How Are Engineering Schools Ranked? A Look at the Research and Methodologies

Certain specialty engineering disciplines and their rankings are based solely on peer reviews and assessments by heads of departments but you can compare your choices of engineering schools based on up to 10 metrics and research methodology.
Nader Mowlaee

The best engineering schools around the world are ranked by different bodies or organizations.

But are the rankings really helping when it comes to students’ decision-making about choosing the right school for them? What research methodology does each school body or organization use? Are the ranking methodologies legitimate or are they biased?


Let’s answer these questions and see how rankings matter to students as well as to the universities being ranked. We’ll dig into a bit more detail about how engineering schools are ranked to get a better understanding of the process.

Which ranking of universities is the best?

There are several websites or research bodies that do the job of ranking the best engineering school from all over the world. The rankings are based on different factors and methodologies.

They can be broad or specific to a field. But we will take a look at three, in particular – the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, U.S. News, and the QS World University Rankings.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings

If the university is a research-based university, then it meets the initial requirement for being ranked by this research organization. As a research-based university, it is expected that they publish materials, either print or digital, talking about the school’s progress in research or anything related to it.

Universities that do not teach undergraduates are not qualified to undergo rankings. Also, if the universities have very specific and narrow subjects taught in the classrooms, they are out of the list. This is the fundamental research methodology of Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

U.S. News

The purpose of U.S. News is to help students find the best engineering schools to go for a college education. It evaluates academic quality that will help students understand what they offer in each university. They allow students to compare engineering schools without the need to visit each one, which saves times, money, and energy.

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So how does the research methodology of U.S. News work?

  1. The number of students who successfully graduated in a certain year.
  2. Faculty – this factors in the ratio of faculty to students and the salary of each member of the faculty.
  3. Reviews from employees in the university.
  4. Reviews from students.
  5. Financial aid programs.
  6. Students’ average grades.

QS World University Rankings

The best schools are ranked by the QS World University Rankings by the following methodology:

  • Research – assessed through an academic quality/level.
  • Teaching – the ratio of students to faculty and citations per faculty.
  • Employability – employee performance of students once they have graduated and entered the workforce.
  • International outlook – the number of international students and international workers at the university.

Is the ranking of universities important?

Going to college is not an easy task for any student. It's the main journey of a lifetime. There are students who prefer engineering schools near home. There are those who want adventure and will dare to study abroad; perhaps you want to learn a new language or see a new part of the world, or just get away from home for a while and explore adventures elsewhere. So, deciding on where to study can be stressful. Then there’s the need to also decide on which course to take up in engineering schools!

One of the most important contributions of university rankings is the ability to review and compare one university to the other without spending money, time, and effort into visiting each school physically, especially when the school is located in another country. Another big thing about university rankings is that students are able to decide based on the values of the university that most resonate with them. They are able to take a peek at the program offerings of each university. They can paint a mental picture of what college life will be like in a particular university.

So, the answer to this question is, yes, the ranking of universities is important! It is not only for students but also for parents who need to know what kind of school their children are going to attend. It is also for teachers looking for employment, and it is for the school to be aware of its strengths to maintain and weaknesses to improve.

What do university rankings mean?

Whether it is an engineering school or a school specializing in science or teaching courses, if they are ranked, this means they have the potential of being the best engineering schools in the world. Their place or rank in the tables determine what type of university they are – high quality, middle quality, or low quality and how many students they will attract.

There are, as mentioned above, several factors that affect the rankings of universities. Aside from that, the level of rankings can affect the place or rank of a university on the table. For example, if the rankings are for engineering schools within the U.S., then it is a national ranking of all engineering schools.

Do not forget that the research methodology and focus of each research organization can be different. This means one university may be ranked first in the engineering department but may rank third or fourth, or even last, in the research department. So students who are looking at rankings in order to decide on which school to attend should take a moment to review what type of research organization that is looking into.

What is the highest ranking university in the world?

As of June 11, 2018, the top ten universities on a global level include Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, University of Oxford, ETH Zurich—Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, University College of London (UCL), Imperial College of London, University of Cambridge, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Stanford University on the list of QS World University Rankings.

So, whichever engineering school you attend, doing a deep dive on information available to you by these three research organizations, or other trusted and tested organizations, will really help in the long run. The right engineering school that has the course you wish to enroll will help you achieve your career goals.

You will also want to study at a university that will be there for you when you get stuck in a situation. For example, in the case of the financial crisis, does the university have financial resources or programs that you can take advantage of? Or if you’re no longer motivated to finish college, does the university have a Guidance Counselor who can help retain students?

Anytime you are unsure about college education, look to the rankings for guidance!

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