Welcome to the year 2125.
Look around you. What do you see? What don’t you see?
One thing you might not see, particularly if things remain the way they are right now, is oil. That’s right—oil. And that means a whole lot of other things too, specifically inexpensive gasoline to fuel, well, pretty much anything that moves!
According to recent estimates, at current production and consumption rates, the world has approximately 50 years of oil left. What happens when it’s all gone?
One response to this question comes from the field of nuclear engineering, a field that entered the scene relatively recently (1950s) and has grown exponentially in the last fifty years. One of the most important problems nuclear engineers are currently working on solving is how to produce sustainable, renewable energy from non-fossil-fuel sources.
That might not work its way down to fueling your Prius, but it’s hard to overestimate the importance of this work!
But that’s not all nuclear engineers do. They are also experts in radiation technology, which has a wide variety of uses and application in the medical field, for instance, in nuclear medicine, advanced diagnostic imaging, and cancer treatment.
It’s hard to determine exactly what the future of nuclear engineering will look like in the years ahead, primarily because it is a relatively new field and our energy future is highly uncertain.
One thing we do know, however, is that nuclear engineers are paid handsomely for their expertise; the median income in 2015 was $102,950, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
If you want to be at the forefront of this fascinating and complex industry, you’re going to need a lot of training in some highly specialized areas of engineering science, and not just any old school will do.
That’s where we come in. We’ve compiled a list of the top 25 nuclear engineering schools with your needs in mind. The first thing we want to know, like you, is the bottom line: how much is this going to set me back?
So we’ve included the annual tuition for each school right up front for you. We’ve also included our College Choice Score, which is computed based on each school’s reputation in the field and its return on investment.
The end result is a list of schools that balance cost, reputation, and, ultimately, what they can do for you and your unique goals. You can’t go wrong with any of them, of course, but these schools are leading the way. And if you happen to be searching for the best colleges around, we've got you covered here to.
The rankings you’re about to read are based on a few important sources. The first source is actual college freshman polled during a nationwide survey published by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
These students rated academic reputation, financial aid offerings, overall cost of school, and the survey also took into account graduate success rates ono the post-college job market. These factors were weighed equally alongside data from other publicly available sources, including U.S. News & World Report, the National Center for Education Statistics, and PayScale.com.
2125 is right around the corner. Are you ready to get your Nuclear Engineering Degree?
See our rankings methodology page.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nuclear engineering at MIT dates back to the 1940s and an intentionally collaborative effort among members of several different fields to create a new, cutting-edge field that combined the best of theoretical scientific research and practical solutions to real-world problems. That spirit continues today at MIT, where the nuclear engineering program focuses on the generation, control, and application of nuclear reactions and radiation in order to solve some of the most pressing social and environmental problems of our day.
Nuclear engineering students at MIT are encouraged to think not only about the present, however, but also to think ahead to what needs future generations might have also. MIT does this through both undergraduate and graduate programs that train students both in the fundamentals of nuclear energy and its major applications in the areas of energy generation, security, and health care. Students benefit from a number of unique resources of this department, such as a new communication lab, a floating nuclear power plant, and an ARC fusion reactor, as well as new faculty hires in fission and fusion, increased enrollment, and the innumerable resources of one of the world’s most reputable engineering institutions.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Nuclear engineering students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, will pursue their program in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, which merged with the School of Nuclear Engineering in 1984. The School of Engineering dates to 1962 and has maintained a track record of excellence. The Woodruff School offers training in Nuclear and Radiological Engineering (NRE) and Medical Physics (MP) through one undergraduate degree (BSNRE), two master’s degrees (MSNE and MSMP), and one doctoral degree (PhD NRE). It is consistently recognized for excellence nationally.
Nuclear engineering students at Georgia Tech can expect to be challenged to demonstrate proficiency in a vast range of areas, such as the application of mathematical, scientific, and engineering principles; design of systems, components, processes, and experiments to meet a variety of economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, and medical needs; analysis and interpretation of data; teamwork, problem-solving, and professional responsibility; and communication skills, business principles, and social responsibility.
