Guide to Dual-Degree Programs

Version 1. May 18, 2022

Contributors and Reviewers

Editorial Director

Sarah "Sam" McKagan, McKagan Enterprises

Courtney Lannert*, Smith College and University of Massachusetts Amherst


Martha-Elizabeth "Marty" Baylor, Carleton College

J. Erik Hendrickson, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Chris Hughes, James Madison University

Anderson Sunda-Meya, Xavier University of Louisiana

Synthesis Committee

Michael Jackson*, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Gubbi Sudhakaran*, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Lawrence Woolf*, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.


Jerome Licini, Lehigh University

Milka Nikolic, University of San Francisco

Jessica Regan, University of Wisconsin-Madison

David Statman, Allegheny College

Dwight Whitaker, Pomona College

Review Committee

Gubbi Sudhakaran*, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Michael C. Wittmann, American Physical Society

Lawrence Woolf*, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

This section provides recommendations for working with a

Dual-Degree Partner

A program or unit at another academic institution or within your own institution with which your department partners to offer your students a second degree in addition to a physics degree through your department. While most dual-degree programs are between two institutions, they can also exist within the same institution.

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

Dual-Degree Partner

A program or unit at another academic institution or within your own institution with which your department partners to offer your students a second degree in addition to a physics degree through your department. While most dual-degree programs are between two institutions, they can also exist within the same institution.

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.

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

Effective Practices

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

Programmatic Assessments

Many engineering schools host dual-degree programs in collaboration with physics departments. The links below include websites outlining requirements of example dual-degree programs. These are representative samples of dual-degree programs. Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement by EP3.

Partner (Engineering) institution

Home (Physics) institution

Programs at the same institution

References 1 and 2 outline potential learning goals to support diverse career directions. While many physics programs may not address all of these goals, students in dual-degree programs are likely to develop a larger and deeper range of skills associated with these learning goals. The common characteristics of thriving physics departments with dual-degree (3+2) programs are highlighted in Reference 3 on pages 17, 26–27, 100, 130, and 136. Reference 4 contains annual enrollment data for physics departments in the US that can be used, along with information about your department, to evaluate the impact of dual-degree programs.

  1. P. Heron, L. McNeil, et al. (editors), “Phys21: Preparing Physics Students for 21st-Century Careers,” American Physical Society (2016): Learning goals are discussed in Section 4 of this report.
  2. L. Woolf and D. Arion, “Phys21 Supplement: Summary of Background Reports on Careers and Professional Skills,” American Physical Society (2016).
  3. R. C. Hilborn, R. H. Howes, and K. S. Krane (editors), “Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics: Project Report” (SPIN-UP report), American Association of Physics Teachers (2003).
  4. S. Nicholson and P. J. Mulvey, “Roster of Physics Departments with Enrollment and Degree Data,” American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center (2020).
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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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