engineer working on computer

by Landis Fryer, former admissions officer at Dartmouth College

Engineering is a popular major at many universities because it is exciting, constantly changing, and can lead to wonderful career opportunities. Many students who are interested in engineering complete advanced courses like physics and calculus in high school and want to enroll directly into an engineering program, typically at a flagship university in their home state (like Georgia Tech, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo). While this route toward an engineering degree is appealing, the application process often is highly competitive, as many students desire to be part of these growing fields when they graduate and want the educational experiences offered at these institutions.

Because of this popularity, admission directly into undergraduate engineering programs is less secure, even for students who have performed well in advanced math and science classes in high school. This is important to consider especially when you must declare your desired engineering major when you apply to the schools, well before you start taking classes to know if the major is right for you. If you are hesitant and ponder things like: “I don’t know really know what engineering is,” or, “It’s hard for me to choose an engineering discipline,” or, “Engineering might be stressful as a first-year student, and I don’t want to drop out,” or if you just want some flexibility in both admissions and in selecting your engineering focus, there is an option out there you should explore: Instead of going directly into an engineering program, consider a 3-2 program.

What is a 3-2 engineering program?

This is a special educational track offered by a liberal arts college and an engineering school, where you would spend three years at the college and then two years at the engineering school. These programs were created because many liberal arts colleges do not have their own engineering programs and partnering with universities that do allows their students to maximize their educational experiences and achieve their engineering goals.

Well, aren’t these programs five years instead of four?

Yes! But it is important to know: many students take five years to complete an undergraduate engineering degree anyway and graduate with only one diploma. With a 3-2 program, you receive a diploma from a liberal arts college and a diploma from the engineering school—two bachelor’s degrees in five years! Students select the 3-2 route because it offers the best of both worlds: you complete your degree in liberal studies to build your critical thinking process, your writing abilities, and your study skills, and carry those to a potentially more technical engineering educational experience.

This 3-2 opportunity sounds intriguing. How can I learn more?

You can begin the process of researching 3-2 programs now (especially if you are a current or rising junior) by visiting College Lists Wiki 3-2 Programs to see which liberal arts colleges offer them. You should also note that engineering programs at Columbia, Dartmouth, and Washington University in St Louis have extensive connections to many liberal arts schools nationwide.

You should connect with both the liberal arts and the engineering school’s admissions offices or search their sites to see what requirements, including courses and GPA, are necessary to participate in the 3-2. A great part about the 3-2 is that in your first three years, you can choose any major you want, like chemistry, physics, or even history (!) while satisfying the necessary requirements to enroll in the engineering school. You must also pay attention to deadlines (typically you will apply separately to the 3-2 program during your sophomore year of college), financial aid resources (since there are two different schools), and enrollment options. Please know that some engineering programs guarantee admission to 3-2 students and some do not; use this information wisely when choosing a college.

If you are considering pursuing engineering because it is your dream, consider if attending a 3-2 program is right for you. Two diplomas in five years can open many doors for you personally and professionally, plus this route gives you more options from which to choose when you are headed toward a career in engineering.

College Application Prep 101

Written by Landis Fryer
Landis Fryer is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Landis received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth, his master's degree from Penn, and his Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago. Prior to joining College Coach, Landis worked as an admissions officer at Dartmouth and Northwestern. Visit our website to learn more about Landis Fryer.