University of California Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley’s nuclear engineering program, established in 1958, boasts both an undergraduate and a graduate program in nuclear engineering. The department encourages an interdisciplinary approach even to this highly specialized field of study, so students can be found working on anything from advanced energy systems and medical applications to waste management and energy production. Many Berkeley nuclear engineering students actually pursue double majors in related fields, such as electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering. Undergraduate students have a number of supplementary resources at their disposal, such as campus research laboratories, national laboratories, internships, and research opportunities.
Recent graduates of the department of nuclear engineering have found work in laboratories, government agencies of all levels, various occupations in the industry, and in academics. Berkeley’s particular strengths include nuclear waste disposal, materials engineering, fission and fusion, nuclear transfer, and advanced medical applications. Students also benefit from the department’s strong relationships with well-known research centers, such as the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
United States Military Academy
The nuclear engineering program at the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point, seeks to fulfill the following mandate: “To educate and inspire cadets through physics and nuclear engineering course work, research, and support to the West Point Leader Development System so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; and prepared for a career of professional excellence.”
Toward this end, West point expects its students to develop expertise in the areas of basic mathematics, science, and engineering principles; experiment design and implementation; and data analysis and interpretation. They must also demonstrate a capacity to use their knowledge creatively and constructively through applied problem-solving and real-world scenarios. West Point also emphasizes the importance of teamwork, professional conduct, leadership, and communication. Students are also expected to be able to implement their training in the service of the Army in addition to responding to the ever-evolving needs of the civilian context.
United States Naval Academy
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, features an intentionally broad curriculum that prepares students for a variety of challenges in the practice of nuclear engineering. It trains students both in the general engineering principles of solids and fluids, materials science, thermodynamics, and heat transfer, as well as in a variety of medical applications, radiology, nuclear proliferation, physics, mathematical applications, energy generation, and nuclear physics.
Like the program at West Point, graduates are expected to be able to be able to use their training in the service of the Navy or the Marine Corps and the systems they require to operate according to their respective mandates, including but not limited to sea vessels and aircraft. Students capable of meeting this standard of preparation can expect to excel in the civilian context as well.
Students can expect a curriculum that revolves around problem solving and the use of practical skills in both the classroom and laboratory. The program instills a wide variety of skills necessary to the success of a nuclear engineer, such as communication principles, data analysis and reporting, computer programming and simulation, mathematics, and physics.
West Lafayette, IN
Purdue University’s tradition of excellence in nuclear engineering began in the 1950s when Alexander Sesonske, a professor of chemical engineering, made an introduction to nuclear engineering for chemical engineers available in an interdisciplinary graduate seminar for students in other engineering disciplines. Nuclear Reaction Engineering, a text that grew out of Sesonske’s work and co-written with Samuel Glasstone, remains a standard introductory textbook in the field. Since then, Purdue has remained a leader in nuclear engineering and particularly in the solutions the discipline can offer to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Research is a hallmark of a Purdue education, and students have opportunities at the undergraduate level that they might only have at the graduate level at other schools. Indeed, some students have won international awards for their research activity. Purdue also boasts external research funding in excess of $10 million, which has underwritten exploration in fields as diverse as plasma interactions, biomedical applications, and applied intelligent systems to radiation shielding, fission reactor physics, and thermal hydraulics.
Missori University of Science and Technology
Nuclear engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology is in a unique position: it is the only accredited B.S. degree in nuclear engineering in the state of Missouri. Furthermore, it is one of the first accredited nuclear engineering programs in the entire country, and it has built a strong reputation in field as one of the discipline’s leading institutions. It provides training at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and graduates can be found in positions of leadership in the engineering industry, national-level laboratories, medical institutions, government agencies, and various academic institutions.
