Student Brown University in Engineering/Physics Spring 2012:
Brown University Engineering!
1) US news rankings are complete BS. Everyone who goes to college will tell you the same. These rankings tend to rate universities and departments based on the "quality of research" and the amount of money spent on research. This leads to two potential problems: firstly, it is very difficult to judge quality of research. After all you are working on something no one has ever done before so one can't say beforehand whether or not the research will lead to something useful. Secondly, the amount of money spent on research highly depends on the size of the college: the bigger the college the more money spent.
In my unbiased opinion, Brown is very very good. The engineering department is close knit and there is a lot of one on one attention and a lot of freedom for one to pursue what one wants. A fair way to rank a department would be to see the success of their graduates. We have a ~100% acceptance rates for graduates to one of their top three choices for business school. That means you will definitely get in to Harvard, Wharton or Stanford for business if you want after graduation. As for engineering, we send a LOT of people every year to Stanford, MIT and Columbia and at least a few to CalTech.
2) All engineering classes are taught by professors with graduate and undergraduate TAs. On the whole, the classes are well taught. I've never had a problem but some times you may have a less engaging professor and that could change things, but that's a problem at all universities. In terms of resources, Brown has a single building for physics and engineering with 7 floors of labs. Considering that engineering has ~75 students a year, there are lots of people to work with and a lot of resources that undergrads have access to. At Brown 6000/8000 students are undergraduates so we get a lot of attention.
3) I've been doing research for over 2 years now. I think every Brown student will tell you that getting involved with research is super easy. We have something called the UTRA program which funds research for undergraduates. And the way I got involved with research was a simple email! There are so many labs to chose from and ALL of them are looking for undergrads. I have really enjoyed my time as a research assistant. I mean it's strange because you basically work in a lab with all these grad students and they all treat you like a grad student because you work on similar stuff.
My research is based on light. We're trying to create an "optical guitar" type thing. When you play a guitar, you press the string down at some point along the frets and you pluck the string to hear a note. If you move your fingers to a different position and pluck the string you hear a different sound. I'm working on doing something similar, but with light. Our "string" is light emitting molecules and we change distances of mirrors from these emitters to produce different frequencies of light.
4) Apart from research you can get involved with projects with other students through student groups. Or you can work on projects with professors and build stuff. For example one of my friends decided to make a boat that could navigate itself. There is a car building team called Brown FSAE, you can look them up. I mean if you think of something you want to do, you just have to drop by a professors’ office and talk to them and they'll help you get the stuff you need. And I'm talking about personal projects!
5) Brown's ME department is actually the best engineering department at Brown and is highly respected in the country. (Also I'm no longer an ME. My concentration is Engineering/Physics but I took loads of ME classes). So ME is divided in to several sub categories: fluids mechanics, solid mechanics etc. Our solid mechanics group is really really top notch. Our professors in ME are all almost exclusively from CalTech, Cambridge, MIT and Harvard. But all that apart, the ME classes are taught extremely well and all include design projects so you actually build stuff too. In your freshman year alone you'll build an exercise machine, a solar car and simulate the launch of a satellite to the moon!!!
6) Doing engineering with economics isn't difficult, but it does take away from the freedom of your education at Brown because both combined have a lot of requirements. I really really enjoy economics and would have done the classes as my elective even if I wasn't a concentrator and so I have had a great time. But as advice, I'd say start off doing engineering and explore the other departments and then pick another concentration. Don't jump for engineering/economics (if you were planning to) straight away. We have awesome departments in Applied Math, CS, geology, Egyptology, and international relations.
7) Excellent question. Let me start of by saying that I don't have a job as yet! But my case is an exception because I started applying very late because I wanted to go to grad school first but then decided to get a job. I might stay on at Brown and finish my Masters in engineering.
Me aside, all the big names come to hire at Brown. To be very honest, your major plays almost no role in what jobs you get unless you are in a specialized field. So you couldn't be a history major and then hope to get a job as an engineer in any company. But if you're looking at consulting, finance it really really really doesn't matter what you study. What they care about is the way you think and of course you need some basic math skills. The people who interviewed me for various consulting and finance jobs had majored in stuff like death studies, anthropology, political science, engineering and Egyptology. And no I'm not making this up!
7) If you do engineering and Econ, yes you take away your freedom. There are around 5-8 classes that you have as electives but compared to the average Brown student that is a lot less.
Now for what I think and some general advice:
Brown is a great place. Everyone that I've met here is very happy. We are one of the happiest colleges in America! What I really like about Brown is that people here are really passionate about what they do. No one is doing stuff to build a good resume/CV, they're doing it because they're actually interested.
The students are friendly and there's a lot of collaboration and less competition. By that I mean that we all study for exams ourselves, then spend a good amount of time discussing the material with each other, teaching each other. The same applies for homework. And the professors here are (for the most part) very warm. They are informal and at the same time great mentors. I've had professors who have waited for me to finish my classes and teach me one on one for an exam the next day. I've had professors who've taken me out for meals, and some even invite you to their houses. That means a lot to me. Having a personal relationship with professors has greatly shaped me as a person because there's no barrier between you and them. They advise you, judge your work and at the same time call you for a soccer game on Sunday!
Most Brown students are dual concentrators. So if you have a range of interests, this is the place for you. The Open Curriculum lets you seriously explore different departments and then if you like more than one, you don't have to jump any "hurdles" or get permission to dual concentrate. You just fill in a form. And the ease of getting involved with research is another thing that I think is special. I'm not sure undergraduates can do research so easily at other colleges, or may be given a small part of a graduate students project. But here I have my own project and the grad students help me!
Academics apart, Brown had a great nightlife and party scene. Providence is a small city with quite a few good restaurants. Boston is 1 hr away and NYC is 3 hours away. Unlike big city colleges Brown actually has a campus with fields and greens. The nice part of Providence is where Brown's campus is located, so you never have to walk more than 5-10 minutes from your dorm to get anything.
I hope this helps. If you have other questions, just write back to me.