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3-2 Engineering Programs

CollegeSolutionCollegeSolution - Posts: 3 New Member
edited December 2013 in Engineering Majors
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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Post edited by CollegeSolution on

Replies to: 3-2 Engineering Programs

  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Registered User Posts: 6,608 Senior Member
    I don't know how I feel about the 3/2 programs, since I felt my best learning experiences were from the homeworks and conversations my friends and I had while trying to figure them out in our higher level courses. I know I would have had a much more difficult time making friends if I hadn't started at the same time and been doing work with them all along.
  • ken285ken285 Registered User Posts: 3,919 Senior Member
    I can't say I'm too surprised about the success rate of 3-2 students. Most engineering majors in the straight 4 year program that can't make it drop out in the first 2 years. Very few, if any, drop out in the final 2 years, which is when the 3-2 students join the program. If there are weeder classes, it's going to be in the freshman and sophomore years.

    I don't think making friends is going to be a problem if you go to a school with a big 3-2 program. At Columbia, there were plenty of other 3-2 students to be friends with. Also at Columbia, you don't take classes within your major until your junior year, so you're on pretty even footing with everybody else.
  • broken_symlinkbroken_symlink Registered User Posts: 690 Member
    I am actually going to be starting in a 3/2 program this fall. I will going to Clark and majoring in math, and then hopefully going to Columbia to major in computer engineering. I was also skeptical at first about whether or not 3/2 students are well prepared, but after talking to some people they seem to do just fine.

    There are some downsides to the 3/2 program at Columbia. Apparently the 3/2 students live in one of the worst dorms on campus, and they live far away from the engineering buildings. They also seem to all clump together because of the housing issue and don't interact much with regular Columbia students. After the first year at Columbia 3/2 students enter the regular housing lottery. However, they still seem to stick together.
  • jyber209jyber209 Registered User Posts: 653 Member
    Our family explored a number of 3-2 programs when our son, a 2008 high school grad, was looking at colleges. He wanted a smaller school with liberal arts as well as engineering, which is why we thought 3-2 might be an answer for him.

    All I can say is, be VERY careful about 3-2 programs. We found that, at least from the data we eventually uncovered (and had never been publicized - we had to push to get the info), VERY FEW students who start out thinking of 3-2 engineering actually do finish in an engineering program. GET the data from each school about the number who really have moved on to engineering programs each year. In the schools we checked out (including some very fine schools althoughy I do not want to mention the names here) the numbers were extremely small - as in, in some years, ZERO. Few and far between was the general impression I got.

    I definitely got the impression that at least for some schools, the 3-2 option is offered primarily as a marketing ploy to attract some kids who otherwise would rule out the school. (Yeah, we don't have an engineering program, but you can still become an engineer if you come here for three years first.)

    Engineering programs are very expensive to offer and run, and very resource dependent. Having excellent lab facilities is important. Taking math, physics etc. classes does not, IMO, present a solid substitute for exposure to true engineering from the start.

    That does NOT mean that this approach would not work for some. Many paths, etc. (And, re the poster above who mentioned Clark, that was not one of the schools we explored so I do not have any data on that school's outcomes.)

    Just one opinion, but one developed after having explored this seriously. Our son ended up enrolling in a traditional engineering program at a liberal arts school.
  • jyber209jyber209 Registered User Posts: 653 Member
    Response to post #!:
    I can't speak for WUSTL of course, but their site says, "Admission
    To be considered (bold emphasis mine) for admission to the Dual Degree Program, students must complete courses in Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Humanities and Social Sciences, English Composition, Statistics, and Dynamics. Statistics and Dynamics are only required for Civil and Mechanical Engineering. A grade point average of B+ (3.25/4.0) or better and a minimum of 70-90 semester hours of transferable college credit are required. "

    Schools we checked out that partnered with WUSTL told us, (and only after we had pushed for a definitive answer re this point), that no, there are NOT guaranteed admissions, merely guidelines/criteria for eligibility. In other words, the schools they mention as partners have full discretion about accepting transfers from the first school, and there are no guarantees. Frankly, IMO this only makes sense, as numbers of applicants can easily be out of proportion to numbers of spaces available some years.

    Perhaps this is not the case any longer, or perhaps we were given incorrect info, but I would recommend that anyone considering the 3-2 route get confirmation of the admissions policy from both schools in writing before making a decision.

    Consider me paranoid ;), but I would not want to spend three years (in time or tuition) hoping for the best.
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 2,723 Senior Member
    3-2 programs are much more popular in theory than they are in practice. I think it's true that they are rarely utilized at many of the LACs that advertise them.

