If you’re considering a degree in Engineering, Science, or Computer Programming, you may have heard about institutes of technology. But what makes these schools special and unique? Institutes of technology—also known as technical universities, polytechnic institutes, and other similar names—most often offer degrees in fields like Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics, and Computer Science, as well as “hot” areas like Software Engineering, Interactive Media, and Biotechnology.
However, many of these schools also offer programs across a wide range of other academic fields. For example, at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), students can major in Film & Animation, Accounting, and Hotel & Resort Management. Similarly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers degrees in Economics, History, and even Philosophy. But why would you want to study programs like these at an institute of technology? Here are just a few of the benefits these types of schools offer.
A focus on the future
If there’s one feature all institutes of technology have in common, it’s a desire to prepare students for the future. As technologies change in the “real world,” tech schools are quick to install them in labs and classrooms while integrating them into the curriculum. Most technological universities pride themselves on offering students the opportunity to learn on the same equipment and technology used by business and industry. This means when you start your career or head off to graduate school, you’ll be able to contribute from the get-go.
In fact, institutes of technology are so future oriented that they're often quick to offer undergraduate programs of study in new academic disciplines. For example, Georgia Institute of Technology was among the first schools in the nation to offer an undergraduate program in Nuclear Engineering; Stevens Institute of Technology pioneered the first undergraduate program in Chemical Biology; and RIT’s undergraduate program in Imaging Science was the first program of its kind in the nation.
A blend of technology and humanities
Technical know-how isn’t the only thing you’ll get at an institute of technology. Success in life and in your career will come from having a broad perspective. And that’s the value of liberal arts courses such as psychology, literature, languages, and sociology. “Our students find that their knowledge of subjects beyond math and science makes their marketability greater,” says Judi Marino, Director of Admission at Florida Institute of Technology.
Students at technical institutes are fairly confident about the career field they want to explore. Degree programs are often structured so they take courses directly related to their major from the very first semester. However, don’t rule out an institute of technology if you’re undecided about a college major. Technical institutes typically offer hundreds of courses and degree programs, plus the academic advising to help you make the best choice for you.
Example of a typical first-year course schedule
An Engineering Exploration (undeclared Engineering) student at RIT could expect to take these courses during their freshman year:
- Introduction to Engineering
- Computing for Engineers
- Calculus I, II, and III
- Multivariable Calculus
- College Chemistry
- University Physics I and II
- Liberal Arts electives
- Science elective
- Wellness Education
As you can see, this schedule blends math, science, engineering, and liberal arts courses. This hypothetical student is laying the foundation for a successful future on the cutting edge of discovery and innovation—in whatever direction their career may lead.
Collaboration with faculty
The faculty at institutes of technology are highly trained in their areas of expertise—and they have a passion for teaching. Most are active in their fields as researchers and consultants, which means you’ll have many opportunities to collaborate on projects. Here are examples from four institutes:
- At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, professor Shigeo Hayashibara teaches various aspects of aerospace engineering fundamentals such as aerodynamics and aircraft design. “Students can actually do better than they think; all we need to do is open a new door and encourage them to step in,” says Dr. Hayashibara. He’s currently working with students to test a new mid-air refueling system using a wind tunnel and advanced computer simulation technology. For another project, he and his students are designing airplanes with advanced CAD applications.
- At Florida Tech, many degree programs have a required research component. Students are currently working with faculty on a wide range of studies with real-world applications and global relevancy, from looking at ecological effects of offshore oil drilling to hydrogen fuel production to tsunami warning systems. Other students are investigating stellar evolution, while still others are conducting research into coral bleaching and nanotechnology.
- A multidisciplinary team of students at the Illinois Institute of Technology is developing computer and telecommunications capabilities for several Eastern European nations. Students from the Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Law, Business, and Psychology departments are working together on the project, which is sponsored by the US Information Agency. Other students are working with Biomedical Engineering faculty and doctors to develop new technologies that will restore human vision.
- Led by faculty advisor Fabio Carrera, Worcester Polytechnic Institute students have developed a plan that aims to dramatically reduce cargo-boat traffic in Venice’s canals. This is one of over 150 academic projects that WPI students have completed in Venice since 1988. For over 20 years, the Venice Project Center has helped reduce damage to canal walls, cataloged the city’s endangered public art, and recorded the sounds of Venice via an audio catalog.
Technology, modern facilities, and state-of-the-art equipment also set tech-oriented institutes and universities apart. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the Mobile Computing@Rensselaer program lets students connect their laptops to the University’s information infrastructure from anywhere. In addition, many institutes of technology have “smart classrooms” and laboratories designed for hands-on, interactive problem solving instead of lectures.
Hands-on project opportunities
Institutes of technology often send teams of students to participate in competitions, projects, and challenges sponsored by national STEM-related organizations. Here are just a few examples of exciting experiential learning opportunities where you can put your skills to the test outside of the classroom:
- RIT students are regular participants in two American Society of Civil Engineers–sponsored contests: the Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge Construction competitions.
- High-Power Rocketry Club, the Rocket Experimentation Project, and the NASA Rover Project are just some of the activities that students enjoy at Embry-Riddle’s Arizona campus.
- Students at RPI annually design and build a car to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Formula SAE races, originally called the “Mini Indy.”
- California Institute of Technology students regularly participate in the DARPA Grand Challenge, building robotic ground vehicles capable of driving 170 miles through assorted off-road terrain in under 10 hours.
- Students at the Illinois Tech design and build vehicles to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ annual Formula Hybrid and Mini Baja competitions.
Success outside the classroom and lab
Institutes of technology draw a wide cross-section of students from many states and foreign countries. Whether your interests are athletic, musical, political, recreational, or social, you'll almost certainly find others at a technical institute who enjoy similar activities. And when you combine future-oriented academic programs, an experienced faculty, and an exciting learning environment, the results of an education at an institute of technology are obvious: career placement is high, access to graduate school is good, and alumni are in demand!
As you can see, institutes of technology are great places to pursue STEM as well as liberal arts fields, making them a smart choice for any student. You never know what the future will hold, so be sure to keep these schools in mind as you search for the right college for you.
Learn about even more STEM-minded schools with our lists of great science colleges, or request information from the featured schools mentioned in this article by clicking the buttons below.