The Bachelor of Science degree is the cornerstone of the program, and it provides both basic knowledge of the nuclear engineering discipline as well as general professional skills such as problem solving, communication, ethics, leadership, and research strategies. Beyond these skills, students will pursue advanced engineering topics, including reactor fluid mechanics, heat transfer, reactor physics, nuclear radiation, nuclear waste management, laboratory operation, nuclear materials, and nuclear systems design. Students can avail themselves of numerous on-campus resources, such as various laboratories, a nuclear reactor, and state-of-the-art computer facilities, including mainframes and a supercomputer.
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
The origins of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, can be traced back to 1958, when A&M established a program designed to serve the security needs of the state, the country, and the international community. A&M’s program is consistently ranked as one of the country’s leading nuclear engineering institutions, and it is also the country’s largest, with nearly 230 undergraduate students and more than 150 graduate students in its programs.
Even with the program’s size, however, A&M is still able to boast small classes as well as mentor groups, and offers concentrations in radiological health engineering and health physics in addition to nuclear engineering. A&M’s advanced facilities include two research reactors, seven accelerators, and a plasma laboratory. The program also boasts extensive financial assistance through scholarships and assistantships, a large faculty, and an excellent reputation on campus.
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign offers training in nuclear engineering through its College of Engineering, which was founded in 1868 and continues to be a major hub of research, education, and problem-solving in a number of engineering subfields. The College houses the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering, which received its current name in 1999. Prior to 1999, it operated as the Department of Nuclear Engineering (1986) after functioning as an interdisciplinary program since 1958.
The Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering boasts particular expertise in radiation and its production, transport, and interactions, and in nuclear process applications. Examples of applications would include the use of fission in generating electrical power and the exploration of advanced nuclear reactions for energy systems. Fusion is another area of development Illinois students explore, particularly its unique uses in the energy industry. The department also trains students in the areas of plasma science, radiological science, medical physics, and global energy and security.
Nuclear engineering students at the University of Florida will pursue their course of study in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, where they can expect training in a variety of applications, problems, theories, and methods in the field, such as power generation, homeland security, radiation transport methods, and advanced nuclear materials. Students will also have the opportunity to explore areas such as nondestructive imaging and detection, nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics, and nuclear nonproliferation and other safeguards.
Graduates of the University of Florida’s nuclear engineering program can be found in a wide variety of careers both directly and tangentially related to nuclear engineering, for instance, electricity production, medical diagnostic imaging, non-destructive testing, and radiation detection and measurement. Florida’s curriculum is broad by design and includes training in radiation interactions, particle diffusion, thermal hydraulics, reactor physics, fuel cycle and waste management, and radiation protection. Florida’s faculty is actively involved in research and development in many of these important areas of the discipline and can offer some of the country’s best knowledge and experience to aspiring nuclear engineers.
Unlike the majority of the schools on our list, Ohio State University’s nuclear engineering program is primarily a graduate program. Undergraduates entertaining an interest in nuclear engineering, however, can pursue their interest through a nuclear engineering minor or through nuclear engineering electives in the mechanical engineering major, such as Introduction to Nuclear Science and Engineering, Nuclear Reactor Systems, Radiation Protection and Shielding, Reactor Safety, and Nuclear Radiations and Their Measurements.
The graduate program in Nuclear Engineering is administered through the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and prepares students for advanced careers in the field through a focus on areas such as radiation, radioactive materials, and fission. Amenities available to students include the Scott Lab, a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility, and the Ohio State University Nuclear Reactor Lab. Graduates of the program have been placed in regulatory organizations, nuclear power plants, academic posts, and research and laboratory posts. Sponsors of the program include the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NASA, and others.
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA
Penn State offers nuclear engineering training through the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, which is one of the largest engineering departments in the country at over 1,000 undergraduate students and 330 graduate students. Penn State engineering is no stranger to national rankings list, and their nuclear engineering program is no exception. Their facilities feature the latest in technological advances, including the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, a working research reactor.
