in mechanics and the operations of things from an early age. Likely, if you are interested in the study of engineering, you have been tinkering with toys and machines since you were young.
Students with a strong academic background in math and science are much better prepared for the rigors of engineering school than students who excel in history or literature.
It is also worth noting that engineering students generally work much harder than many of their college peers. Engineering students typically report working more than 20 hours a week on homework and research projects in addition to the classes they take, any outside employment they might have, and any social life they might desire. If you have a lot of energy and discipline, the study of engineering is well-suited to you. Conversely, engineering is not for everyone, so if it is not a passion of yours, it may be difficult to maintain discipline and focus throughout a full and rigorous academic career. Make sure you have honestly considered your strengths and weaknesses before deciding to pursue an engineering degree.
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Top Ten Engineering Schools in California
The following engineering schools in California offer exceptional opportunities for prospective undergraduates. All of these schools are routinely ranked in the top 100 for engineering in both the United States and the world.
Stanford University’s School of Engineering includes 65 research centers and institutes. It offers engineering degrees in the following specializations: Aerospace and Aeronautical, Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Environmental, Materials, Mechanical, and Petroleum. Stanford engineering students work on projects in California and around the world; the school provides an annual budget of more than a billion dollars to fund engineering development projects.
Stanford is one of the most competitive universities in the country with a current acceptance rate of less than 5%. However, Stanford’s popularity and competitiveness should not deter you. If you are one of the best students at your high school with a passion for science and mathematics, a strong GPA, and good test scores, there is no reason not to consider Stanford. You will have access to some of the finest research institutions on the planet and be able to work alongside many current and future industry leaders. Furthermore, Stanford is located in Silicon Valley, meaning there are ample opportunities for internships and postgraduate employment in the immediate area.
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology, colloquially called Caltech, is located in Pasadena, just outside northeastern Los Angeles. Caltech has a massive engineering department and is one of the leading engineering research centers in the country. You can choose to specialize in any of the following engineering degrees: Aeronautics and Space, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Environmental, Material, Mechanical, and Medical.
Caltech is an institute of technology, which means it is more of a research institute than a traditional college. You will get a more math- and science-focused education at Caltech than you might at a school like Stanford. This is, of course, extremely useful if you are already sure you want to pursue engineering as a career. You will have access to funding for research projects and be able to participate in industry leading research with faculty members. Caltech administers the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, which ensures that it is always at the vanguard of Aeronautics and Space Engineering research.
University of California – Los Angeles
The University of California includes ten campuses throughout the state of California. All of these public schools frequently rank in the top 100 of American public colleges, but the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) is generally the most exceptional of the lot.
The UCLA Samueli School of Engineering is named after alumnus Henry Samueli who sponsored the renovation and modernization of the school in the last couple of decades. The Samueli School has become one of the leading public research institutions in America and offers engineering degrees in Aerospace and Aeronautical, Architectural, Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Environmental, Geological, Manufacturing, Materials, Mechanical, and Structural.
The Samueli School of Engineering famously declares that it is the birthplace of the internet; its research team, led by esteemed computer engineer Leonard Klienrock, developed ARPANET, one of the forerunners of the internet. This tradition of innovation continues today; UCLA students are currently at the forefront of quantum research and computer engineering.
University of California – Berkeley
The other shining light of California’s public college system is the University of California at Berkeley. Berkeley is located just north of Oakland, and across the bay from San Francisco. This means you will be ideally located to take advantage of the Bay Area’s diverse engineering opportunities. Alumni from Berkeley include founding members or CEOs of Apple, Google, Boeing, Intel, Tesla, the Cato Institute, and most recently, Doordash.
Berkeley is consistently ranked among the leading engineering colleges in the country. In particular, its Civil and Environmental Engineering school is incredibly well regarded and is currently considered the best civil engineering school in America. Other specialties available for engineering students at Berkeley include Bioengineering, Chemical, Computer, Electrical, Industrial, Materials, Mechanical, and Nuclear. Because of Berkeley’s immense reputation, admission is extremely competitive; less than 10% of students who apply are admitted.
At Berkeley, you can also expect more of a liberal arts education than you might experience at Caltech. Berkeley is also a well-renowned school for humanities and offers many interdisciplinary opportunities. The Jacobs Institute of Design and Innovation is one of the leading interdisciplinary departments in the country. You will be able to collaborate with academics from many different backgrounds and explore the intersection of your science, math, and design skills.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California (USC) is located in the heart of Los Angeles. It is one of the largest engineering schools in the country and offers degrees in a massive variety of specializations, including but not limited to Aerospace and Aeronautical, Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Environmental, Industrial, Mechanical, Petroleum, and Systems.
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering, named after Qualcomm founder Andrew Viterbi, is one of the leading research centers for engineering in the country, particularly for postgraduate students. You will have access to many research projects, not to mention a diverse range of opportunities for work experience and post-graduate employment in the greater Los Angeles area. USC also offers state-of-the-art research in rocket science and computer engineering.
