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Careers in the Auto Industry: 10 Colleges Not To Miss

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One in 22 jobs in the United States is related in some way to the automotive industry. Yet, it’s hard to think of a single college program that’s devoted to training people in those jobs. For high school juniors and seniors considering college who also have an interest in the automotive industry, BestRide has selected 10 colleges that provide training for just about every facet of the automotive industry, from auto technicians all the way up to auto designers.

We selected the colleges on their relevance to a particular part of the industry, and their reputation in the job market. In some cases, the colleges listed are the only programs in the country. In others, the programs stand out as the top in the field. There’s even one that’s the oldest technical school in America, founded with a bequest from the will of one of the nation’s founding fathers.

These colleges award anywhere from Associate’s Degrees up to Ph.Ds. We’ve selected both public and private colleges from all over the United States. Find the job you’re interested in studying for, and learn more about these educational institutions below:

For Auto Technicians

MassBay Community College
Ashland, Massachusetts

Tuition: $4,680 (in-state)/$8,880 (out-of-state)
Acceptance Rate: 99 percent

IMG_1626MassBay Community College is far from alone in providing students with a degree-based, hands-on automotive technology program supported by OEMs. Like community colleges across the country, MassBay Community College not only provides students with the automotive technology background they need to be placed in jobs in automotive service departments, but it also requires students to take two years’ worth of 100- and 200-level college courses to earn an Associate’s Degree.

As a bonus, the credit students earn toward their Associate’s Degree is generally fully transferable to four-year public and private colleges for students who decide to take their education even further.

The program at MassBay Community College is supported by Toyota, BMW, Chrysler and General Motors, with tracks for students to specialized in service for those brands. Students can also take advantage of co-operative training that allows them to work in the field and earn a paycheck for college credit.

Considering that the most heavily marketed private, for-profit technical school costs more than $40,000 for a 51 week program, programs like those offered by MassBay Community College are a smoking deal.

Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
Boston, Massachusetts

Tuition: $18,190 (Bachelor’s degree program)
Automotive Tool Fee: $2,260 (first year) / $2,100 (second year)
Acceptance Rate: 64%

10 Colleges - Benjamin Franklin InstituteBenjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) is located in the very heart of Boston’s Back Bay. It was founded in 1908, making its automotive program one of the nation’s oldest. In a codicil to his will of 1789, Benjamin Franklin established a 200 year plan for £1,000 he bequeathed to the City of Boston. After 100 years of providing loans to Boston’s young workmen, the city established the technical school in 1908, along with a gift from Andrew Carnegie and a gift of land from the City.

Like the community college programs, BFIT provides students a strong technical education, along with a regular course of study in general education. Students can choose to work toward a certificate, an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree in Automotive Technology.

Through a partnership with Snap-On Tools, the school provides students with a full set of automotive technician’s tools at a significantly reduced rate. Students pay about half what they’d pay for the tool set from a retailer.

For Auto Collision Repair Technicians

North Central Kansas Technical College
Beloit, Kansas

Tuition: $6,111 (first year)/$4,979 (second year)
Acceptance Rate: 99%

North Central Kansas Tech is another two-year, public college that offers students automotive experience before they enter the full-time workforce. North Central Kansas Tech offers four transportation-related majors, including Automotive Technology, Agricultural Equipment Technology, Diesel Technology, and Collision Technology. Like Automotive Technology, many community colleges across the country offer Collision Technology concentrations, so check out some of the community colleges in your area to learn more.

Over the course of two years, students enrolled in the program get fully trained in all facets of collision technology, from OSHA training, to advanced courses in Structural Analysis and Damage Repair.

Unlike for-profit technical schools, students also complete seven required general education courses including Business Math, English Composition and the Fundamentals of Oral Communication on their way to an Associate’s Degree.

