The 9 Best Safety Schools for Engineering

A safety school is a college or university where you have a strong chance of getting in based on your grades, test scores, class rank, and other factors. It might not be your first-choice school, but it’s one where you can get in and reach your educational and career goals if your dream school doesn’t work out. If you plan to study engineering, you have a number of good safety school options across the country.

The best safety schools for engineering include Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, and Missouri University of Science and Technology. These schools all accept at least two-thirds of their applicants. As a new engineering graduate, you can expect to earn at least $70,000 a year right out of college from any of the schools on this list.

An engineering student at work in the lab.
An engineering student at work in the lab.

    The Top 9 Safety Schools for Engineering

    To come up with a list of the 9 best engineering safety schools, we considered several factors: acceptance rates, test score midranges, program reputations, student outcomes, and starting salaries for new graduates.

    For a school to be a true safety, it needs to have an acceptance rate of at least 50%. Once you dip below that number, weird things happen — students with top grades and test scores can find themselves rejected, deferred, or waitlisted, often for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

    A school with an acceptance rate below 50% typically has a supply/demand imbalance. In other words, it simply gets far more applicants — often from highly qualified students — than it has spots available.

    Therefore, we only included schools that accept at least 50% of their applicants. Most of the engineering schools on this list have acceptance rates of closer to 75% or higher.

    We also included the test score midranges (meaning the 25th to 75th percentile) for each school on our list. A good way to determine if a school is a true safety is to compare your scores to these ranges. Your scores should be above a school’s 75th percentile for you to consider it a safety.

    We also limited this list to schools with ABET-accredited engineering programs that have strong reputations in the industry. Let’s face it: getting an engineering degree is a lot of work, and that’s true whether you end up at MIT or your safety school. If you’re going to put in all that work, you want a degree that carries weight on the job market. A degree from any school on this list will impress recruiters and position you nicely for top jobs.

    Last but certainly not least in importance, we looked at the starting salaries for engineering graduates at each school. We only selected programs where the average graduate earns at least $70,000 right out of college.

    With these criteria in mind, here are our 9 top picks:

    Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

    • Location: Terre Haute, IN
    • Acceptance rate: 73%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,310-1,470
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 27-33
    • Top 10% of high school class: 60%
    • Graduation rate: 81%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $80,157
    • U.S. News ranking: Unranked

    Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology has the campus atmosphere of a liberal arts college but the curriculum of a hardcore engineering school. If your reach school is somewhere like Harvey Mudd, another engineering college with a LAC feel, then RHIT is an ideal safety.

    Don’t let the high acceptance rate fool you. Rose-Hulman’s applicant pool is highly self-selective, meaning not many students apply on the fly. Most applicants know they want a small, rigorous engineering school and know they have the stats to be competitive for admission.

    RHIT also has an “easy to get in, hard to stay in” reputation. Expect a heavy workload and high expectations from your professors. That said, most RHIT professors are as accommodating as they are demanding. They want to see you succeed and will go out of their way to help you.

    Rose-Hulman grads do very well in the job market. The average new graduate in engineering earns over $80,000 right out of college.

    Rochester Institute of Technology

    • Location: Rochester, NY
    • Acceptance rate: 71%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,270-1,450
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 29-33
    • Top 10% of high school class: 43%
    • Graduation rate: 71%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $75,300
    • U.S. News ranking: #105 in National Universities
    A shot of RIT's campus from above.
    A shot of RIT’s campus from above.

    Rochester Institute of Technology is a highly regarded STEM school in Upstate New York, located right down the road from the University of Rochester, another school that has top STEM programs but a much lower acceptance rate.

    With a 71% acceptance rate, RIT appears easy to get into, but its high test score midranges make it clear that the high acceptance rate is a result of a self-selective applicant pool, not low admissions standards. The average RIT student scored 1,360 on the SAT and 31 on the ACT. If you have stats in this range, and you don’t mind cold weather for most of the school year, RIT might be an ideal safety for you.

    With an average starting salary of $75,300 right out of college, RIT grads do very well in the job market. Every spring, you’ll see recruiters from top engineering firms all over campus.

