Category Archives: Career choices

Insights into the Top Engineering Schools

If you’re a high school student with the right aptitudes and interests, you should consider engineering as a college major. A degree in engineering is an excellent foundation for a financially and personally rewarding career. To succeed at an engineering school, however, you must be willing to work hard and to dedicate yourself to the engineering discipline you choose.

The starting salaries of engineers are among the highest of undergraduate majors. For example, in a recent year, the engineering graduates of MIT received an average of $95,000 asMIT starting salaries. Their employers were mostly blue chip companies in the technology and consulting sectors, including Google, Oracle, Amazon, McKinsey, Accenture, Apple, Boeing, Microsoft, ExxonMobil, General Motors, Boston Consulting, Morgan Stanley, Booz Allen, Goldman Sachs, and Intel.

Once you’ve decided to major in engineering, you should build a target list of those institutions that best fit your needs and preferences. Before developing your list,  determine which types of engineering appeal to you most. There is a wide range of engineering disciplines, and your preferences will be essential in the selection of colleges. No single institution offers degrees in all, or even most, of the engineering disciplines.

Engineering Specialties

The six main categories of engineering are civil, computer, electrical, scientific, mechanical, and environmental. Within these categories, there are many specialties, many of which are integrated with a science curriculum. The range of engineering degrees offered by American colleges is indicated below in Table A.

Table A: Engineering Specialties in American Colleges

Agricultural Bioengineering Architectural Aeronautical
Aerospace Civil Computer/Software Construction
Electrical Environmental Genetic Industrial
Manufacturing Marine Materials Mechanical
Metallurgical Mining Nuclear Geological
Hydraulics Chemical Automotive Electronics

Top Engineering Schools Ranked and Compared

MIT is first on almost everyone’s list of the best engineering schools, but other top-tier engineering schools are close behind. Column A in Table B is the top 20 National Universities according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings for 2021. Column B is the top 20 Engineering Universities for 2021. After each Engineering University in Column B  is the rank of that institution on the Column A National Universities list.

Table B: Top National Universities and Top Engineering Universities

Rank Best National Universities             Rank Best Engineering Universities
1 Princeton 1 MIT  (4)
2 Harvard 2 Stanford (6)
3 Columbia 2 UC Berkeley (22)
4 MIT 4 Georgia Tech (35)
4 Yale 5 Cal Tech (9)
6 Stanford 6 Carnegie Mellon (26)
6 Chicago 6 Illinois (47)
8 UPenn 9 Cornell (18)
9 Cal Tech 9 Purdue (53)
9 Johns Hopkins 11 Texas (42)
9 Northwestern 12 Princeton (1)
12 Duke 13 Columbia (3)
13 Dartmouth 13 Johns Hopkins (9)
14 Brown 13 Northwestern (9)
14 Vanderbilt 13 Texas A&M (66)
16 Rice 13 Wisconsin (42)
16 Washington U – St. Louis 13 Virginia Tech (74)
18 Cornell    19 Rice (16)
19 Notre Dame 19 UC Los Angeles (20)
20 UC Los Angeles 19 U. of Washington (58)

Source: U.S. News and World Report

Only half of the top 20 National Universities are also among the top 20 Engineering Universities. The other 10 range from #22 (UC Berkeley) to #66 (Texas A&M).  Only MIT is in the top five in both Columns.

There are many institutions with less selective admissions policies than those listed above that also provide first rate engineering educations. These include Bucknell, James Madison, North Carolina State, Rensselaer, Florida, Virginia, Clemson, Harvey Mudd, North Carolina, Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, Cooper Union, and Florida State. All five of the U.S. military academies provide an excellent education in engineering.

Two of the best engineering schools in the country warrant special note for their innovative engineering programs. They are the Carnegie Mellon Institute of Technology and the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech.

Students at Carnegie have the option to augment their engineering degree with one of 10 interdisciplinary majors, each conducted in conjunction with a specific science curriculum.  Undergraduates can complete an accelerated master’s degree within one year of earning their bachelor’s degree.

Students at Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering also have an extensive range of majors in which to specialize, from medical physics to aerospace engineering. Among the programs offered, the industrial and biomedical engineering programs are especially well regarded.

If you’d like more guidance on selecting an engineering school and’s a good match academically, socially and financially, contact me at [email protected] or 803-487-9777.  I work with students in-person and virtually throughout the nation and the Virgin Islands.


