Dual degree engineering partnerships expand options for Middlebury students

With no major available at the college, aspiring engineers at Middlebury often have to wait for an admission letter for the dual degree program at Dartmouth or Columbia. Middlebury partners with other colleges to offer specific career programs for college STEM students, and these two universities are the most popular choices among Middlebury students applying to dual-degree engineering programs.

According to Phillip Caplan, assistant professor of computer science and one of the program’s current advisors, students can either take a 3-2 program at Columbia, in which they complete their degree from Middlebury in three years and go to Columbia for two, or a 2-1-1-1 program at Dartmouth, in which they complete two years at Middlebury, one at Dartmouth, return to Middlebury for their final year, then complete one more year at Dartmouth.

Physics professor Susan Watson, another program adviser, said the Dartmouth program was the top choice for students given its close relationship with the college, which makes it easier to navigate Middlebury’s requirements. The Columbia program is also gaining popularity due to its prestige and more admission slots.

In 2021, three students applied to Columbia and six students to Dartmouth, while this year five students applied to Columbia and seven students to Dartmouth. Of the dozen or so students who apply to both Dartmouth and Columbia each year, the acceptance rate is typically 50-60%.

Although admission to each program is less competitive than general university admissions processes, it is still stressful for students as they are compared to students at top liberal arts colleges in the Northeast.

“An engineering degree requires the study of math, physics, chemistry, computer science, and more. An engineering skill set can be thought of as a toolkit, and every subject you study becomes a tool in your toolbox,” Caplan said.

Prerequisites include courses in the departments of mathematics, physics, computer science and chemistry. Columbia expects students to complete most of their major and interdisciplinary requirements before enrolling and requires students to take other courses, such as an introductory economics course. Students applying to Columbia may have additional major-specific courses to complete prior to admission to the program. For example, studying computer science at Columbia would also require courses in discrete mathematics and data structures, while a major in mechanical engineering would require courses in differential equations and linear algebra.

“The biggest piece of advice for any student interested in the program is to choose your courses intentionally in the first year. By your second year, you can decide if it’s something you want to pursue,” said Nestor Orozco-Llamas ’23, a student in the program who studied at Dartmouth.

Students also struggle with Dartmouth’s quarter system. According to Orozco-Llamas, out of about twenty dual degree students, only eight follow a normal fall/winter/spring schedule. If students choose other options, they are very likely to get them. If they only put on fall/winter/spring, it’s more competitive.

Previously, admission to Columbia’s program was guaranteed provided a certain GPA requirement was met and the necessary pre-engineering courses were taken. However, the university has since removed the policy and will only offer guaranteed admission to those who enrolled at Middlebury in fall 2018 or earlier.

Given the high demands, student Will Hoppin ’23 said planning early was crucial. “I would recommend being absolutely certain after your first semester of college and getting great grades, especially in STEM,” Hoppin said. “Since both of these schools require students to go out of their way to take tons of pre-engineering courses, you should probably do well because getting rejected after spending years preparing for a school is not fun.”

Students like Hoppin also confess to the lack of systematic support for the application process. “I had to cross the bush: we don’t know who to talk to and it’s quite difficult to find people who have already taken the programme. It’s like doing your own independent study, because it’s a path less traveled and there are only a few kids in your year who care to go through this program,” Hoppin said.

However, all told, the dual degree engineering program is favored for a reason.

“Another part that I really enjoyed was getting to know other dual degree students from schools in the North East. It was nice to hear about their university experiences and how they differ from Middlebury or Dartmouth,” Orozco-Llamas said.

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