    Missouri University of Science & Technology

    • Location: Rolla, MO
    • Acceptance rate: 85%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,290-1,460
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 26-32
    • Top 10% of high school class: 44%
    • Graduation rate: 65%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $72,600
    • U.S. News ranking: #182 in National Universities

    Missouri University of Science & Technology (MUST) is located in Rolla, Missouri, and has a heavily male student body. If these two features are OK with you, MUST is a fantastic safety school for engineering. It has an 85% acceptance rate and a high starting salary for new grads, and it draws recruiters from all over the Midwest and beyond.

    Like many of the schools on this list, MUST is not quite as easy to get into as its acceptance rate might indicate. Its applicant pool is self-selective: most students don’t apply unless they know they want an engineering-focused college and meet the admissions standards. But if your scores are in the top half of MUST’s midranges, and you performed well in your high school classes (particularly STEM), then you are a virtual shoo-in for admission.

    Colorado School of Mines

    • Location: Golden, CO
    • Acceptance rate: 58%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,340-1,460
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 30-33
    • Top 10% of high school class: 57%
    • Graduation rate: 80%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $79,300
    • U.S. News ranking: #89 in National Universities
    Mines's gorgeous campus in Golden, CO
    Mines’s gorgeous campus in Golden, CO

    Colorado School of Mines is arguably the most difficult “safety” school on this list to get into. It admits more than half of its applicants, but the acceptance rate is much lower than the 70-plus percent you’ll find at many of the other schools on our list. Also, its applicant pool is even more self-selective: the average ACT is over 31, and the average SAT is over 1,400.

    Mines is also arguably the most prestigious school on this list. And if you like beautiful weather and beautiful scenery, it arguably has the best location. Golden, Colorado is just outside of Denver and within an hour’s drive of some of the best skiing in the country.

    The average starting salary for new Mines graduates in engineering is nearly $80,000, and the placement rate is nearly 100% — you won’t be slinging drinks or filling latte cups at Starbucks if you graduate from here with a halfway decent GPA.

    Even better, if you fall in love with the Denver area during your time at Mines, you’ll have abundant opportunities to stick around and start your career, as Denver has become a major tech hub in the last couple of decades.

    Perhaps the only real drawback to Mines is the cost. Not only is the school one of the most expensive on our list, but the cost of living in the Denver metro has skyrocketed as the city has boomed economically. This high cost of living impacts what you’ll pay for on-campus housing, food, and the like.

    Milwaukee School of Engineering

    • Location: Milwaukee, WI
    • Acceptance rate: 63%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,190-1,395
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 25-31
    • Top 10% of high school class: Not reported
    • Graduation rate: 71%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $71,497
    • U.S. News ranking: #6 in Regional Universities Midwest

    If you want a highly regarded engineering school with reasonable admissions standards that is located in the middle of a city with plenty of amenities and things to do, then the Milwaukee School of Engineering is worth a look.

    MSOE is a good safety school for top STEM students, but its admission rate is falling every year as the school gets “discovered.” It dropped from 67% last year to 63% this year. That said, if you have test scores at or above the top of the school’s midranges, you have a very strong chance of getting in.

    The school’s 71% graduation rate might sound low, but it’s actually pretty strong for an engineering school with a rigorous curriculum. Many students simply take longer to get their degree, which impacts the number that gets reported. If you’re diligent about getting into the classes you need and getting your work done, you’ll graduate on time and enter the job market with plenty of options.

    The average starting salary for new engineering grads from MSOE is over $70,000 a year, and recruiters come from all over the country, not just the Midwest.

    Texas A&M University

    • Location: College Station, TX
    • Acceptance rate: 64%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,160-1,370
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 25-31
    • Top 10% of high school class: 60%
    • Graduation rate: 83%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $70,176
    • U.S. News ranking: #67 in National Universities

    Texas A&M is a nationally (and internationally) known brand with a stellar reputation in engineering. It also has a surprisingly high acceptance rate at 64% and attainable test score midranges. It makes a great safety school option for engineering students who want a big school with football, tailgating, Greek life, and lots of school spirit.