Some of the research areas Penn State specializes in include nuclear materials, reactor controls, thermal hydraulics, and reactor physics. Related areas of specialization include core design, fluid flow, core heat removal, accident analysis, and service degradation. Penn State researchers also boast experience in other areas, such as radiation and imaging for medical applications, and also nuclear security. Penn State’s work in nuclear security involves both training in radioactivity, non-proliferation, and verification, and also mechanical research and development of tools that contribute to the advancement of these important pursuits.
The University of Wisconsin, located in Madison, Wisconsin, offers training in nuclear engineering through the Department of Engineering Physics, where students can pursue a B.S. in nuclear engineering and an M.S. and Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and engineering physics. In addition to conventional training in research and application of nuclear physics and radiation, particularly as it relates to the nuclear power industry, the Department of Engineering Physics’s intentionally broad curriculum also offers training in applied radiation, for instance, health and medical physics, plasma physics, plasma processing, and environmental remediation.
Graduates of Wisconsin’s nuclear engineering programs have been placed in a wide variety of occupations in the nuclear industry as well as in auxiliary fields, such as electric utilities, governmental regulation positions, energy consulting, and vessel propulsion. Because the program is housed in a department that also trains mechanical engineers, nuclear engineering specialists gain exposure to traditional mechanical and general engineering skills as well, which provides students with much more professional latitude than some other departments. Thus, in addition to specialist knowledge in fission, fusion, and radioactivity, Wisconsin graduates can expect to be well prepared in physics, mathematics, management, and law.
Virginia Tech students interested in a career in nuclear engineering can pursue their interests in the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Nuclear Engineering Program. The program is committed to the full range of nuclear engineering subdisciplines, including nuclear power, security, medical physics and health applications, nuclear materials, plasma science, and nuclear policy.
Virginia Tech’s program is currently growing aggressively through expanding its resources, facilities, faculty, and funding and well on its way to becoming one of the country’s premier programs. Graduates of Virginia Tech’s program can expect to acquire expertise in design, materials handling, power generation, security and safeguards, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, and other emerging fields.
The University of Michigan provides training in nuclear engineering through the College of Engineering, which houses ten departments in addition to Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Science—an enviable interdisciplinary research context that provides any number of academic opportunities and advantages. Michigan’s nuclear engineering program is highly organized, and it is dedicated to real-world problem solving in addition to maintaining a national-level research profile in the field. The program focuses on four major areas: sustainable energy, nuclear security and defense, environment and health, and enabling scientific discovery.
Michigan requires its students to develop a firm grasp of mathematics, physics, chemistry, computing, and basic engineering principles before proceeding to training in nuclear engineering, which is reserved for students’ final two years. NE coursework involves particular training in atomic and nuclear physics, nuclear processes, and radiation, and students are required to consider applying this knowledge to engineering problems early in their training, including systems development, component design, and safety.
North Carolina State University
The nuclear engineering program at North Carolina State University is unique in a number of respects. In addition to being the only program of its type in the state of North Carolina, it was also the first program in the country to have a campus-based nuclear reactor to serve as a resource for education. Additionally, it serves the discipline through being the lead institution in the Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities (CNEC), funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN R&D) Proliferation Detection Program (PDP), and the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL), funded by the Department of Energy.
The program is also home to a number of research groups and centers, which supports North Carolina State’s particular strengths in the areas of industrial plasma discharge, plasma applications, fabrication, medical radiation and radioisotope measurement, nuclear reactions, core neutronics, thermal hydraulics, fuel performance, and a variety of nuclear power plant operation applications. Students can expect to be well prepared for nearly any area of specialty within this important discipline, and the programs, centers, and resources available to them at North Carolina State rival those of the top programs in the country.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is a household name in the field of engineering and other applied sciences, and its nuclear engineering program is no exception. The programs inception dates to 1960 with a linear electron accelerator construction project, and it is one of the country’s first nuclear engineering programs. The accelerator was finished in 1961, and the department began awarding its first Ph.D. and B.S. degrees in quick succession.
