The college experience is different for everyone. And for undergrads studying engineering, the best programs often found at big universities that focus on research, with large class sizes, and a more prescribed course sequence in math, science, and engineering.

Small liberal arts colleges, on the other hand, tend to offer small class sizes and a broad-based education emphasizing writing, critical thinking, and the expression of ideas. Students come to know their peers and professors well, and receive a more personalized education. However, liberal arts colleges are often more limited in their engineering offerings.

3-2 engineering programs are an interesting alternative in higher education, because they provide students both an intimate, well-rounded liberal arts program as well as allow them to attain a specialized engineering degree. 3-2 program participants typically pursue a bachelor’s degree in the sciences at a small liberal arts college for three years, then transfer to a partner engineering school to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering for two years. Usually, both bachelor’s degrees are awarded upon completion of all five years.

Where are 3-2 Dual Degree Programs Offered?

There are hundreds of 3-2 engineering programs, typically pairing a small liberal arts college with a larger research university that contains a school of engineering, such as Columbia University, Dartmouth, and Washington University in St. Louis. In fact, nearly every small liberal arts college that does not have an engineering major offers a 3-2 option.

Typically, students must fulfill specific pre-engineering requirements and meet minimum GPA requirements (both of which vary by program). These programs also differ in the timing of application (sophomore or junior year), and when each bachelor’s degree is granted. Sometimes, the engineering school reviews applications, and in other instances the engineering school provides an automatic admit if the student meets certain criteria and the liberal arts college grants approval.

Nearly all programs are 3-2, but Dartmouth offers a 2-1-1-1 alternative, in which students spend their first two years and fourth year in their home school, so that they can return for senior year.

Is a 3-2 Engineering Program Right For You?

While it might be appealing to experience two very different college environments (and pursue two bachelor’s degrees), 3-2 programs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some students experience difficulty in adjusting to a new culture and social environment, especially since they are usually transitioning from a small, close-knit environment to a larger school.

Additionally, these programs lack the cohesive experience of a four-year undergraduate program, and students are sometimes frustrated that they are unable to gain leadership positions in activities, because of starting fresh at the new school. Most 3-2 students also cannot participate in study abroad programs.

The Benefits of a 3-2 Engineering Program

A 3-2 program typically begins at a small college, which offers a more personal and supportive environment that helps many students navigate the transition between high school and college. Additionally, students have the chance to ask more questions in small classes and receive more one-on-one help from professors in understanding course content. Many find that this helps prepare them for more difficult courses down the road.

On the flip side, students have access to the resources of a larger university during the latter two years of study. This gives applicants the opportunity to participate in a rigorous, possibly more selective engineering program that they may not have been prepared for or gained admission to as a freshman.

Finally, three years of a broad liberal arts education and two years of a focused, rigorous engineering program could be very desirable to potential employers. Students who complete 3-2 programs have been educated in the fields of writing, critical thinking, and communication, and are trained in highly technical engineering concepts. This combination of creativity and STEM could open many possibilities in ever-changing job markets.

When it comes to choosing a path in engineering, there is no easy answer, and there are many options for study. At Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to share our expertise and find the best-fit education for you. Contact us!