For Auto Dealership Managers

Northwood University
Midland, Michigan (and satellite locations)

Tuition: $22,940
Acceptance Rate: 68%

Over a million Americans are employed in the retail automotive business, and on average, they earn more than twice the median income. Surprising, then, that there are very few academic programs devoted specifically to the operation of a retail automotive dealership. Northwood University’s Automotive Marketing and Management program provides graduates with the tools they need to manage thriving automotive dealerships.

10 colleges - Northwood UniversityBy graduation, students learn about fixed and variable operations in a dealership, finance and insurance, dealership accounting and dealership financial statements, along with a rigorous course of business classes.

For Auto Restorers

McPherson College
McPherson, Kansas

Tuition: $25,236
Acceptance Rate: 88.4%

Founded in 1887 by the Church of the Brethren, for most of its history, McPherson College existed as a liberal arts college, with majors ranging from Biology to Visual Arts. In 1976, though, a local entrepreneur by the name of Gaines H. “Smokey” Billue donated 125 classic and antique automobiles to the college, for the sole purpose of building Templeton Hall, which would become the home of the College’s Automotive Restoration program, one of just two four-year, degree-awarding Automotive and Motorcycle Restoration Technology programs in the country.

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The program has been in existence since 1997, and attained no small measure of attention when Jay Leno established the Fred S. Duesenberg Scholarship and the Jay Leno Popular Mechanics Scholarship, to provide financial assistance to students interested in automotive restoration.

The program awards degrees on six separate study tracks:

  • Automotive Restoration Technology
  • Automotive Restoration Management
  • Automotive Restoration Design Technology
  • Historic Automotive Technology
  • Automotive Communication
  • Motorcycle Restoration Technology

McPherson College’s goal for the program is that by 2023, it will compete to win a the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

For Racing Engineers

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianpolis Motorsports Engineering
Indianapolis, Indiana

Tuition: $9,065 (in-state) / $30,615  (out-of-state)
Acceptance Rate: 69%

When it accepted the Motorsports Engineering program into the School of Engineering and Technology, in 2008, IUPUI had the very first motorsports engineering program in the nation. Located as it is, just a few miles from the Brickyard, the program offers 70 semester hours of engineering coursework, bolstered by another 57 hours specific to motorsports.

10 Colleges - IUPUI-Student-Center-The motorsports-specific part of the program is comprised of:

  • Introduction to Motorsports
  • Business of Motorsports
  • Motorsports Design
  • Data Acquisition in Motorsports I & II
  • Dynamic Systems and Signals
  • Computer Aided Engineering
  • Control Systems Analysis and Design
  • Motorsports Aerodynamics
  • Vehicle Dynamics
  • IC Engines
  • Capstone Design Project
  • Internship

Approximately 100 students a semester have been enrolled in the program since the spring of 2014.

For Automotive Engineers

University of Texas – Arlington
Arlington, Texas

Tuition: $18,250 (in-state) / $36,008 (out-of-state)
Acceptance Rate: 60%

Texas may have missed out as the location of Tesla’s new battery plant, but it successfully wooed Toyota to the state, from its 60 year residence in Torrance, California. Texas is becoming more and more important to the automotive industry, and mechanical engineering degrees from UTA are more respected than ever.

10 Colleges - UT ArlingtonUTA doesn’t have an automotive program per se, but it might as well have. The new Arnold E. Petsche Center for Automotive Engineering was just endowed with a $1 million grant from Arnold E. Petsche, founder of Arlington-based A.E. Petsche Co., and a matching $1 million grant through the university’s Maverick Match program. The Petsche Center promotes engineering education primarily through student participation in the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers program.

The students design a Formula SAE car, and race their vehicle against collegiate teams from across the country. UTA’s students have performed consistently well in Formula SAE Collegiate Design Competitions, with a 12th place finish this past year, ahead of more recognized schools like Kettering University and Michigan Tech.

