Types of Schools for Science and Engineering

You're heading off to college and you want to study science or engineering (or both!). There are countless colleges and universities to choose from.

To help you decide, here’s a breakdown of different kinds of institutions and what they have to offer students in these fields.

Science and engineering at universities

What it is: Though the terms are often used interchangeably, colleges and universities are actually different. A college is usually smaller, has a four-year program, and focuses on undergraduate education. A university, on the other hand, is typically a cluster of colleges or schools operating under one administration. Universities are often larger, have a range of majors and graduate programs, and have a strong emphasis on research.

The benefits: Universities offer a wide variety of majors and programs, so if you decide that science is not your thing and want to switch fields, or you want to combine your scientific study with another discipline, it’s relatively easy to make the change. Also, large universities tend to attract big-name professors with whom students can collaborate on research projects. And universities have a lot of diversity in their student population, so the lab rat can interact closely with the English major.

The downside: The science and engineering undergraduate curriculums at universities are generally broad and foundational, so if you are certain that you want to study something specific like environmental engineering, you might not be able to find the exact major you are looking for until you reach grad school. Also, those big-name professors probably will not be as accessible as the professors at a smaller school, so you’ll likely have a lot of graduate students as teachers.

Institutes of technology

What it is: An institute of technology focuses primarily on engineering and the sciences, and it provides a research-intensive experience. These schools should not be confused with technical colleges or institutes, which generally provide vocational training in the technical and mechanical fields.

The benefits: Institutes of technology offer very specific majors and intense science and engineering curriculums. The faculty is comprised of world-renowned scientists and engineers, and students working with these professors are often exposed to cutting-edge research. Institutes of technology are also often on the forefront of integrating technology into the classroom and exposing students to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. You’ll find plenty of clubs and organizations with a specific scientific focus to exactly match what you are looking for.

The downside: These schools are primarily grounded in science and engineering, so if you’re not sure you want to study a super-specific scientific major, you may not have many alternatives. (Try checking out the other programs offered at that institution to see if there are any backup majors you would be happy with.) Also, the diversity of the student body’s interests isn’t as great because most students are focused on a science or engineering education.

Science and engineering at liberal arts colleges

What it is: Liberal arts colleges are usually smaller four-year institutions. They emphasize a broad undergraduate experience, which includes taking classes in history, philosophy, art, and the sciences. At a liberal arts college, the focus is on the student and study, rather than professional training.

The benefits: At a liberal arts college, you will most likely take a class in every discipline (e.g., history, English, math, science, etc.) to get a well-rounded experience. Though you can focus your studies in science or engineering, you can also take a class on Shakespeare or modern art. You’ll gain life skills in teamwork, critical thinking, and writing/communication. Professors are generally very accessible, which gives you more chances to interact and develop mentor-mentee relationships.

The downside: Most liberal arts colleges do not offer engineering programs, so be sure to check the college’s majors if that’s something that is important to you. However, many have 3+2 programs with other institutions, so you can take your general education and prerequisite courses in a liberal arts setting and transfer to a different school for your engineering courses. Also, smaller schools, like liberal arts colleges, generally do not have access to refined technical equipment for research.

Keep in mind, this is just a general outline. Liberal arts colleges, universities, and institutes of technology are all different and unique. Check with each school you’re considering to find out what they offer and if they can match what you’re looking for.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Priscilla Yeboah

Priscilla Yeboah

High School Student

I was afraid and timid throughout my search for colleges, but I finally found the college that was fit for me and luckily I got accepted. One of the most influential things that helped me was the articles and advice on CollegeXpress. They've helped me a lot and benefited me as a senior to make the right choices in life. Thank you!



High School Class of 2019

My college search began at CollegeXpress. Due to this helpful tool, I was able to gather a lot of information to guide my college planning decisions. Through CollegeXpress, I was also able to apply to several scholarships to help pay for my tuition. I would definitely recommend this website to anyone who wants to explore colleges and get more information from admission experts, counselors, and real students.

Victoria Fuss

Victoria Fuss

March Madness Scholarship Winner, Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me dramatically. Moving on to the next level has been a dream of my mine since I was just a young kid, and the support and help CollegeXpress has given me will help me further my education. I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone at CollegeXpress!

Nikole Dixon

Nikole Dixon

$500 Refer-a-Friend Scholarship Winner

Toward the beginning of last year, I was searching for scholarships to apply to through my school, town, websites online, and anything else I could find. I asked tons of questions [online] about scholarships and the best places to find them because I was desperate and needed as many as I could find. I came across a ton of bogus websites, but as soon as I found CollegeXpress, I knew I had to tell other people about it. It was definitely the most helpful site I came across, so I told my friends about it. CollegeXpress is definitely a website worth giving as a source.

Alexandra Adriano

Alexandra Adriano

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2016

I've used CollegeXpress quite a bit as a senior, particularly for colleges and scholarships, so it's been a very big asset in that respect! I would recommend it to anyone looking to pursue a college education, especially seniors! This scholarship will help me achieve my goals in ways I couldn't have before, and I know that there are opportunities like that for everyone on the website and in the magazines!

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Utica and Albany, NY

Geneva College

Beaver Falls, PA

Rowan University

Glassboro, NJ

High Point University

High Point, NC