If you are innovative, analytical and mathematically inclined, you may wish to consider a career in the high-paying field of engineering. Some of the best engineering colleges in the country are located in the Midwest. Civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and industrial engineering are among the most popular majors offered. Engineering programs can also be found in specialty areas like nuclear engineering, agricultural engineering and biomedical engineering.
Job prospects for engineers look bright in the years ahead. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that about 140,000 new jobs will open up for engineers between 2016 and 2026. Growth will be strongest in the specialty area of civil engineering.
The best engineering schools in the Midwest are selective, accredited and ranked highly among the top schools in the nation. Engineering programs at doctoral-granting institutions typically offer more opportunities for intensive research with faculty who are on the cusp of new discoveries.
What Does a Career in Engineering Look Like?
Engineers choose a specialization within the broad field of engineering. Engineers are professional inventors and problem solvers who welcome a vexing challenge. Engineers often serve on multidisciplinary teams that design, build, test and market products. Everything from a toy car to a Lamborghini Roadster started with a model and a blueprint.
The day-to-day work of an engineer entails visioning, designing, scheduling and overseeing projects in various industries. For instance, civil engineers help with construction and infrastructure design of buildings, bridges, roads and mass transit systems. Biomedical engineers use their training in science, math and technology to design surgical instruments, medical devices and diagnostic equipment. Industrial engineers design quality control systems and optimal production lines in manufacturing. Petroleum engineers develop drilling and extracting methods for tapping underground gas and oil deposits. Computer engineers manage computer systems and troubleshoot problems.
Engineers work in a wide range of settings. Depending on your interests, you may work in a comfortable office building, outdoors at building sites or on offshore oil rigs. Many engineers work in laboratories conducting experiments, analyzing results and calculating engineering efficiency ratios. Process improvement engineers may work in factories. Examples of other possible work sites include nuclear power plants, marine vessels and aerospace facilities. Environmental engineers inspect municipal facilities to ensure compliance with safe water standards.
A bachelor’s degree in engineering opens the door to an array of entry-level job possibilities. Engineers with experience and a state license may move into supervisory or management positions. A master’s degree and a doctorate in engineering are advantageous for those seeking college teaching and research positions.
How to Get a Degree in Engineering
Earning a degree in engineering starts with solid high school preparation in STEM-related classes. Advanced Placement courses like calculus, physics, chemistry and computer science are especially helpful. Students require sufficient preparation in math and science to succeed in an engineering major. The engineering curriculum in college starts with coursework in math, physics, introduction to engineering and general education electives. Like all students, engineering majors must complete general education courses to deepen intellectualism and cultural awareness. Examples of general education classes include English, art appreciation, history and humanities.
During the third and fourth year of their engineering degree program, students concentrate on their major and research activities. For example, civil engineering students at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor take classes in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics while gaining hands-on experience in the chemical engineering process and in design laboratories. Students who graduate from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology are eligible to pursue the professional engineer license that some states require along with an engineering degree.
The Best Undergraduate Engineering Schools in the Midwest
Students wanting a world-class education at a school that’s doing groundbreaking research may want to consider enrolling in a well-known, doctoral degree-granting institution with an accredited engineering program. U.S. News & World Report annually ranks academic programs, including undergraduate engineering programs at prestigious doctoral institutions. Doctoral institutions typically land billions of dollars in research funding that provides motivated students with hands-on experience as research assistants and interns. Some of the best undergraduate engineering schools in the nation are located in Midwestern states.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ranked sixth in undergraduate engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report for 2019, this school has much to offer. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is home to a well-established, world-renowned engineering program. Students have the option of enrolling in the new First Year Engineering program for students who are undecided on a specialization. After their first year, students choose which of the 12 offered engineering majors and nine minors are of greatest interest to them. Once enrolled in the school, engineering students can pick up a second major in innovation, leadership and engineering entrepreneurship. The dual-degree ILEE offers world-class technical training along with hands-on experience in starting companies and leading an organization.
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor’s undergraduate engineering program was ranked fourth overall in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 2019. The Industrial and Operations Engineering program and also the Materials Science and Engineering program ranked even higher, being tied at second place. The graduate program in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences was ranked number one in the country. Admission to Michigan engineering is very competitive. For instance, in fall 2018, only 19 percent of the 17,659 students who applied for a coveted spot in the incoming class received an offer of admission. Students admitted had a median high school GPA of 3.9, composite ACT score of 34 and median SAT score of 1420. U.S. News & World Report does not rank all of the engineering specialties offered, such as naval architecture and marine engineering or climate and space sciences and engineering.
Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana
Engineering programs at Purdue University in West Lafayette rank at or near the top of undergraduate engineering programs. The 2019 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings placed Purdue’s agricultural and biological engineering program number one in the country among its peers. Industrial engineering was close behind, coming in at third place. Purdue University takes pride in small class size, individualized attention, faculty advising, robust research activity and an engineering curriculum aligned to workplace needs. Between 2008 and 2018, Purdue awarded the most aerospace engineering degrees in the country. Millions of dollars in external grants and contracts are annually awarded to faculty doing cutting-edge research in the field. Engineering students have the opportunity to work alongside faculty experts on groundbreaking projects.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois
Engineering programs at Northwestern University are part of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. McCormick tied for 20th place in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report overall rankings of engineering programs. The materials engineering program was rated second and industrial/manufacturing/systems engineering was fourth in the rankings. McCormick spends $1.5 billion conducting research, including studies of emerging fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. Students can assist with faculty-led research projects being conducted at several research centers and institutes on the main campus in Evanston, Illinois. Accomplished alums of McCormick include Deepak Ahuja with Tesla Motors and Virginia Rometty of IBM.
University of Wisconsin – Madison
The University of Wisconsin – Madison is tied for 20th place in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report ranking of best engineering schools. Students from all 50 states are represented in the engineering school. Faculty encourage students to work with them on research projects, patents and scholarly papers. External partnerships and research opportunities on campus teach students how to apply theories and formulas in work environments. Approximately 85 percent of engineering majors receive more than $3,000 per month through a paid internship or co-op program in a job setting. Students can have fun and fine tune their skills by joining one or more of 50 recognized student organizations for engineering majors. Student groups travel to national conferences, build competitive vehicles for competition and help with service projects that bring low-cost medical devices and sustainable energy to economically depressed areas. Students cannot concurrently major in more than one area of engineering. However, with prior permission, engineering majors may also major in education or in theater and drama. The degree appeals to students with an interest in teaching or creative expression.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
The 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings of best engineering schools put the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus in a tie for 24th place. Students at UM can choose from 18 engineering majors available throughout the UM College of Science and Engineering. Degrees are also offered through the UM Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. In addition, UM permits engineering students to double major or pursue an interdisciplinary major. The typical four-year undergraduate engineering curriculum includes two years of foundation classes such as calculus, chemistry, physics and the liberal arts classes required for graduation. Students focus on research and design along with advanced courses like astrophysics and quantum physics that are in their area of specialization.
Ohio State University – Columbus
In U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 ranking of engineering schools in the nation, several departments within the Ohio State University College of Engineering rank among the best in the Midwest. In fact, Ohio State is considered to have the best engineering school in the state of Ohio. The school’s engineering program came in at 16th place overall in the country. The College of Engineering offers 14 majors in a wide range of areas. Admitted students are not expected to quickly select an area of specialization, which is difficult for students to do until they know more about the field. At Ohio State, incoming students enter as pre-engineering majors. They take classes in calculus, engineering fundamentals, English and chemistry to help them choose the right career path.
Best Engineering Colleges in the World
If you are open to leaving home and relocating, your options greatly expand, assuming you are a gifted student with stellar grades in STEM and liberal education. In addition to reading U.S. News & World Report rankings, you may find it helpful to make a list of priorities when imagining your dream school. Academic reputation is a strong indicator of quality.
According to the Times Higher Education ranking of academic programs around the world, Stanford University’s School of Engineering ranks number one in the world as of 2018. Stanford is credited with introducing digital music and the computer mouse. Located near high-tech Silicon Valley, engineering students at Stanford have limitless opportunities to apply their knowledge and test their skills. Stanford engineering students push the boundaries of what is known and what can be achieved.
If you are excited about the possibility of earning a college degree outside the U.S., you may want to consider attending legendary Oxford University, which dates back to around 1096. Oxford came in at second place in the world for top engineering programs, as noted in the 2018 Times Higher Education rankings of engineering schools. Students may choose a general engineering major or a specialization. Oxford has expansive libraries, exceptional research facilities and brilliant instructors. Notable alums include scientists Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. Dozens of Nobel Prize winners have graduated from Oxford.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Engineers: Employment, Pay, and Outlook
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Architecture and Engineering Occupations
- University of Michigan College of Engineering Chemical Engineering: CHE Courses
- CollegeBoard BigFuture: Major: Industrial Engineering
- Illinois College of Engineering: Rankings
- Michigan Engineering: Facts & Figures
- Purdue University College of Engineering: School and Department Facts and Figures
- The Ohio State University College of Engineering: Future Students
- The Ohio State University College of Engineering: Program Overview
- University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering: Undergraduate Academics
- Times Higher Education: World University Rankings 2018 by Subject: Engineering and Technology
- Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering: Undergraduate Study
- University of Minnesota College of Science & Engineering: Undergraduate Majors
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.