Colleges and universities are my hobby, and I occasionally give seminars to prospective college students and their parents. Periodically, a “diamond in the rough” gets onto my radar, and I recently found one that I thought would be of interest to prospective engineers (like many followers of this forum). Rather than simply sharing my most recent “treasure”, I thought it might be helpful for prospective college students to also know something about the processes (aka treasure maps) that have led me to various destinations. I consider a “diamond in the rough” to be something valuable that not many others have discovered. Some qualities I consider valuable include research and work opportunities for undergrads (e.g. internships, co-ops), graduation rates, and employment rates of graduates after graduation. Harvard and MIT are diamonds, but many people attribute high value to them, which makes them highly competitive and out of reach of even outstanding students. A community college education can also be a good value for very little money, but has certain limits – you can’t get a BA/BS degree, and sometimes long wait lists prevent you from getting the classes you want/need in a timely way. Being overcrowded, I don’t consider them “undiscovered.”
More than a decade ago, Rice University and Grove City College got onto my radar as potential schools for my kids, who were in elementary school at the time. Along with “valuable qualities” listed above were the financial aid opportunities available, and I was ecstatic to find good schools that our family could potentially afford. As I investigated the programs of these schools more deeply, I thought, “These are incredible schools for the price, and their acceptance rates are pretty high, so they’re not outrageously competitive”. At the time, neither of these schools was rated in the top 30. However, a couple years later, U.S. News & World Report published a report on “The ‘New’ Ivy Leagues” – up and coming schools to watch, and Rice and Grove City were listed among them. Over the next few years, I watched Rice’s acceptance rate drop from 40% to 16% (it’s now ranked 13th among National Universities) and Grove City’s median SAT score climb from 1100 (for 2 parts) to 1300+. I thought to myself, “Shoot, these schools are still diamonds but no longer undiscovered.”
As my “kids” transitioned to high school, they started receiving emails/mailings from various universities, based on their interests and SAT scores. Many students and parents ignore/discard these notices, but I gave each one at least a quick look-over. One of the notices that caught my eye was Case Western Reserve University, a school with a strong engineering program, whose acceptance rate was 75%. With some digging/research, I determined that this was a quality school without much press. Over the past 2-3 years, the acceptance rate has dropped to 50% – still not outrageously competitive, but less “undiscovered” than before. Less competitive “diamonds” discovered include Utah State, Cedarville U. and Spring Arbor U. (a liberal arts school – it has limited programs but is good at what it does). These schools also have the advantage of lower cost and two have merit-based scholarships for “solid” (not necessarily stellar) students.
The latest school to catch my attention is Clarkson University. I discovered it while attempting to answer the question, “Are there any schools with good engineering programs similar to University of the Pacific (the most well-known private college within commuting distance of my audience) that are easier to get into?” UOP has a 24% acceptance rate, and many students with very good scores and grades are turned away, simply because there are so many students and so few private colleges in our area. As I looked at the National Rankings, UOP came up at 113, and Clarkson at 115. Similar size, similar costs, and as I looked at the programs, Clarkson’s engineering program really impressed me. Students attending there have strong scores and grades, but the acceptance rate is 77%. I suspect that Clarkson suffers from the reverse geography problem of UOP – too many well-known schools nearby, not enough population. It’ll be interesting to see whether over the coming years, Clarkson makes it onto the radar, moving from a “diamond in the rough” to a “discovered diamond.”
The point of this analysis is not to tell you, “You should go to this college,” but simply to increase awareness that many outstanding opportunities “fly below the radar”. Most forum folks have high regard for well-known engineering colleges like MIT, CMU, and CalTech, and probably now, Rice, but are not aware that digging below the surface can turn up some undiscovered treasures. CMU was a “diamond in the rough” 20 – 30 years ago – even though Red Whittaker and the Robotics Institute had been around since 1979, it wasn’t until the ‘90s that better press moved this diamond in the rough out into the light.