You’re an extremely talented engineering high school senior, and the future looks bright. You’re well on track to obtaining the sexiest profession in the world, and a job in Silicon Valley at one of the world’s most well-renowned companies is in your reach, perhaps with a 6-figure starting salary attached. Problem is, there’s a whole host of top engineering schools you could apply to; which one’s going to get you closest to your data science dream?

One individual took to Quora to ask “How does a star engineering high school senior choose among Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Caltech, Stanford and Harvard?” Luckily, Airbnb engineer and Stanford grad Christopher Lin took up the gauntlet, using one of the most famous schools in popular culture for comparison- the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He remarked:

“Going to Stanford is like being sorted into Gryffindor.
“Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindor apart.”
Stanford Engineering places heavy emphasis on entreneurship and is deeply mired in Silicon Valley culture wherein taking a risk and hacking on a startup is considered nobler and more interesting than being a smart engineer but languishing in academia or a large corporate environment. Stanford is also the most socially normal of the four schools.

Going to Harvard is like being sorted into Slytherin.
“Power-hungry Slytherin loved those of great ambition.”
Harvard is known for social climbing and an atmosphere where interactions are perpetually shaded with professional networking. Many people who attend come from privileged backgrounds and expect success in traditional settings like finance, consulting, and large technology companies.

Going to Caltech is like being sorted into Hufflepuff.
Going to MIT is like being sorted into Ravenclaw.

“For Hufflepuff, hard workers were most worthy of admission.”
“For Ravenclaw, the cleverest would always be the best.”

This was a tricky one since both Caltech and MIT are reputed for having students who are wicked-smart and hard-working but perhaps at the expense of being socially well-adjusted. Yishan Wong’s answer claims that Caltech students are more likely to be weird and quirky, which is reminiscent of prime Ravenclaw Luna Lovegood, but I think the most salient distinction between the two is that Caltech students are more known for being very hard-working — see Adam D’Angelo’s answer to What is Caltech’s image in the CS industry? — while MIT is primarily known for valuing raw, academic intelligence above all else.

I just spent twenty minutes comparing top-tier engineering programs to Hogwarts houses. You’re welcome.”

Perhaps a little narcissitic for a Stanford grad to self-appoint Gryffindor as his house, but the overview does offer a high-level (if slightly stereotypical) overview of the US’ top engineering schools.

If you’re interested, the good people over at Quartz took it one step further and looked into the graduate employment breakdown of the four schools, to see if the stereotypes hold true. There seems to be mild differentiation between the employment prospects of all four institutions, with Google being the top employer for all four. So in short, hypothetical high school senior, if you’re looking to end up at one of the most renowned companies in the world, any of these schools could get you there- without the need for a sorting hat.

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