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My son is a junior in high school and he wants to major in engineering. My husband and I are concerned about the high wash out rate of students majoring in engineering at universities. At some schools it's as high as 50%. Consequently, we were curious about 3-2 programs at liberal arts colleges.
Many liberal arts colleges across the country offer these 3-2 degree programs. You attend three years at a liberal arts college and the next two years at an engineering school and you end up with a liberal arts degree and an engineering degree. Colleges often align with the engineering schools at Columbia University and Washington University in St. Louis. Some of the other schools that participate include Penn State, Case Western Reserve and Duke.
I wondered, however, if these 3-2 programs really work. Do the colleges adequately prepare students for the rigors of engineering school in the fourth and fifth year of school?
What I found out when I talked with the director of the engineering program at Washington University was extremely encouraging. (He didn't want his name used because he said he is leaving the program after eight years and someone will be taking his place.)
The engineer was positively ebullient in his praise of the liberal arts students who end up at Washington University's engineering program. He said some of the best engineering students at his school are the liberal arts transfers. He said the liberal arts majors are mature, they actually finish the engineering program--unlike some of Wash U.'s own students -- and they get great jobs. He said employers are very eager to hire engineers with the extra liberal arts degree. "It's almost too good to be true," he gushed.
He attributes the success of the transfer students to the more personalized attention at their smaller liberal arts schools, which can provide the nurturing some kids need to get through rigorous math and science classes. A student at a liberal arts college is more likely to receive help as opposed to a student at a university where there could be hundreds in a calculus class.
He has been so pleased with the success of the 3-2 program that he said if he could get his engineering degree over again, he would start at a liberal arts school.
He said there should be no mystery about who is accepted for the program. Washington University posts the requirements on its web sites. For instance, a student needs to have taken three calculus courses, two semesters of calculus-based physics, two semesters of chemistry, etc. The school requires a 3.25 GPA, but some schools don't require a GPA this high. He believes Columbia only requires a 3.0 GPA. If a student meets all the posted requirements, he or she accepted to the program.
Washington U. does provide financial aid and some merit aid to students, but there are no guarantees. The package a student receives may be better or worse than the one they obtained at their liberal arts colleges.
I am going to talk to the person in charge of the 3-2 program at Columbia University when she gets back from vacation. In an brief email, she said she considers the 3-2 program to be a hidden educational gem.
This approach won't necessarily be the right fit for all would-be engineers, but it's definitely worth considering. Especially since the wash out rate for engineering students who choose the traditional route is so high.
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