    One caveat to TAMU’s seemingly high acceptance rate: the school, like all public universities in Texas, is very class-rank-conscious. They automatically accept anyone from Texas in the top 6% of their high school class (even if their test scores are abysmal), which often doesn’t leave a ton of spots for everyone else. Therefore, if you have high test scores but a mediocre high school transcript, TAMU might not be much of a safety school for you.

    If you can get in, though, you’ll get a top-notch education and graduate with plenty of job offers, as recruiters absolutely flood the campus every spring. You’ll also enjoy SEC football, great weather, and one of the closest-knit college communities in the entire country.

    Michigan Technological University

    • Location: Houghton County, MI
    • Acceptance rate: 86%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,130-1,330
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 25-31
    • Top 10% of high school class: 27%
    • Graduation rate: 70%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $71,600
    • U.S. News ranking: #151 in National Universities

    Michigan Tech has a beautiful campus located in the state’s Upper Peninsula that is a bit difficult to get to — which is likely the main reason the school doesn’t get more applicants. Engineering recruiters know that the curriculum and academic rigor here are top-notch, which is why they snap up Tech graduates every spring. The job placement rate is well above 90%, and engineering grads enjoy starting salaries above $70,000.

    While the school’s location may be remote, it’s also breathtaking. If you enjoy the great outdoors and don’t mind layering up to fend off the cold, you’ll be in paradise in the “U.P.”

    New Mexico School of Mining and Technology

    • Location: Socorro, NM
    • Acceptance rate: 97%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,110-1,320
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 23-29
    • Top 10% of high school class: 30%
    • Graduation rate: 54%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $71,391
    • U.S. News ranking: #18 in Regional Universities West
    New Mexico Tech's Socorro campus.
    New Mexico Tech’s Socorro campus.

    New Mexico Tech is another fantastic choice if you don’t mind rural, out-of-the-way locations. Socorro, New Mexico, is a lot warmer than Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but it’s a lot more barren, as well. However, you’re a modest drive from Albuquerque in one direction and El Paso and Las Cruces in the other.

    The average person on the street has never heard of New Mexico Tech, especially if they live in any of the 49 other states. But the average engineering recruiter definitely knows the school and its stellar reputation. Many new graduates every year land at top engineering firms in places like Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, and Silicon Valley.

    With an acceptance rate of 97%, New Mexico Tech epitomizes the idea of a safety school. That said, if you look at the most recent incoming class’s stats, they’re still well above average, which indicates a degree of self-selection among the school’s applicant pool. You’ll need to be a decent student to get in, but if you have solid grades and test scores, you should be good to go.

    South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

    • Location: Rapid City, SD
    • Acceptance rate: 80%
    • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,150-1,370
    • Middle 50% ACT range: 24-30
    • Top 10% of high school class: Not reported
    • Graduation rate: 51%
    • Average starting salary for graduates: $75,843
    • U.S. News ranking: #26 in Regional Universities Midwest

    South Dakota Mines is another school that will draw a blank from the average person on the street but wide eyes and a thumbs up from anyone high up in the field of engineering. It has a similar incoming student profile to New Mexico Tech and attracts the same kind of applicants. The biggest difference between the two schools is the location: South Dakota Mines is in a small city rather than a rural outpost. The weather is also much colder and windier in Rapid City, SD, than it is in Socorro, NM.

    If you like the rugged terrain and wide open spaces of the Dakotas, and you want a high-quality education that will lead to abundant job opportunities, South Dakota Mines should be on your list.

    The Best Safety Schools for Engineering: The Bottom Line

    Top engineering schools like MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and CalTech are among the toughest colleges in the country to get accepted to. Even if you have top grades and test scores, it’s largely a numbers game: these schools simply have too many applicants and too few spaces.

    Fortunately, you don’t need a degree from one of those schools to launch a lucrative and successful career in engineering. There are many safety schools that have stellar reputations and attract recruiters from the country’s most sought-after engineering firms. The nine schools on this list are a great place to start looking.

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