Nuclear engineering students at Rensselaer have a number of areas of specialization and concentration available to them, including fission reactor physics, reactor engineering, health physics, thermal-hydraulics, reliability and safety, fusion engineering, neutron physics, homeland security, and medical physics. Students also have access to state-of-the-art facilities, such as a critical reactor, an electron accelerator, and computer interfacing technology. Graduates of the program are in high demand, and they have been placed in industrial and academic positions alike as well as in careers in power propulsion, fusion reactor engineering, medicine, and defense.
While New York University does not offer a formal major in nuclear engineering, students interested in pursuing a career in nuclear engineering have the option of a minor or concentration in Nuclear Science and Engineering combined with a major in another engineering discipline, such as civil, chemical and biological, computer, electrical, financial and risk, or mechanical engineering, or the physical or computational sciences. This combination of traditional engineering training combined with five nuclear engineering courses will provide students with sufficient background to be able to enter the workforce or pursue further study in the discipline.
The minor was developed through a collaboration between professors in applied physics and mechanical and aerospace engineering, and through funding from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The original impetus, like that of so many nuclear engineering programs across the country, was a need for an interdisciplinary program that could meet the growing need for experts who could fulfill the growing need for alternative energy sources and help blaze trails in safety and security in the nuclear future. Recent graduates who have taken advantage of the resources of this program have been well prepared to embark on careers in nuclear power, nuclear medicine, nuclear imaging, nuclear-based sensing, nondestructive testing, and governmental agencies.
Students at Oregon State University interested in nuclear engineering will find a home in the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, one of the first of its kind in the country. It was founded in 1959 and has since become one of the leaders in the field with more than 1,000 alumni across the globe in a wide variety of fields of specialization. The School is highly active in its discipline and offers students multiple opportunities for research and application, whether they are pursuing an undergraduate degree, M.S., M.Eng., or Ph.D.
In addition to its relatively longer history in the field, Oregon State also offers extensive state-of-the-art testing facilities, a highly experienced faculty, and a low student-to-faculty ratio. The School also enjoys a partnership with NuScale Power, LLC, a modular reactor design company nearby that offers internships and employment for OSU grads. The School also features a Gen IV nuclear power High Temperature Test Faciliy as well as an on-campus research reactor. Highly qualified students can apply to become certified reactor operators by the the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The University of New Mexico has been active in the nuclear engineering field for fifty years and offers B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in nuclear engineering. It is the only program of its kind in the state of New Mexico, and one of the few in the southwestern and western U.S. At the M.S. level, they also offer concentrations in Medical Physics and Radiation Protection and Engineering. UNM’s faculty is highly active in a number of nuclear engineering subdisciplines and regularly receive external funding to pursue new avenues in thermal hydraulics, reactor physics, nuclear instrumentation, radiation transport theory, reactor design and safety, nuclear nonproliferation, space nuclear reactors, and advanced imaging. UNM also enjoys partnerships with a number of influential laboratories, such as the Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
On-campus facilities include an AGN-201R low-power reactor, a radiation measurements and detection laboratory, fluids and thermal hydraulics laboratories, and state-of-the-art computer facilities, all of which contribute to the uniquely rich research atmosphere at UNM. The curriculum is designed to be well-rounded but also demanding, and numerous scholarships, assistantships, internships, and fellowships are available. Collaboration with faculty on research projects is not uncommon.
Kansas State University offers training in nuclear engineering through its Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, which awards both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Undergraduates can pursue a mechanical engineering degree with a nuclear engineering option, and graduate students can elect to study either mechanical engineering or nuclear engineering. The undergraduate program involves engineering science courses early in the program and then progresses to applied considerations in the junior and senior year. The curriculum includes laboratory and application courses in order to encourage creative, constructive thought in the discipline as well as problem-solving.