Kettering University
Flint, Michigan

Tuition: $36,980
Acceptance Rate: 71.6%

Kettering University was originally founded at the dawn of the automotive industry as The School of Automotive Trades in 1919, then was later named Flint Institute in 1923 before General Motors took the school over in 1932 and renamed it as the General Motors Institute. When General Motors disastrously shuttered its Buick operations in Flint in 1982, it split from the University, and by 1998, it was renamed a fourth time, honoring Charles “Boss” Kettering, founder of Delco, and GM’s head of research from 1920 to 1947.

10 Colleges - KetteringWhen Kettering University split from General Motors, it publicized the fact that it was developing programs outside the automotive industry, but at its core, Kettering University builds automotive engineers. What makes it somewhat unique is its co-op education program, which puts students in the field at authorized employers for five terms, in addition to nine terms at the University.

Kettering’s Mechanical Engineering program is considered the fourth best in the nation by the U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Colleges” edition, and allows students to choose a minor in Automotive Engineering Design.

Notable Kettering University graduates include General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Group Vice President for Ford Motor Company Engineering Raj Nair, and Gene Stefanyshyn, Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development for NASCAR.

Clemson University Department of Automotive Engineering
Clemson, South Carolina

Tuition: $10,698 (in state)/$21,366 (out of state)
Acceptance Rate: 17%

South Carolina never had an automotive program, because it never had much of an automotive industry prior to 1992. That’s when BMW built a $2.2 billion plant that employs 10,000 people. It led to over 250 automotive-related companies in the area. The result was that Clemson University was able to develop the nation’s only graduate Department of Automotive Engineering, as part of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).

10 colleges - clemsonGraduate students work toward either a Master’s of Science (M.S.) or a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) in automotive engineering. It’s an industry-driven program developed in partnership with BMW, Chrysler, Toyota, Harley-Davidson, Michelin and many of the other suppliers that provide support to the industry.

Based on constant market research, the school is divided into seven research clusters:

  • Advanced Powertrains
  • Automotive Systems Integration
  • Human Factors/HMI
  • Manufacturing and Materials
  • Vehicle Performance
  • Vehicle to Vehicle Infrastructure Integration
  • Vehicular Electronics

In addition, the University’s Deep Orange program provides students with hands-on experience in vehicle design, engineering, prototyping and production throughout the entire program. In Deep Orange, along with OEM and supplier partners, students build a prototype every year, providing them with real-world experience along with academics.

The National Academies of Science named CU-ICAR one of its five global best practices. In 2009, it was awarded the Emerging Science and Technology Park Award for North America by the Association of University Research Parks, and the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI) honored CU-ICAR with its Excellence in Tech-Based Economic Development award in 2012.

An impressive 99 percent of graduates from the program are utilizing their degrees in the automotive industry, and 26 percent of its graduates are employed in South Carolina.

For Automotive Designers

College for Creative Studies
Detroit, Michigan

Tuition: $37,560
Acceptance Rate: 42%

Last year, we did an interview with SRT’s design chief, Mark Trostle, who was busy resurrecting the Detroit Autorama Design Competition for high school students. He talked about his experience in high school. When he told his guidance counselor that he was interested in automotive design, she almost talked him out of it. “Oh, you don’t have the math grades for that,” she said, assuming that Trostle wanted to be an engineer, rather than an artist.

With the great advice of Richard Saunders, his art teacher, he ended up entering the 1987 edition of the same competition, and winning a scholarship to the College for Creative Studies. Today, he has one of the top automotive design jobs in the nation, and if it wasn’t for that one art teacher, he’d have never known he could draw cars for a living.

10 colleges - CCSSince 1962, CCS has been educating the people who design the cars and trucks you see every single day. In CCS’s words: “[Other schools have joined the party. Their graduates find jobs, too: working for our graduates.”

Along with a concentration in Automotive Design, CCS offer

  • Airplane Design
  • Bike Design
  • Boat Design
  • Motorcycle Design
  • Mass Transit Design

…making it a well-rounded transportation design program.

Notable alumni from the program include Joel Piaskowski, director of design, Ford Motor Company, Thomas Kearns, chief designer, Kia Design, and Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of SRT/Motorsports and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler Group LLC.


Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.