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Last updated September 19, 2023

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Is a 3+2 program right for you?

Key Takeaway

3+2 degree programs offer students the opportunity to earn two degrees in five years from one or two distinct institutions. They can provide a more personalized learning experience at a liberal arts college along with the prestige and resources of a research university.

Picture this: five years of hard work. Two degrees in hand. You can get there through what’s known as a 3+2 degree program.

This post will cover what 3+2 programs are, why you should consider them, and where to find them.

Let’s jump in.

What is a 3+2 Program?

There are a few different kinds of 3+2 programs.

Some 3+2 degree programs result in two bachelor's degrees. They allow students to finish their undergraduate study in five years across two distinct institutions. Often, these programs link small liberal arts colleges with larger, research-heavy universities, especially in the realm of STEM.

Other 3+2 programs combine undergraduate and graduate study. In these programs, you study for 3 years as an undergrad then move into graduate studies during your fourth and fifth year. At the end of the 5 years, you have both a bachelor’s and a master’s.

Why 3+2 Programs are the Best of Both Worlds

Some reasons for doing a 3+2 program are obvious (hello, cost savings!). But there are other reasons, too.

For the undergraduate-focused 3+2 degree programs, you get to bask in the close, friendly learning environment of a liberal arts college for the first three years of your college experience. Small class sizes, tight bonds with faculty, and a diverse education are just some of the perks of attending a liberal arts school.

Then, for the final two years, you'll shift to a larger, research-focused university to specialize in your chosen field. Here, you’ll profit from the prestige, resources, and extensive alumni network these institutions often boast.

It's like getting the best of both worlds: personalized teaching and a more distinguished degree—all while saving a year of time and tuition expenses.

For the undergraduate-graduate 3+2 degree programs, the benefits are also pretty obvious. You get to expedite your studies and earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years instead of six.

Examples of 3+2 Degree Programs

Now that we’ve gone through what 3+2 degree programs are, let's look at a couple of examples.

Take the University of Puget Sound, a liberal arts college in Washington state. They offer a 3+2 degree program that results in a double bachelor’s degree. Specifically, they offer an engineering program in collaboration with Columbia University. This partnership lets students spend their first three years at Puget Sound, honing their skills in science prerequisites while also getting a broad liberal arts education.

After meeting these demands and keeping up the required GPA, students then move on to Columbia for the last two years, earning two Bachelor of Science degrees—one from each school.

Likewise, students at liberal arts colleges like Oberlin or Grinnell have the opportunity to spend their first three years at their original institution before transferring to the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) for the final two years.

If you want the perks of a smaller school and then a bigger school, or if you’re looking for a gateway to a more prestigious institution, then 3+2 programs might be worth looking into.

Then there’s also those 3+2 programs that combine undergraduate and graduate studies.

Carnegie Mellon’s 3+2 program through the Tepper School of Business is a great example. In the CMU program, you earn your bachelor’s degree and an MBA in 5 years.

Requirements to Transfer

These opportunities, while definitely attractive, come with certain stipulations.

Tto qualify for a 3+2 program, you usually have to fulfill certain academic requirements. You’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you’re taking all the classes you need, which you may have to do at the expense of other fun or exploratory college classes and experiences.

You'll also need to uphold a specific GPA, which is often quite competitive. And to qualify for these kinds of programs, you often need a strong GPA across all your classes, not just those related to the field you’re studying.

So 3+2 degree programs ask for commitment and discipline to your field. It adds an extra layer of complexity, but the tradeoff can really be worth it.

3+2 Programs: The “Hidden Route” to Prestige

There’s one more benefit to 3+2 programs. Take the example at the University of Puget Sound, for example. Puget Sound is a school with a pretty high acceptance rate—in the 80% range. Getting into Puget Sound is a lot easier than getting into Columbia.

But if you do Puget Sound’s 3+2 degree partnership with Columbia, then your pathway into the program is more streamlined than if you applied directly as a first-year student. Admission in these kinds of partnerships is never guaranteed, but you have a more direct pathway forward.

Many applicants overlook this route because they're set on getting accepted directly into a well-known school from the get-go. Still, it offers a chance to step into a highly selective institution by first attending a less selective one.

But just as strong academics are important to your college application, they’re extra important for a 3+2 application. Admissions officers will want to see that you’re academically sound enough to swing the added challenges of an accelerated program.


3+2 degree programs offer students the chance to earn two degrees in five years from two distinct institutions (or sometimes the same institution). This typically includes the combination of a small liberal arts college and a high-status research university. Such programs require completing specific prerequisites and maintaining a strong GPA. Despite the hurdles, these programs offer a lesser-known "hidden route" into highly selective schools. Building a strategic college list can help you identify such unique opportunities.

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