Organizations and individuals have been ranking engineering schools for years. In the US, a whole industry has arisen focused on the business of ranking universities and colleges, including undergraduate engineering schools (Student’s Review of Top Engineering Schools, The Gourman Report, US News & World Report, World Science & Engineering Top Engineering Schools, to name just a few). In Canada, the Corporate Knights recently began compiling an Annual Review of Engineering Schools: Social and Environmental Issues, which examines a number of undergraduate engineering degree programs accredited by the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers. The National Sciences and Engineering Research Council also ranks engineering schools on amount of research grants awarded, and other sources have used the Corporate Index of the Science Citation Index to rank engineering schools on the basis of number of publications. In addition, MacLean’s Magazine conducts an annual ranking of Canadian universities for their "undergraduate experience," and The Globe & Mail newspaper also publishes their "University Report."

Therefore, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, Canadian undergraduate engineering schools are indeed ranked! However, rankings differ greatly in their methodologies and, therefore, their results. The Globe and Mail, for instance, relies on undergraduate student surveys on topics like student faculty interaction, course availability and quality of teaching, while Maclean's uses university data, such as spending on student services, scholarships and bursaries, funding for libraries, faculty success in obtaining national research grants. Maclean's also does not rank schools with fewer than 1,000 full-time students, and some universities themselves criticize the ranking process and refuse to participate (by not providing requested data).

How then should international students interpret these rankings? First, the ranking reports often come with detailed data to support conclusions and while data collection may be criticized, the editors of these reports usually make an effort to ensure that statistics are comparable. So the reports can be used by international students to compare institutions and engineeering schools on the basis of the data provided.

Second, the statistics that come from the rankings can also suggest topics that need to be studied in more detail. For instance, if you find that a high percentage of students participate in a co-op experience and that few opportunities are in western Canada, you might want to to investigate or ask why few students go to this region of the country.

All university and engineering school rankings have one other thing in common: they are a list of institutions and schools. Scanning the list might suggest an engineering school in Canada that you had not considered or perhaps even heard of. Used this way, the rankings can help expand your list of schools that can then be researched in more detail.

However, you should never judge a school based on engineering school rankings alone. Engineering school rankings are important, but there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. Schools that are less prominent may have a program that suits your needs better than any nationally ranked schools. Lesser known regional schools can also be a good choice if you wish to have a different, less urban Canadian experience during your studies. Often times, these schools have smaller classes and stronger relationships with local industries than big city schools. Once you have accumulated this information, you can create your own engineering school rankings.