During the last two posts, we’ve been exploring possible academic choices for a future valedictorian from North Carolina.
If you missed them and the more than two dozen comments that the posts triggered, here they are:
Some of the parents who shared their thoughts mentioned 3-2 engineering programs. I promised to share what I know about 3-2 engineering options.
I explored these dual engineering programs several years ago when my son Ben, who will soon be starting his senior year at Beloit College, was contemplating majoring in engineering. While Ben wanted to consider engineering he had zero interest in attending a university. He wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a liberal arts college.
Ben already understood what a liberal arts education offers because his sister Caitlin was a student at Juniata College, which is one of the liberal arts colleges featured in late Loren Pope’s popular book, Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way That You Think About Colleges. Caitlin enjoyed all the perks that a liberal arts college can provide, including small classes, great interactions with professors, internship opportunities and the freedom to explore her academic passions.
Initially I thought Ben’s possible major—engineering—would prevent him from attending a liberal arts college, which, as the name suggests, focuses on the liberal arts such as history, English, philosophy, as well as the sciences and math. It’s rare to find a liberal arts college that offers engineering, but here are some exceptions:
In doing some research, however, I discovered the existence of 3-2 engineering programs, which allow students to attend a liberal arts college for three years and obtain a bachelor’s degree in a major like physics or chemistry. The student transfers after three years to an engineering school, such as Washington University in St. Louis, for an additional two years to earn an additional bachelor’s degree in engineering.
How Good Are 3-2 Engineering Programs
I wondered how successful these programs were so I contacted the 3-2 coordinators at Washington University and Columbia University when my son was exploring his options. These two universities happen to be popular for the dual degree programs. The 3-2 coordinators at both schools raved about the programs and the caliber of the liberal arts students who participate.
The Columbia coordinator called 3-2 programs a “hidden jewel” and her peer at Wash U. said if he had to do it over, he’d get his engineering degree through a 3-2 program.
Because the liberal arts students take their prerequisites, including four semesters of math, in small classroom settings, they are well prepared for the rigors of engineering—and can be better prepared than those who start at engineering schools where classes are typically much bigger. They are also less likely to “wash out” because they are more likely to avoid professors who believe it’s their duty to “weed out” weaker engineering candidates.
Employers also love the liberal arts/engineering majors since they not only possess the technical skills, but also know how to write papers, make presentations, and think beyond the requirements of an engineer. The 3-2 coordinator at Washington U. at the time told me that the dual-degree graduates at his institutions are highly popular with employers.
After initially considering a possible double major in physics and engineering, Ben switched over to mathematics as a major with a minor in studio art.
3-2 Engineering Nut & Bolts
If you are interested in a 3-2 program, many liberal arts colleges maintain these program. I pulled this map off the dual engineering program website at Columbia University that shows just how many liberal arts colleges are affiliated with the program.
Click on the following link to learn more about Columbia’s 3-2 engineering program.
Other Engineering Dual Degree Programs
Columbia and Wash U aren’t the only schools that offer dual degrees, but they are popular choices at many liberal arts colleges.
Here are links to some other dual degree programs:
- Dartmouth College engineering dual degree program
- Georgia Tech University dual degree program
- Penn State dual degree program
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 3-2 program
Teens who are interested in this engineering alternative should contact the 3-2 coordinator (often a physics professor) at the liberal arts colleges on their lists. When we were visiting colleges, we made sure we met with this professor. The dual-program coordinator can share what courses a student must take — lots of mathematics and physics. When I was researching schools, Columbia transfers had to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and at Washington University it was a GPA of 3.25.
One of the drawbacks of the dual degree programs is that students must leave after three years to pursue engineering. That is a hard sell for some students. Students can graduate in four years and then transfer to an engineering school, but that will increase the cost.