    In practice, the "4-2" route is more popular: stay at your LAC, get a BA degree in physical science or math, then apply to a university for an engineering MS.

    Dartmouth offers an alternative approach to 3-2 programs, which is really 2-1-1-1. Two years at your LAC, junior year at Dartmouth studying engineering, back to your LAC for senior year and graduation, then back to Dartmouth to complete the engineering degree. This approach takes advantage of the "junior year away" tradition popular at many LACs.
  • YOUYOU Registered User Posts: 621 Member
    jyber, Columbia does say they offer 'guaranteed' admissions..

    Many people who 'intend' to be engineers thru the 3-2 programs tend to opt out of it because they found something they like more.. usually physics or math..
  • jyber209jyber209 Registered User Posts: 653 Member
    ^^^ Thanks, YOU, yes, I just checked Columbia's website and you are correct. That being the case, I would agree that the approach could work VERY well for some students, and I concur that a partner program with Columbia could well be a "hidden gem."

    To some extent, the 3-2 programs are compromises, but as long as those looking into them check out every aspect and do get all the data frrom both schools, the compromise could be a very good fit for particular situations. It just seemed to us from the results of the looking we did at the time that our son would be better off with a traditional four-year program at a liberal arts school -- although there are not that many of those around, and many are very competitive.

    Kids who want small school liberal arts with engineering could look at Union, Swarthmore, Lafayette among others. Selectivity varies by school of course. Considering a 3-2 program certainly opens up a lot more options.
  • YOUYOU Registered User Posts: 621 Member
    And Harvey Mudd, Bucknell too..

    I think I once read from Bowndoin's physics webpage that one of their students arranged a 3-2 with Stanford.. tho i dunno the viability of this option..

    check out: Engineering Programs (Bowdoin, Physics and Astronomy)

    lots of info here..
  • mregomrego Registered User Posts: 1,038 Senior Member
    Many schools have such 3/2 programs (Whitman for example).
    But there's no assurance you'll be admitted to the engineering program. Few are. And do you really want to change schools? Do you really want to spend a couple of years studying stuff before you start studying the engineering you wanted to study in the first place? So if you really want Engineering, start with that. If you want LAC stuff too, go to a full-service university and take both the Engineering and LAC stuff.

    Better to think about a 5 year program that gets you both a BS and an MS or MBA.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Registered User Posts: 6,608 Senior Member
    Yeah, I can't imagine what I would have done if I wasn't taking engineering classes from the first day. Even though they were often my toughest classes, they were often my reprieve from horrible homework sets I didn't care about. I can't imagine only going three years just taking math, physics, and chemistry pre-reqs.

    I imagine a lot of students intending to do 3-2 programs also ditch because they don't want to leave their friends, they don't want to move to a whole new school where they won't know anybody, and they don't want to have to take an extra year to graduate.
  • s90s90 Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    This is from Dartmouth's website
    Students from the following schools have participated in the dual-degree program. If you don't see your school listed, call us at 603-646-3677. We'll be happy to talk with you about the possibility of joining the program.

    You should also consult with your dean or academic advisor regarding the acceptability of Dartmouth courses toward degree requirements at your home school.

    * Bard
    * Bates
    * Bowdoin
    * Colby
    * Hamilton
    * Hobart & William Smith
    * Holy Cross
    * Middlebury
    * Morehouse
    * Mt. Holyoke
    * Reed
    * Simon's Rock
    * Skidmore
    * Smith
    * Spelman
    * Vassar
    * Wheaton
  • vonlostvonlost Super Moderator Posts: 24,142 Super Moderator
    Like RacinReaver imagines, I have heard that juniors at our D's LAC can't bring themselves to leave their school and friends to follow through on original 3-2 plans.
  • broken_symlinkbroken_symlink Registered User Posts: 690 Member
    Caltech seems to have a 3/2 program.

    Caltech Undergraduate Admissions: 3/2 Applicants

    However, admissions isn't guaranteed and you have to apply.
  • lkf725lkf725 Registered User Posts: 4,781 Senior Member
    I agree that students may be reluctant to leave their schools and friends after junior year to jump into engineering courses that they, at this point, don't even know if they will like. On a similar note, it is a heck of a move to make to try out your first engineering class. And how would a person in such a program choose their major (mechE, civE, chemE, etc) when they haven't studied any of this stuff? They also miss out on the contact with older engineering students and the seminars that might help them to decide. They really are only slightly better off than they were as incoming freshmen in that respect. I can't imagine compacting all of the engineering courses into two years. My son's class is only alotted about four real electives over all four years so I think that a 3+2 course would be very tough the final two years.
This discussion has been closed.