Guide to Dual-Degree Programs

Version 1. January 18, 2022

This section provides recommendations for working with a

to develop a dual-degree program. Upon completion of a dual-degree program, a student receives two degrees: a physics degree through your department (the home department) and an additional bachelor’s or master’s degree, often in engineering, from the dual-degree partner. Dual-degree programs between physics and engineering are the most common and are the focus of this section, but most recommendations could apply to partnerships with any kind of program. Partnerships with engineering programs provide students who are interested in engineering careers with pathways that would otherwise be unavailable. Dual-degree physics and engineering programs are generally structured to include three years at the home (physics) department and two years at the partner (engineering) department. (This is often referred to as a 3+2 program.) Other examples of dual-degree programs exist, such as 4+1 accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree programs, and programs combining a physics degree with a degree from a medical or other professional school. Information in this section will help departments identify and develop productive partnerships that result in dual-degree programs, clearly identify roles and relationships among partners, and establish successful dual-degree programs that can be promoted to current and prospective students. For guidance on how to establish specialized degree tracks within your department or collaboratively with other departments within your institution, see the section on Degree Tracks.


Dual-degree programs benefit students as well as each department or institution in the partnership. For physics departments, a dual-degree program can substantially improve recruiting and retention of students. Dual-degree programs can appeal to a broader range of students than a stand-alone physics degree does. This supports equity, diversity, and inclusion by better meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse population of students. Because dual-degree programs often highlight career options that are more widely known than more traditional physics career paths, they can be a powerful recruiting tool, particularly for students who might not otherwise be interested in physics. Students may be drawn to the increased number of curricular pathways, learning opportunities, and employment opportunities; the promise of preferred or guaranteed admission at a partner institution; and the opportunity to receive a degree that your institution doesn’t offer and/or to receive two degrees on an accelerated timeline. Similarly, the

benefits by receiving academically well-prepared transfer students who can serve as tutors and peer mentors, particularly for introductory physics courses, and who can fill any enrollment gaps in junior- and senior-level courses. Dual-degree programs can provide students with the opportunity to start at a smaller, perhaps less expensive, institution before receiving a specialized degree from a larger institution. A dual-degree pathway provides students with flexibility to explore various engineering disciplines, as students do not typically have to commit to an engineering program until the third year of the dual-degree program. Finally, the depth and breadth gained from earning degrees in two disciplines provides students with enhanced preparation for and access to graduate school and careers in the private and public sector.

Effective Practices

  1. Determine whether to pursue creating a dual-degree program

  2. Establish and maintain a partnership and associated dual-degree program

  3. Support and promote your dual-degree program

Programmatic Assessments

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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