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A major in engineering or physics? (undergrad)

  1. Apr 11, 2010 #1
    Hi, right now I am a High School Student heading to college next year. Because I didn't apply to as many schools as I would have liked to, I only have the options of going to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston University, or UMass Amherst, though I am seriously considering transferring to a different school after my first year. Both Boston University and UMass Amherst have fairly large physics departments, though neither are particularly distinguished. WPI is known more for its engineering from what I can tell.

    Anyway, I am currently in AP Physics and AB Calculus (and AP Statistics, if that helps), and am doing fairly well in both. I am very interested in Physics, and I enjoy tying together the material learned in both Calculus and Physics to solve problems. I have been somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of disciplines of engineering, and right now I am leaning toward a major in physics. I suppose if I were to tell you what I was specifically interested in, it would be things involving space travel or planetary exploration (life on other planets has always been a fascination of mine, though if anything I suppose that would be a biology thing.) I am also interested in what little I have seen of theoretical physics, though I have hardly had any experience with things like String Theory apart from watching discovery channel movies on it.

    Advice from others, as well as some research online, has led me to believe that while a physics major is useful, more often than not physics majors end up in careers involving engineering. I have also been encouraged to do graduate studies in more practical disciplines than physics, which makes sense to me.

    However, as an undergrad, would majoring in physics be at all practical? I have also heard of a major called Engineering Physics, which seems to combine the best of both worlds into one major. However, I have heard that it requires a significant amount of work (some have said I would graduate in 5 years with this major). I do not mind putting in the extra work if its worth it, but will this major really help me, or would I just be killing myself even more for nothing?

    TL:DR Is it practical to get a major in physics in today's world, or would a major in engineering be a better decision?

    P.S on an unrelated note, can anyone tell me more about what Computer Science is, and what kind of careers that major would entail?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 11, 2010 #2
    Do you have any idea what sort of job you want to have when you graduate? It's true that there isn't any direct career path in industry for undergrad physicists (or engineering physicists for that matter). Undergrads can end up with titles like "mechanical engineer" but not "physicist." There are many threads on here about engineering physics that I suggest you look through.

    See http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos027.htm and http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/fall09a.pdf for starters.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  4. Apr 11, 2010 #3
    I wasn't really sure what kind of work I wanted to do after graduation, though I am planning on going to grad school
  5. Apr 14, 2010 #4
    Take your time. You have plenty of time to develop your "tastes." As you proceed in undergrad, you will be exposed to different disciples and their subfields. That's why I did a double major in physics and computer science.

    Well, computer science is basically the study of algorithms. An algorithmic process looks for the best way of computing mathematically. Of course, you learn about programming languages, operating systems, databases, networks, and artificial intelligence. True theoretical computer science involves at least linear algebra, complex variables, number theory, and probability. Here's one of my undergrad books: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11866&mode=toc. You consider completeness, optimality, and time-space complexity.
  6. Apr 14, 2010 #5


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    I just want to know what is wrong is UMass and BU. These are both very good schools. You do not need to just to go Harvard or MIT or Yale just to get a wonderful undergraduate education. You can go to very good schools for your graduate work with an undergraduate degree from UMass and BU as well!

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