The undergraduate program at Kansas State University culminates with a major industrial design project, which is designed to test students’ aptitude for real-world challenges. It is completed in teams, which reflects how most real-world work is done, and conducted in collaboration with major industrial sponsors. Upon successful completion of this project, students are well prepared to face whatever the workforce might throw their way, and graduates enjoy excellent placement records throughout the industry.
South Carolia State University
The nuclear engineering program at South Carolina State University had interesting beginnings. It began as a partnership between SCSU and the University of Wisconsin, which is featured earlier on this list, in 2002 to offer at Bachelor of Science degree in nuclear engineering. It was the first arrangement of its kind, and it still operates as a partnership with both the University of Wisconsin and North Carolina State University. It is designed to make nuclear engineering training accessible to students of all backgrounds. The degree is conferred by South Carolina State University, but students can complete the second half of their senior year at any of the three institutions.
The program has been a success by all measures. What began with five students has now grown to more than fifty, and the program has conferred nearly fifty B.S. degrees since its inception in 2002. It remains the only nuclear engineering program in the state of South Carolina, and it has been accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board until 2018. It has successfully recruited and retained a dedicated, experienced, and highly qualified faculty that is well situated to push the program forward in the years ahead.
Like several other schools on our list, the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee was established in the late 1950s, and it consistently receives national recognition for excellence. In addition to a highly active research agenda, the Department also boasts strategic partnerships with institutions such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 Nuclear Security Complex, and UCOR, as well as nuclear utility companies and international research associations.
Undergraduate students at Tennessee can pursue one of two tracks within the department: a nuclear power engineering track, which focuses on fission energy, or a radiological engineering concentration, which focuses on preparation for careers in radiation safety and health physics. Graduate placement from both concentrations exceeds 90 percent. The Department also offers the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, and it boasts expertise in a wide variety of nuclear engineering subdisciplines, including nuclear reactor fuels and materials, advanced modeling and simulation, nuclear security, nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear fusion technologies, radiological sciences and health physics, nuclear criticality safety, nuclear reactor dynamics and control, reliability and maintainability engineering, nuclear system reliability and risk assessment, radiation transport, and thermal hydraulics.
Thomas Edison State University
Thomas Edison State University’s nuclear engineering program is more specialized than most programs. TESU offers two totally online ABET accredited bachelor’s degrees in Applied Science and Technology in Nuclear Energy Engineering Technology (NEET) and Electronics Systems Engineering Technology (ESET) intended primarily for nuclear energy operations and support personnel. Using advanced technologies and simulation both cornerstone degrees focus more on application rather than theory, and the advanced technological applications it prepares students for are highly specialized. Students either enter from civilian energy industry positions or the U.S. Navy nuclear power program. Both degrees are 120-plus credits, but credits may be earned from TESU, the Navy Basic Nuclear Power School, advanced Navy training, NRRPT certification, NRC licensure or professional training.
The program’s practical and applied focus produces graduates who are experts in their field of nuclear power generation. They are well versed in all aspects of, arguably one of the most significant sub-disciplines in nuclear engineering, including, but not limited to, reactor operation and safety; simulation; quality assurance; radiological protection; and instrumentation and control technology. Graduates are well poised to obtain professional licensure upon successful completion of the TESU program.
TESU also offers a Master of Science in Applied Science and Technology degree in Nuclear Energy Technology Management.
Excelsior College offers a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering Technology, but unlike the other schools on our list, it offers the option of completing the degree online. Indeed, it is one of only two in the country to offer an online option that is also accredited by ABET.
Students can therefore be reassured of the quality of education they will be receiving but also enjoy the flexibility of distance education, which Excelsior has been involved in since 1971. Excelsior supplements its course requirements through awarding credit for professional experience. Eligible experience includes military training, industry accredited training, and other non-classroom training upon the institution’s approval.