Engineering Advice

Pursuing a career in engineering

Wake Forest offers you three approaches for pursuing a career in engineering:

  1. Wake Forest University Department of Engineering External link icon: The college’s site for information on the newly formed Department of Engineering and Engineering major.
  2. Our 3/2 engineering program, where you transfer to an engineering school after three years at Wake Forest. After approximately two more years, you receive two bachelor’s degrees in engineering: one from both Wake Forest and another from the engineering school.
  3. The 4/2 approach: you may complete the Bachelor of Science degree at Wake Forest (most commonly in physics) , and then go directly into a graduate engineering program. You will then receive an master’s degree from the engineering program you choose, typically after two years beyond the bachelor’s degree.

In view of the creation of the new WFU Department of Engineering, the 3/2 and 4/2 programs described below may be revised. Department Chair, Daniel Kim-Shapiro serves as a contact for updates on these programs.
The programs described here offer several distinct advantages over the approach offered by traditional engineering schools.

Below we will discuss some of these programs in detail, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. We will also compare these alternatives to the more traditional approach of enrolling in an engineering school as a freshman.


The 3/2 Program

Wake Forest cooperates with accredited engineering schools to offer a broad course of study in the arts and sciences combined with specialized training in engineering. During your third year at Wake Forest, you will apply for admission to the engineering school and program of your choice. Upon completion of the degree at the engineering school, you will receive two bachelors degrees: the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Wake Forest and the bachelor’s degree from your engineering school.

Students in this program follow the same course of study as physics majors for their first three years. Your courses are chosen in consultation with the chair of the Department of Physics. Sample tracks are available..

While this approach requires an extra year compared to a traditional undergraduate engineering program, it offers the advantage of much smaller class sizes and a more diverse program of study for your first three years.

In recent years, the 3/2 option has not been as popular as the 4/2 option described below.


BS in Physics followed by MS in Engineering (the 4/2 path)

By choosing to major in physics at Wake Forest, you will enjoy small classes with ready access to faculty outside the classroom. The physics major is excellent preparation for engineers, and physics majors are highly sought by graduate programs in engineering. By postponing your more specialized training to graduate school, you can defer your choice of area of engineering until you are better prepared to make that decision.

A BS in physics provides ideal preparation for most engineering masters programs, provided that the BS curriculum is supplemented by four additional courses: General Chemistry (CHM 111, 111L), Introduction to Computer Science (CSC 111), Statistics (MTH 109), and Economics (ECN 150). ECN 150 can be taken as a divisional. We also recommend Engineering 111 and 112, and possibly other courses depending on the student’s specific interests.

Three specific engineering programs typically require 2 to 3 additional courses. BIO 114 and BIO 214 for biomedical engineering, CHM 122 and CHM 223 for chemical engineering, and CSC 112, CSC 221, and MTH 117 for computer engineering. Students considering chemical engineering or computer engineering may wish to consider minoring in chemistry or computer science respectively. Students considering chemical engineering or computer engineering could also prepare for such programs by majoring in chemistry or computer science but would lose the flexibility in engineering allowed by a physics degree.

The disadvantage of following this 4/2 approach (rather than going to an engineering school) is obvious: it will take you six years total before you can be a practicing engineer, rather than the four or five required for a traditional engineering program.

However, there are many advantages to following the 4/2 path:

  • You will have a higher final degree (an M.S. rather than just a B.S.), and therefore a higher starting salary.
  • It will likely cost you no more money and will likely cost you less. Graduate programs in engineering usually offer full tuition scholarships and teaching assistantships that allow you to support yourself while in graduate school.
  • If you are uncertain whether engineering is for you, this option lets you delay that decision until your senior year of college.
  • Even if you are sure you want to be an engineer, this option permits you to put off deciding which area of engineering you want to pursue until your fourth year of college, instead of being forced to choose as a first or second year engineering student. Some of our students who thought they wanted to be electrical or mechanical engineers end up in biomedical or acoustical engineering, for example, after learning more of these fields. The opportunities to engage in research as an undergraduate here helps students find the area that is most appealing to them.
  • You can choose your graduate school based on its strength in the specific area of engineering you have chosen to pursue.
  • You will be in small classes, rather than the huge classes that are far too typical of engineering schools. At Wake, first year physics classes average about 40 students, and after the first year the physics class sizes are typically from 3 to 12 students. This gives you ample opportunity for one-on-one time with the teacher. The physics department has fifteen full time faculty for only around ten majors per year. Individual attention outside of class is invaluable in the study of science and engineering.
  • Our friends who are engineers tell us that engineers advance for the first four years or so in their careers based on their engineering skills alone, but that beyond that, they must take on more and more administrative responsibility, leading a group, etc. At this stage of your career, the broader education you get from Wake Forest offers a big advantage. You will need to communicate with other people inside and outside the company, representing your group, selling your ideas for projects, and winning contracts. The people with whom you communicate may not be engineers, and the more ways you have to connect and communicate with them, the more effective you will be.
  • Wake Forest has outstanding research facilities, and you will be encouraged to join faculty in research in these laboratories. Much of this research is in areas of applied physics that are of great interest to students pursuing engineering. Among these problems are organic photovoltaics, tissue engineering, exploration of potential laser materials, nanomanipulation of fibrin proteins, and image enhancement of video microscopy.

Wake Forest students have chosen careers in mechanical, electrical, geological, civil, biomedical, acoustical, chemical, and traffic engineering in recent years.


Choosing the best option for you

  • If you know for sure the area of engineering you want to pursue, and you are in a hurry to get to that first job, then an engineering school is the most direct route.
  • The 4/2 approach (completing a BS in physics at Wake Forest and then going to graduate school in engineering) offers the greatest flexibility and the potential of the greatest long term career benefits.
  • The 3/2 program offers a middle ground, giving you a broader education than a typical engineering major, but still getting you onto the job market in about five years.

You will have to decide which approach is best for you. Wake Forest offers a very strong education to students pursuing careers in engineering, yet offers a program with a lot of flexibility. If you come to Wake Forest, you will not need to decide between the two approaches we offer until the fall of your third year. The first three years of the 3/2 program parallel the preparation for the BS degree in physics.


A potentially helpful guide to earning a master’s degree in engineering can be found at External link icon.

This site has sections on:

  • a searchable scholarship database with more than 300 scholarships for graduate students specifically focused on engineering
  • web based resources for students and professionals, including industry journals, free open courseware, job portals, and more
  • a complete database of over 400 degree programs for graduate engineering students
  • comprehensive career information including the most popular jobs in the field, salary and job growth data, specialized educational/certification requirements and more


Q: Can a student who graduates from the 3-2 or 4-2 program sit for The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam for engineers (the first of two professional engineering license exams) on the first test date after they graduate?
A: Students who attend ABET accredited engineering programs for either the 3-2 program or the 4-2 program do qualify to sit for the FE exam on the first test date after they graduate. They are eligible for the second licensing exam – Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) four years after they graduate. These are identical to the eligibility rules for students who attend engineering programs for all 4 or 5 years. For further information about these professional engineering certification exams see the licensing website of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES): External link icon


Contact Information

Daniel Kim-Shapiro, adviser for 3/2 and 4/2 engineering program and Chair of the Department of Physics, is happy to chat more with you about these issues, whether or not in the context of a Wake Forest education. His contact information is as follows:

If you plan to visit campus, please contact Prof. Kim-Shapiro to arrange a time to talk.

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