Majoring in the Humanities Keeps Your Options Open

“Follow your passion!” has long been the advice given to high school students in choosing a career. It still is, but in many cases this advice is countered by pressure to do otherwise. This pressure comes from the power of the STEM* movement in American higher education. However, this blog post explains why a major in the humanities is a viable solution for high school students who can’t select a career with sufficient confidence that it’s the right choice.

The bias in favor of STEM education can detract from the integrity of your College List, which is comprised of the colleges to which you’ll apply in senior year. The College List, when properly developed, is an important contributor to the success of your college admissions campaign. In building the list, you’ll be advised to set your educational goals beforehand, including your future career, so that you can select a major that will enable you to pursue that career. Then, knowing your major, it’s assumed that you’ll be better able to identify those schools that fit you best — the ones that belong on your College List.

The College List Conundrum

This sequence — “career-to-major-to-colleges” — is a sound, pragmatic protocol — if you can follow it! But it isn’t feasible for many students. As a high school student, identifying with confidence which career is best for you is a daunting task. The lucky few already know what they want to pursue as a career, but most do not. In addition, the pandemic has caused the outlook for many careers to be clouded by economic uncertainty. A career that you might consider attractive now may be much less so in five or six years. And some of the hottest careers that will be open to you in 2025 don’t even exist yet.

Because there are advantages in identifying your career while in high school, you may be pushed to choose one before you’re ready, especially a STEM career, due their perceived practicality. Resist this pressure. There’s an alternative that you should consider if you’re unsure which career may ultimately suit you best.

The Emphasis on STEM Disciplines as Majors

In order to maintain America’s edge in the STEM fields, the focus in academia has shifted toward those disciplines. Due to the needs of America’s high-tech workforce, emphasis has been placed on graduating STEM majors who can satisfy the demand for entry-level professionals in those fields. This objective is worthy in and of itself, but there has been an unfortunate side effect.

The proliferation of STEM-centric curricula has driven some students, often against their desire and best interests, away from majoring in the humanities. Moreover, many colleges have reduced the number of traditional required courses in the humanities to allow for more courses in STEM subjects. College administrators are concerned that requirements in the humanities, to the extent that they displace STEM courses, diminish the future employability of graduates.

What Are the Humanities?

The humanities, as the term implies, is the study of the human condition from a number of
different perspectives. They are a subset of the traditional Liberal Arts, which, since classical times, has included the sciences, arts, and humanities. In the United States, the most common majors in the humanities are:

Table A: Majors in the Humanities:
Anthropology      Classical Languages      History
Geography      Grammar, Linguistics, and Languages      Theology     Literature      Law, Government, and Political Science      Philosophy
Writing – Prose and Poetry        Economics

The Role of the Humanities in American Education

Historically, American colleges were not founded to train students for a specialized career in one field. Rather, their mission was to expose students to a broad intellectual tradition. This was considered essential to create effective leaders for the community, commerce, and public and private institutions. This philosophy may seem impractical in a modern society as complex as ours, but it remains a sound design for a robust education because it benefits students regardless of what profession they enter.

The humanities teach two vital abilities that are missing from a purely STEM curriculum: communication and critical thinking. In the humanities, students learn to fully engage with the material, consider it from all angles, solve problems creatively without bias, express themselves well, adapt to new situations, and work collaboratively.

The Humanities and the U.S. Job Market

In today’s fast-changing environment, large organizations, even those whose primary business is STEM-related, aren’t looking for leadership candidates who know only one subject, however thoroughly they may know it. They’re seeking promising leaders who are innovative, creative, and possess an expansive mind-set, characteristics that are more closely associated with humanities graduates than STEM graduates. A study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of senior executives agreed that, “A demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major.” The humanities hone the skills that large organizations seek in leaders.

Students and their families are often drawn to STEM fields for financial reasons under the assumption that salaries are higher. However, according to the New York Times, “The top 25 percent of history and English majors earn more than the average major in science and math during their careers, and the bottom 25 percent of business majors make less than the average of those majoring in government and public policy.”

College graduates must compete with their peers to secure their first job in their profession, an undertaking that has become increasingly difficult. A delay in obtaining a starting job is a concern for students who, like you, must anticipate which careers will even be viable several years from now. Fear of underemployment is justified.

As you grapple with this puzzle, bear in mind that the number of jobs that require skills developed in the humanities, especially interpersonal communications and the ability to solve complex, multi-dimensional problems, will be greater than the number of jobs that require highly specialized knowledge. A broad-based exposure to ideas will continue to be valued in new management-track hires.

