Virtual Impressions: Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
I’m sorry that I missed the opportunity to visit the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering this spring. Since I became a college admissions advisor I’ve taken several tours of engineering labs. Those labs were shared by undergraduate and graduate students. Olin is exclusively an undergraduate institution.
I watched several videos about the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA). The most similar place that I have visited was Cooper Union. Like Cooper Union, Olin was founded from philanthropy, and a need to change the course of engineering and technical education. But Cooper Union also offers programs in Art and Architecture. It offers more engineering programs than Olin, including graduate programs. Cooper Union is also in the East Village of New York City, quite far from Needham, Massachusetts in setting and campus design. Olin is only 23 years old, with a very modern campus. Cooper Union has a much longer history. Abraham Lincoln made a national address in their Great Hall in 1860, only months before was elected President.
But Olin, like Cooper Union, is one of the best buys in engineering education. While the cost of attendance approaches $77,000, every accepted student receives a scholarship valued at $25,000/year. Need based awards are available, too. Olin does not leave its students on the hook with a big debt. Seventy-two percent of the seniors who graduated last spring borrowed nothing. The rest owed an average of $13,500. That’s half the amount that they could have borrowed over four years through the Federal Student Loan Program. You could leave your home state school, or most of the Ivies, owing more.
Here’s a few more observations about the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering:
- You don’t need to commit to a major when you start here. The curriculum is a mix of liberal arts, business, blended math/science and project based engineering courses for the first two years. You can do research every year. But you will not get AP credits for any Math or Science course that you took in high school. You must also go through Calculus in half the time you would need to complete it at a more conventional engineering school.
- Olin does a great job of selecting a class. Nearly every member of the freshmen (99%) who arrived last year returned for their sophomore year. 80 percent of the freshmen who arrived in 2013 finished on time; ninety-four percent were done in five years. You’ll need the same numbers, grades and test scores, as you would need to get into MIT or Cal Tech. But Olin considers Demonstrated Interest to be Very Important. Interested? Visit, ask questions, write the best essays possible. Olin accepted 16 percent of the students who wanted to be in this year’s freshman class. Here’s better news: sixty percent of the accepted students deposited. That says a lot for the students who self-selected the school and the fairness of the admissions process.
- You do a lot of hands-on work at the start. It really helps if you have done some kind of engineering, fixing things at home, high school science competitions or robotics, before you come. Musical talent also helps develop problem solving skills. Creative minds are more likely to thrive, as long as ego does not get in the way of creativity.
- There’s fewer than 400 undergraduates—total. The students in the videos appear mature and outgoing, at least to work in groups in classes and projects. A loner might have a tougher time here. The same is true for a person who wants to accumulate credentials, like a Bachelors and Masters in five years. It’s not possible here.
- This appears to be a school where nearly everyone is responsible for school spirit. The campus will not rally around non-academic traditions, social organizations or sports. It’s more of a mutual support system to help everyone make it through. If you went to a small high school, you’ll adjust well. If you went to a large one, you’ll appreciate having classmates and teachers who actually care that you succeed. But you really need to come with social and listening skills.
- The same comments that I made about Babson’s location apply to Olin. Like Wellesley, Needham appears to be a nice suburb of Boston. You can take the bus or train into Boston, after you get a ride to Wellesley Station. But between the reide and the train you’ll need about an hour to get there. It’s not practical to intern in the city with a commute like that. There’s a shuttle to get to Babson or Wellesley for classes and socializing. But you would need to have access to a car to get to schools like Boston College, Brandeis or Tufts. Then again, Olin students, like Babson’s, have more than enough work to do on campus!
- Olin is a great school if you enter college with an idea that might have commercial or social potential. You have access to the resources to develop and test it, maybe find a faculty member who can help. Olin lets you cross register with Babson to learn about business and entrepreneurship. And, if you leave school owing less, you have a better chance of launching your venture earlier.
I’m sorry that I will not get to visit the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA) as I had hoped. This looks like a very rewarding educational experience. It could lead to a more rewarding life after college in a career that a graduate actually wants, versus a job that gives them a paycheck. But you have to be sure that you want to apply science to solve problems, even if you decide that you do not want to become an engineer.
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
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