Choosing an Engineering Program in the United States
It’s great that you are exploring engineering programs as part of your future course of study. After all, engineering is a rewarding field that allows professionals to design and realize the materials, devices, systems, and structures that help to make our world a better place. As you consider which engineering programs may be right for you, there’s something that you should look for – programs that have received accreditation from ABET.
First of all, what does “accreditation” mean?
In the United States, accreditation is a process in which an engineering program (or another type of program) is reviewed to determine if it meets certain standards. Accreditation is voluntary, which means that federal, state, and local governments do not require it. However, most engineering programs in the United States choose to undergo the accreditation process because it provides great benefits for the program and its students:
- Accreditation requires colleges and universities to assess continuously all aspects of their engineering programs – including student-faculty interactions, curricula, and classrooms and lab facilities — and work to improve their programs’ quality.
- An impartial, third-party organization has evaluated the program and validated for the public that it has met the standards necessary to provide students with an adequate education.
- Accreditation helps students and their parents choose an engineering program that faculty and practitioners in that field have deemed suitable to prepare graduates for entry-level practice.
- Students who complete accredited programs often have the technical skills as well as the professional skills – the ability to work as part of a team, effective communication skills, a knowledge of contemporary issues, and others – that potential employers require.
Note that accreditation is not a ranking system. It is simply assurance that an engineering program meets established quality standards.
You mentioned “ABET.” What is that?
Formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, ABET is a non-profit organization made up of 30 professional and technical societies that represent applied science, computing, engineering, and technology fields. These member societies collaborate to evaluate and accredit degree programs in technical fields, both in the United States and abroad. In addition, these societies recruit and help to train the 1,500 volunteers – deans, department heads, faculty, industry leaders, government representatives, and private practitioners – who carry out ABET’s accreditation activities. These efforts include reviewing documents from each program that wishes to receive or renew its accreditation, visiting the programs’ campuses to interview students and faculty and to look at facilities, convening to discuss accreditation decisions, and other activities.
Currently, ABET accredits over 3,100 programs at more than 670 colleges and universities. The largest numbers of accredited engineering programs are in electrical, mechanical, civil, computer, chemical, and industrial disciplines, but programs in smaller fields, such as ceramic, metallurgical, ocean, and optical engineering, are also ABET-accredited.
What are the advantages of attending an engineering program that ABET has accredited?
ABET accreditation assures that the program from which you graduate has met quality standards set by the profession. In fact, ABET accreditation even may be a key to your professional future.
- Experts who teach and work in engineering fields know firsthand what it takes to be successful. They set the criteria against which ABET-accredited programs are evaluated, and they review the programs every few years to ensure that they instill appropriate knowledge and skill sets in their students.
- Because ABET accreditation requires regular, comprehensive evaluations, accredited programs have demonstrated their commitment to assessing and improving their quality, both now and in the future.
- Many licensure, registration, and certification boards require graduation from an ABET-accredited program as a minimum qualification for professional exams and other career advancement opportunities.
- ABET accreditation is recognized throughout much of the world, and a degree from an ABET-accredited program will give students a decided advantage as they enter an increasingly global marketplace.
Besides ABET accreditation, what else should I consider when looking for an engineering program?
All accredited programs will state what they prepare their students to learn and their graduates to do. The programs’ objectives are usually available on their websites and/or in their printed literature. Find or request this information and see if the programs’ goals match your vision for your education and subsequent career. Does this program concentrate on areas that you wish to study? Does another prepare its graduates to find work in the sectors that interest you? Will this specific program ready you for entry-level employment in industry, or will it groom you for graduate school and eventually an academic career? Examining each program’s objectives will help you figure out if its course of study may be right for you.
If you wish to learn more about engineering accreditation in the United States or to see a list of ABET-accredited engineering programs, visit ABET’s website