California Polytechnic State University
California Polytechnic State University, commonly called Cal Poly, is located in San Luis Obispo on California’s central coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is a stunning location for a college campus; it is a small town that is centered around the life of the university. Unlike many other Californian engineering schools, Cal Poly is ideal for students who favor a quieter college experience.
This does not mean, however, that Cal Poly does not offer a wide range of opportunities for developing engineers. It offers degrees in 14 different engineering programs, so you can be sure that whatever specialization you prefer will be available. It also offers you the opportunity to experiment with classes in different engineering disciplines. Finally, because Cal Poly is dedicated to technological innovation, it receives many outside sponsorships and contracts. There will be ample opportunity to explore your interests.
Cal Poly has been criticized in recent years for the lack of diversity on campus. Unlike most other engineering schools in California, its student body is overwhelmingly male and white. Seventy-five percent of undergraduates in the engineering school are male and 55% are white.
University of California – San Diego
The University of California in San Diego (UCSD) is located in La Jolla, which is in northern San Diego. It is one of the most popular schools for studying engineering in the country and, through the Jacobs School of Engineering, offers undergraduate engineering degrees in thirteen different disciplines.
The Jacobs School comprises seven different departments: Bioengineering, Computer Science, Electrical Science, Mechanical and Aerospace, Nanoengineering, and Structural. Of particular note is the school’s Nanoengineering department, which is one of the leading research centers for nanotechnology in the country. If any of those examples align with your interests, then you should absolutely consider applying to UCSD.
UCSD also offers many interdisciplinary opportunities. The Jacobs School collaborates with many other departments and you will also be encouraged to work with engineers with different academic backgrounds to pursue interdisciplinary development.
University of California – Santa Barbara
The last school from the vast California public universities system is the University of California in Santa Barbara. Located just northeast of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is one of the leading research institutions in the world. Its College of Engineering comprises five departments that reflect the university’s expertise: Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer, Materials, and Mechanics.
Santa Barbara receives numerous research projects and outside contracts and is an industry innovator in computer science. If you are a student who is interested in nanotechnology or quantum mechanics, there are few schools in the world that are better set up to meet your needs.
Additionally, graduates from Santa Barbara can look forward to a diverse range of opportunities in both Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Many recruiters come directly to campus and there is a strong connection between the faculty and leading research institutions around the world. If you attend Santa Barbara you will be extremely well supported in your pursuit of a future career.
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University is a private not-for-profit Jesuit school in Silicon Valley. It is commonly cited as the oldest college in Californian history, and the architecture of the school reflects its root in the Spanish Mission tradition. However, the recent history of Santa Clara University is far more cutting edge.
Santa Clara is another school that has recently been criticized for the lack of diversity among its student body. In the 2018-2019 academic year, there were two African-American students in the entire Engineering school. The recently formed Office of Diversity and Inclusion demonstrates Santa Clara’s determination to address this issue.
Harvey Mudd College
As the smallest school on this list, Harvey Mudd College enrolls less than a thousand undergraduates a year to study for a Bachelor of Science degree and less than one hundred to study engineering. It is part of the Claremont Colleges campus network, which also includes the famous liberal arts school, Pomona. Claremont is located in the Greater Los Angeles area, so graduates from Harvey Mudd can expect to choose from many locally available employment opportunities. Indeed, the average starting salary for an engineering graduate is $82,000; graduates earn the highest median salary of any college in California.
Admissions to Harvey Mudd is quite competitive with an annual acceptance of less than 15%. But students with high GPAs and test scores should definitely consider applying.
Engineering students at Harvey Mudd all fall under the category General Engineering. But you should not be deterred if you have a specific specialization in mind. At Harvey Mudd College, you will take numerous high-level courses in engineering sciences and sequencing of systems. This will prepare you to take on a number of extremely complicated and specific graduate-level programs should you so desire.
Harvey Mudd College is a small school that is part of a tight-knit network of other small schools. This means that it offers some of the best of both worlds. You will have the feel of a small intimate community with access to a wide network of students and faculty.
Honorable mention (all consistently ranked top 200 nationwide):
The following schools didn’t quite make the cut for this top ten list, but any ranking of colleges is always going to be based on subjective metrics. These schools all offer exceptional engineering programs and a pathway to a successful career. They are all still ranked in the top 200 nationwide, reflecting California’s wealth of options for engineering students.
UC Irvine, UC Davis, San Jose State, UC Riverside, University of San Diego, Loyola Marymount University, California State University, San Diego State, Pomona.
Conclusion: Best Engineering Schools in California
As previously noted, there are few places in the world better suited to the study of engineering than California. Whether you are a resident of the state, you have an enormous number of options to choose from. If you are still feeling overwhelmed or simply require additional help, talk to your tutor or guidance counselor about the best options for you personally. Transizion has numerous well-qualified and knowledgeable college admissions consultants who can walk you through the process, so don’t hesitate to give us a call.