It’s easy for prospective international students to focus on high-ranking or well-known schools like the California Institute of Technology or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But while manyengineering professors say prestige matters, there are other factors students should consider – because the big-name school might not be the right fit.
Choosing the best location, for example, can create a rich learning environment and provide important contacts in a student’s course of study.
David W.L. Cheung, a computer science professor and director of the Center for E-Commerce Infrastructure Development at the University of Hong Kong, says that it is important to target a part of the world that’s of personal interest. “If they want to experience working in Asia, coming here can provide that.”
If a student doesn’t get into a so-called big name school, he or she should look for location. “If they go to a university near Silicon Valley, that will benefit them even if the university doesn’t have as good a reputation. They also should look for programs where professors have good industry connections,” he says.
In the same way, those interested in working in Mexico or near the Mexican border can take advantage of programs like those at the University of Texas—Pan American, where the university is partnering with maquiladoras, factories from the U.S. and other countries that operate in Mexican border cities in order to profit from inexpensive labor costs in Mexico.
Miguel Gonzalez, dean of the college of engineering and computer science at the university, says students can benefit from the strong alumni network of his university, both in the U.S. and internationally. He says the school has relationships with prestigious technical universities in Mexico and is forging ties in China and other countries.
Peter Schroeder, a professor of computer science and applied and computational mathematics atCaltech, says the school has an alumni network that feeds into the rich mix of industry in the Los Angeles area. But he points out that state universities also often have strong alumni networks and job placement programs, as they are supported by taxpayer dollars and aim to make students marketable.
Students should also look into class offerings and facilities before making a choice, Schroeder says.
“A lot depends on how focused you are,” he says. “If you know exactly what you want to do, a small place like Caltech can be a great. But if you haven’t narrowed your interests, UC—Berkeley might be better. They have a great breadth of classes.”
Schroeder says that Caltech offers outstanding facilities, and depending on your field, that can matter. Caltech administers programs on behalf of NASA, and that gives students access to space, science and engineering resources. He says to check to make sure the university has the labs and facilities that will allow you to do the work you want to do.
Beyond school resources, fellow students are also an important consideration. ”We have an enormous number of students from mainland China and Hong Kong,” says Nick Buenfeld, head of civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College London. “And it is very exciting for students to come from China or India to London. It is a big advantage because you are where people are having an influence on all sorts of things. It is important to work with someone who is doing something that excites you.”
Stanford University-educated Natalie Privett, an industrial engineer who is an assistant professor of management and policy at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, points out that many students find they have such diverse interests that honing in on a grad school specialization is limiting.
“Academia is very siloed,” she says, with sharp divisions between disciplines. “Engineers stay in engineering and economists stay in their own little area. People who have diverse interests and are multidisciplinary find it hard to find the right fit. I am somewhere between management, science and engineering.”