In the future, the best and most plentiful jobs will go to those who can collaborate widely, think broadly, and challenge conventional wisdom — precisely the capacities that an education in the humanities develops. Don’t let yourself be discouraged from pursuing a major in the humanities if that’s what you truly love.

If you’d like help determining your college and career choices, contact me at [email protected]!

*STEM is an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and math.

Choose Your Career Before You Choose Your College?

College is a way to prepare for the rest of your life. As a high school student beginning to consider colleges, you’ll be asked, “What do you want to major in? What career are you interested in?” These questions put the cart before the horse. It’s best to know what career you wish to pursue before you start applying to colleges. So, a better question is the one you were asked in kindergarten; “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?”

There’s one problem — choosing a career is a daunting exercise when you’re in high school. It’s difficult for you to know what type of work would satisfy you and suit your talents. Your knowledge of careers is limited. So we don’t advise that you march off on a career path unless you’re reasonably sure you’re headed in the right direction. However, since your education and career will benefit from it, we advise that you take certain steps now to help determine which career is right for you.

Personality and Aptitude Assessments

One way to begin to answer this question is through career assessments. Introduced in 1944, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the original personality test with career guidance ramifications. The MBTI is a subjective, introspective self-assessment that’s based on differences in the cognitive responses of individuals to the world. As a respondent, you’re classed into  one of 16 personality types. Your results indicate which career fields generate the most satisfaction for your type. The MBTI’s main problem is that it doesn’t consider your aptitude for a given career.

Using an aptitudes assessment tool will supplement the findings of the MBTI. There are valid, reliable assessments for teens online that focus on your skills and talents rather than your personality. They’re useful in your search and take no more than 30 minutes to complete. The results indicate which careers best suit your aptitudes. There are two caveats; the assessments are self-reporting and therefore subjective, and many questions relate to preferences in the work environment for which you have a limited frame of reference.

We advise that you avoid taking a list of careers generated by an assessment too literally. Consider it a starting point for insight and self-reflection. Remember, a career assessment isn’t a shortcut; it’s a tool. It’s up to you to use it wisely.

Steps in Your Process of Self-Discovery

To build on what you learned through assessments, we recommend that you work through the questions below to help clarify the careers for which you’re best suited.

1. What interests me?

The activities that you enjoy can give you insight into the careers that would be most satisfying and fulfilling to you. Take the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) to assist in identifying and prioritizing your interests.

2.  What are my aptitudes and talents?

You possess skills that may be undeveloped as yet but that can lead to success in a particular career. Identify them through self-assessment exercises and conversations with the people who know you best.

3. What type of personality do I have?

Your personality is the way you think, feel, and act. Take the MBTI and other assessments to clarify your understanding of your personality.

4. What do I value most?

You have values that are important to you. Listing your high-priority values can help you to decide what type of career fits you best.

5. What education or training will I need?

Certain careers require advanced degrees and higher investments. For example, you need 12 years of education and training to be a doctor, but you could earn a degree and enter the accounting field after two or four years. Weigh the time and expense required to pursue a career.

6. Will there be plenty of jobs in this career when I graduate?

There are websites that predict demand for jobs. You should review them. However, don’t expect them to hold up too well over time. By the time you graduate, the job market will be considerably different than it is now. Some of the hottest jobs today didn’t exist ten years ago. Ten years from now demand for even these jobs may be waning.

7.  What level of compensation am I seeking?

Different careers provide different monetary rewards. Even though compensation shouldn’t be your primary concern, a high pay scale offers more options to a person than a low one. Evaluate the earnings potential of each possible career.

8. Is this career my idea?

Don’t let the expectations of others affect your choice of a career. You should make this decision for yourself.

If you feel an affinity for a certain career, seek out an internship or job-shadowing opportunity in that field. Being in the thick of it is the best way to assess if a type of work is right for you. If you decide to pursue that career, an internship will assist in admission to colleges because it demonstrates related work experience and enthusiasm for your intended field of study.

Remember that the purpose of your career selection process is to determine the field that’s best for you. If you can make this determination, you can select the college major that best suits your career plan. Then you can apply to colleges at which this major is emphasized.

Charlotte Klaar, PhD, is a Certified Educational Planner who has led hundreds of students to college and career success in the past 25 years. Charlotte understands the Holland Self-Directed Search and is certified to administer and interpret the MBTI and SII assessments. These tools have guided countless high school students in their search for the right career paths.