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  • Debra M Shively

Engineering Pathways at US universities

Updated: Dec 7, 2020



The US university system lends itself to academic exploration before locking in an area to study, however, engineering is one degree that students usually need to declare at point of application. Engineering programs are both competitive in gaining admission and rigorous in academic nature. As with most things in the US higher education system, students are spoiled for choice with options at liberal arts and science colleges (LAC) and research and technical universities offering Engineering degrees. Both models are outlined briefly below. The degree earned, regardless if pursued through a LAC or a research or technical university, will hold the same name: Bachelor of Science in Engineering. That said, the experience and opportunities in earning the degree can be quite different depending on how a student navigates the two opportunities below.


3+2 Model – Liberal Arts and Science College (LAC)

Students who are interested in pursuing an Engineering degree but also have a strong interest in other areas of study may consider a 3+2 engineering program. This program structure is a dual degree program which allows students to explore and pursue additional areas of study beyond engineering, something to which most engineering degrees don’t typically lend themselves. This five-year degree is started at a liberal arts college where students study for three years followed by two years of study at an affiliated engineering school. After completing the first three years of study and meeting the engineering prerequisites, students transfer to the LAC’s affiliate engineering school to complete the remaining two years of study. Students would not need to go through the entire admission process at the engineering institution as there would already be an agreement in place with the liberal arts colleges confirming acceptance if the student meets the prescribed pre requisites and associated marks.

After the five years of study, the student will have earned two bachelor’s degrees: one from the liberal arts college in their area of academic interest and one from the engineering school in the specific engineering discipline they studied.


Benefits of a 3+2 model

There are many benefits of pursuing a 3+2 model. Commencing your studies at a liberal arts college means you will begin your university experience with smaller classes in a smaller and more intimate learning environment where you will have direct contact with your professors from day one. In this setting, in additional to course content, students will learn how to communicate effectively, think creatively, problem solve and work with others – all of which are critical skills required in gaining employment after university. The combination of soft skills and an arts degree combined with technical skills learned at a research or technical university will position students very well for the constantly changing job market. Students who pursue this model will be well placed for management type roles where technical skills are required as much as an ability to communicate and lead.

The 3+2 model provides additional opportunity and lends itself to students who, during year 12, may not be 100% confident they wish to pursue an engineering degree as well as students who have significant academic interests outside of engineering.

A few of the highly recognised Engineering institutions in which students may complete their final stage of their Engineering degree using a 3+2 model include: Columbia University, Washington University in St Louis, California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all of which are top ranked Engineering universities. To gain a better understanding of joint/dual degree programs and a list of liberal arts colleges and their affiliated engineering programs, click here.


Research or Technical Universities

Research universities and technical institutions in the US also offer engineering degrees. These universities are usually larger in student body population and are known for their post graduate research while also offering undergraduate degrees (also known as bachelor’s degrees). Some of the more common Engineering institutions which you may know by name in addition to those listed above include Stanford, University of Michigan, Purdue University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, and Johns Hopkins University. Students who wish to pursue an engineering major at a research or technical institution usually need to declare this intention to do so when applying for admission. Applicants will be assessed within the context of their secondary schooling and admissions teams will be looking for the most academically competitive secondary school curriculum and marks, particularly in the areas of maths and science. Once accepted to an engineering program and studies have commenced, engineering students most times will not have the same required core course requirements as students studying outside of Engineering. Engineering majors usually begin studying STEM focused courses as early as their first semester and continue with an intense and focused schedule for the duration of the four-year degree. The degree from a research or technical university is earned in four years and is more technical in nature compared to a 3+2 model.

There are pro’s and con’s to both the 3+2 model and applying directly to research or technical universities. Students should consider the opportunity costs, both financial and academic of each model as well as their intended careers goals. Internationally Educated works with students to determine the best model in which to pursue based on each students’ individual set of achievements, circumstances, and goals. Contact us to learn more about how we have helped students reach their goals of studying in the US.


Note: College, university and school are all used interchangeably when discussing US higher education. A university and a college both offer bachelor’s degrees and are often times referred to as school. Unlike here in Australia, in America the words college, university or school do not decipher a level is education.

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