I am an engineer at the University of Florida. I am working on a dissertation in medical devices and clinical trials. The university falls in the class of "public Ivy" with prestige similar to Cal-Berkeley, Texas, Virginia, UW at Seattle, or Michigan. It has a huge amount of research activities and funding, especially for engineering. The courses are rigorous, and the academic standards for admission and grades are high. But it's also a fun university with a lot of social activities, a community or "the Gator Nation", and many research opportunities of your choice. UF is the "flagship" university of the state. The highest in-state ranked law school, medical school, and engineering school are at UF. So for a public university it's great. The winter weather is great. There is no "Lake Effect" snow like in the upper midwest.
There are schools that are ranked higher academically, but they are ridiculously expensive and don't have the social aspects with an athletic tradition. UF is multi-dimensional with prestige in both sports and academics. By contrast, Harvard, MIT, and Johns Hopkins are more prestigious academically in terms of ranking (which is subjective) but those Ivy League schools are private and don't have the athletic or social depth of UF or other public Ivy schools. UF is great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3QD1OinHXc
To be fair, there is nothing wrong with doing an undergraduate or master's at UF and then going to MIT or Georgia Tech for a PhD or law degree (or vice versa). In a tough economy, it's best to diversify your academic credentials. I did, and it works. I went to undergraduate school in the midwest and got a master's in the pac-10. I now am at UF for a dissertation.
As for the field of mechanical engineering, I'd recommend doing internships and understanding regulations like ISO-9001, FDA, Defense Regulations, or any other quality assurance protocols. I'd also recommend learning to collaborate with machinists, technicians, or other team members. Communication in verbal or written form are important. If you are good at physics, calculus, and computer simulation models, then mechanical engineering should be great. You'll probably run across ASTM standards at some point in your career. http://www.astm.org/COMMIT/OVERVIEWS/F04.htmhttp://www.engineering-software.com/me/
Just understand that engineering is a hard major and requires a lot of work. It's final exam week at UF, and many students are extremely busy. As an older graduate student, I'm used to it though. Also look into applications of mechanical engineering to medical devices like prosthetic limbs, devices for handicapped people, surgical robotics, etc. There is strong demand.
Go to www.dice.com and type in mechanical engineering. Dice is one of the main search engines for engineering jobs. I used it many times and got multiple jobs over the years across the country. I've worked in the SF Bay Area and here in FL. Just know that engineers tend to move around. http://www.dice.com