Road Trip: "Aha! Moments" at Franklin W. Olin School of Engineering and Babson College

Our tour guide confirmed, “the dorms at Olin are closer to Babson’s buildings than our own” — Aha!” two unique yet synergistic colleges on effectively (but not literally) the same campus which have seemingly limitless real-life / hands-on business (Babson) and engineering (Olin) opportunities.

Franklin W. Olin School of Engineering is young, atypical, and brimming with excellence. Its admission decision wisely incorporates Candidate’s Weekend, where roughly 200+ applicants are invited to work on team projects, providing both Admissions and applicants a chance to evaluate their fit with the school.  Olin’s acceptance rate is 12% of the best and the brightest.  Of the 350 undergrad students (there are only undergrads) roughly half are male and half female — similarly for full time faculty — once again, atypical of engineering.  While we are talking atypical, Olin’s charter limits international students at 10% of their engineering student body. Roughly a quarter of Olin’s students participated in Siemens or Intel research and roughly half in FIRST Robotics while in high school.  Faculty comes largely from MIT, a common overlap school along with Harvard, Caltech and UC Berkeley. 

It is difficult to convey the unconventionality of the engineering curriculum at Olin.  The explanation that Olin freshmen begin right away taking three hands-on project-based engineering classes (plus a required 1-credit class on how to work in teams) wasn’t completely satisfying.  I kept up my line of questioning with our tour guide to get a better feel of the curriculum.  Her comment that she had yet to take test, having just completed her freshman year, drove it home – the Olin experience is truly unconventional, truly project based, truly hands-on, and includes a lot of self-teaching / learning with substantial support and facilitation by professors. At lunch I picked up a student newspaper from the cafeteria. The front-page article “Pampered Hamsters” reinforced my conclusion just formed about the academic environment at Olin. Quoting at length, “For anyone arriving at Olin expecting a top-notch education, they will receive it with a healthy dose of struggle and frustration if they aren’t willing to embrace or accept being an active participant in curricular development. […] At Olin, we will become competent engineers, but that’s not the reason Olin exists – it is just a fortunate side effect.  I hope that we, in our capacity as pampered hamsters while at Olin, are more willing in the future to sacrifice a bit of our comfort in order to create something amazing for others…”

There is much more to say about Olin and its students: that mailboxes are safely left wide open all year; that many are musically inclined; that classes can and are taken at Babson (and Wellesley); that work and play are not really segregated; that Babson non-varsity sports, clubs, and dining halls are open to Olin students; that the dorms are nice; that 80% of freshmen participate in internships, 50% of students study abroad, and effectively all who want it (93%) have a job with an average starting salary of $76,000 or are in grad school half of which ranked in US News’ top ten, within five months of graduation.  Oh! And each and every student receives merit aid to cover 50% of his or her tuition…that worth around $90,000 by the end of four years…just saying.

But let’s walk across the lawn to Babson College.  Most Olin students do. Babson students do too, though the flow seems to be somewhat greater from Olin to Babson than from Babson to Olin.  A certificate in engineering is an option at Babson through Olin; and Olin students take entrepreneurship and liberal arts at Babson.  It’s a comfortably symbiotic relationship.

Babson itself is all about business.  It is an undergraduate business school.  You will graduate with a BS in business.  That said, liberal arts comprise half of the classes…making the connections to business — how to articulate, lead, engage, understand different cultures, learn languages, make a difference in society. Babson is recognized as the leader in teaching entrepreneurship — #1 for 19 consecutive years by US News. Though Entrepreneurship as a functional area is Babson’s 5th most popular behind, in order, Finance, Sales, Marketing, and Consulting, an entrepreneurial philosophy is infused in each of these and other functional areas.  

How? Like Olin, freshmen at Babson jump day one into Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME), a hands-on curriculum. In a nutshell, FME student teams create and run real companies with real products/services, customers, money.  They identify and pitch an idea to the class; if selected, they create a launch plan; if selected, they receive a loan for launch. The yearlong program starts with about 10-12 idea pitches, which are narrowed down to 2-3 businesses for launch.  At each selection point students on teams that are not selected disperse among those that were successful.  Learning to integrate new and diverse talent is part of doing business. Profits are given to service organizations of the team’s choice. Though the objective is to learn from mistakes, $473,000 in profit has been donated to local service organizations since 1999.  Typically, a summer internship remains unusual after freshman year, pretty common after sophomore year, and nearly ubiquitous after junior year.  With the exception of international service projects, the majority of internships appear to be based in the US.

Another Aha! at Babson was its degree of global perspective 26% of Babson students are international students and 36% are multi-cultural. 70% of the graduating class has a study abroad experience.  One selective program, BRIC, takes 20-25 Babson students to spend three months in Russia, India, and China leveraging faculty networks in these countries and studying topics of the business environment, diversity, reliability of data, and religion.

Babson offers its ~2,100 undergraduates 22 D3 varsity team, club, and intramural sports. You will find Greek life on campus as well. The Babson Dance Ensemble is one of the most popular activities.  And, not surprisingly given the international student body, cultural organizations are plentiful. A key admissions tip about Babson is that they care a lot about demonstrated interest — so definitely interview and make your interest known, it can make a difference.

Consider Babson College if you are absolutely confident of your interest in business and prefer to learn experientially but in a more conventional campus setting without a coop experience. 

Consider Franklin W Olin School of Engineering if you relish all things engineering, are comfortable with the atypical, and do not require the amenities of varsity sports or Greek life.