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A B.S. or a B.A. in physics?

  1. Jan 4, 2015 #1
    Hello! So I am currently a senior at a relatively small high school in Pennsylvania. I have always wanted to become an engineer. I have loved Legos from an early age which I believe sparked the engineering path. I'm just fascinated by how things work, especially our natural world. I took AP calculus my junior year and fell head over heels in love with calculus. I'm taking calc II during my senior year. I realized that I may want to focus more on the science and math behind engineering before jumping into engineering. Heck, I may just want to be a physicist. I'm not entirely sure yet. Anyways! I have decided to go to a nearby college (Millersville University) to major in physics and minor in mathematics. I was able to attend a local community college while finishing up my senior year at high school. I will graduate high school with 21 college credits ready to go (all are general education requirements). I have a few questions...
    Do you think I'll be able to graduate within three years? (Assuming I'll start freshman year, first semester, taking Calc II. I also have to complete a research project my senior year which is a graduation requirement) I would love to be able to graduate early and head off to grad school asap.
    I'm almost certain that if I chose to get a B.A. in physics I will graduate from MU in 3 years. Is this a good idea? Are there drawbacks from having a B.A. as opposed to a B.S. in physics?
    Will an undergraduate degree in physics prepare me well enough for a graduate degree in engineering? I know the two are closely related, I just want to make sure I'm making the right decision.
    I absolutely love physics and I cannot wait to see where it takes me in life! Hopefully to a PhD one day!
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  3. Jan 4, 2015 #2


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    What's the difference in requirements for a BA vs. a BS?
  4. Jan 4, 2015 #3
    Very similar. The B.S. requires more math classes while the B.A. would focus on another subject like chemistry or nanotechnology and requires more liberal arts classes. The B.S. seems more rigorous and more geared toward the graduates pursuing a graduate career.
    My plan is to become a mechanical engineer.
  5. Jan 4, 2015 #4
    To me a B.A. for a physics degree makes no sense. But if they award that, it says nothing about the content.
    Sounds more like a general college degree with a major, minor and basic liberal arts classes the way you describe it.

    Thus I would also conclude the B.S. is for going into graduate->PhD. That's not what you want to do if you want to be an engineer, I believe. Physics is for pure research jobs and certain very specific jobs in industry requiring very deep knowledge. You usually don't get a PhD for engineering jobs, though you can get PhDs in fields like biomedical engineering and whatnot. Even at top research universities, engineering departments and science departments are separate. They will have a medical science faculty and a biomedical engineering one. They will have a chemical engineering, and a chemical science, etc etc.
    Science departments do fundamental science, engineering departments take that knowledge and try to find applications. You can do PhD level research in both. Generally engineering skillsets transfer to more industry jobs and generally engineers in general don't need to know as much theory and math as pure science and PhD-level engineering researchers.

    There aren't as many mid tier jobs in pure physics/math, though degrees where you learn more lab skills, like chemistry and biology, do have many low and mid tier jobs.
    So physics and math are kinda all or nothing; you'd want at least an MSc from a good school. With just an B.A./B.S. you don't have many skills that directly transfer to a job environment. Your degree set you up for a PhD track, not for a job. Employee's may still want you, but they will know they need to train you internally to do your job (though that is often true for many jobs anyway).

    You say you want to be an engineer. Why not go to an engineering school and do that? Don't go to a school just because it is the nearest one. Go to the school that is best for you and that wants to admit you.

    If you don't really know that a broader B.A. may be the thing for you.
    If you want a PhD, go do a difficult B.S., whatever the subject, and don't bother with any liberal arts classes or irrelevant minors.

    Donno about physics BSc->engi MSc. In my country all the important engineering-oriented courses would be part of the BSc and you'd want to take the core engineering undergrad courses before you start with your MSc.
    Also, it may be the case that the most difficult math you take in undergrad to set you up for the cool physics in the grad courses in physics will never be used in engineering grad school.
    You need to ask the grad school and they will only know after they have seen what courses you took. You didn't mention which country you are in now and which country you want to go to for grad school. Within the same country, and even within the same university, there are different systems.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2015
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