One of the great things about the US higher education system is the variety of school types. Whatever your interests, chances are you can find a selection of colleges and universities that would be a good match for you. If you’re interested in pursuing a technology, engineering, applied science, or natural sciences field, the best choice might be an institute of technology, sometimes called a polytechnic institute. Here’s what you should know about institutes of technology, the benefits they offer, and how to determine if it’s the right type of school for you.
What is an institute of technology?
As the name implies, an institute of technology is a college that focuses primarily on technical programs and career fields. This sets them apart from other colleges and universities that have a more general approach to higher education. At a tech school, you’re more likely to major in Engineering, Chemistry, or Architecture than Art History or English Literature. However, the range of programs at technology institutes varies significantly. For instance, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City is known primarily for Design, Fashion, Art, Communications, and Business, whereas Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, has programs in Engineering, Science, Architecture, and Management while also offering a School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences.
The benefits of attending a tech institute
The tech institute difference goes deeper than just the kinds of programs offered, according to Lauren-Ann Graham, a student at Florida Institute of Technology. After earning her bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering, she's now pursuing a graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, also at Florida Tech. "When the university as a whole is geared toward a specific educational mission, there tends to be more passion, focus, and opportunity," she says. "It's easier to find help, make friends with similar goals and interests, and get involved in very specific career opportunities." Graham also adds that more niche topics tend to be covered at technical institutes, allowing you to dive deep into your interests.
The chance to learn about the latest tech developments is a definite plus for students who attend institutes of technology. “Students enjoy the highly specialized training offered in the STEM fields and the opportunity for hands-on learning through experiential education and co-op opportunities,” says Joseph Posillico, Vice President for Enrollment Management at New York Institute of Technology. For example, at New York Tech’s Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center, students gain experience in building robots and completing other challenging projects. The school also provides real-life research opportunities. Through a partnership with NASA, students are building unique technology prototypes based on existing patents and creating professional marketing materials the space agency can use to commercialize the technology.
Loveona Jones, who studied Applied Cybersecurity at SANS Technology Institute, found the chance to study an in-demand field especially attractive. She also liked the practical approach to academic life. “I enjoyed the real-world situations presented to us in the labs,” she says. “They felt so real.” While in the program, Jones was accepted for a prestigious internship with the US Department of State.
Another benefit of technology institutes is that they typically offer great connections with employers. As students develop skills in their fields of study, businesses and other organizations find them to be good internship candidates or part-time employees—and often later as full-time employees. “The types of networking opportunities are unbeatable," Graham says. "Since [FIT is] a school that’s very well known for technology, businesses automatically know what type of institution you’re coming from and the type of rigor they require." This in turn tends to foster direct connections to industries where technology graduates are most valued. Graham further notes that because of this, many of her friends have gone on to incredible roles simply because of the connections they made at school.
Those kinds of advantages also paid off for Aaditya Bhatta as a student at Illinois Institute of Technology. “In choosing Computer Engineering for my major, I knew I could always fall back on finding software jobs if there were no hardware jobs available,” he says. After graduation, he landed a job as a web designer for a company that compiles profiles of well-known athletes.
Is an institute of technology right for you?
Just as important as ability in the classroom is genuine interest in the kinds of subjects that technical institutes offer. If you’ve always been the curious type who wonders how things work, an institute of technology might be a smart choice for you. Posillico says that students who enroll in tech schools tend to know they want to study Engineering, Architecture, or Medicine because they’ve been exposed to related courses or research opportunities at the high school level.
When considering an institute of technology, don't just look at the types of programs offered, the hands-on opportunities, or the possible career connections. Also consider other ways the school might be a good fit for you. Is it affordable for your family? Does the location have good access to transportation? Do the services and activities offered outside the classroom mesh with your own personal interests? Answers to questions like these should be a big part of any evaluation of your college options. Also be sure that any school of interest is fully accredited. This can be a bit tricky, because some less reputable schools may claim to be accredited, but their accreditor doesn't meet the full standards expected for mainstream higher education. To be sure, check the college’s website and verify that it’s accredited by an agency approved by the US Department of Education. If that’s not clear, a career counselor or other education professional can help you determine what you need to know.
If you think an institute of technology is the right choice for your education, that’s great! From here, it only makes sense to take some basic steps in preparing for your future studies. “As much as possible, prepare for the rigors of college coursework at a polytechnic by completing four years of math and science [in high school],” Posillico advises. “And if you plan on applying to a program that requires a portfolio, work with your high school teachers now to start preparing it.”
Check out our featured science college lists to learn more about both institutes of technology and universities with great STEM programs that could be a great fit for you. You can also connect with the featured schools mentioned in this article: