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Another Nontrad Seeking Advice

  1. Jun 8, 2010 #1
    I'm 25 years old and starting college for the second time. My first time (straight out of high school), I made several mistakes which culminated in a cumulative GPA of just over 2.0 after three semesters of classes. I'm more mature now, and I believe I am capable of doing well in college. Based on my circumstances, though, I'm having trouble deciding what educational path to take. My choices are physics, math, engineering, and computer science, in order of most to least interest.

    Engineering or CS seems most practical, as neither *really* seems to require a graduate degree to find decent employment in its field, therefore reducing the burdens of essentially having to maintain a 4.0 for the rest of undergrad and being eight years "behind."

    Math and physics are what I'd prefer to do (I think, given my admittedly limited knowledge, I'd like to work as a physicist specializing in optics more than anything else). However, I'd almost certainly need to get a Ph.D. and possibly do a postdoc, putting me at close to or even past 40 before being able to settle down and focus on other aspects of life.

    There are, of course, also combinations of majors possible (a couple that immediately pop into mind and might be fun are math/CS and phys/EE).

    Obviously I'm in the best position to make decisions about the course of my life, but I thought I'd post here essentially to ask something along the lines of:

    -Given my horrible academic background, and the resulting fact that even with a 4.0 for the rest of school my GPA would almost certainly not get much past 3.5, is it crazy to consider going for math or phys and attempting to get into a decent Ph.D. program?

    -Are there options I'm missing that might work better in my position?

    I apologize if my post isn't clear enough. Sometimes I tend to just throw out what's going through my mind without paying enough attention to clarity and organization.

    Thank you for any insight you can provide.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 8, 2010 #2
    Lower division courses aren't given as much weight as upper division courses and also your previous college transcript will be on record, but if you transfer to a different college you'll be starting from scratch in terms of your GPA. If you can manage a 3.5 GPA your second time around in college, you'll have no problem getting into a competetive Ph.D program.

    Whenever you're pursuing some goal, you can ignore everything else around you and just pay attention to the goal itself. Your options branch off from what your record is so far, and what you will do in the future. Also you have to specify whether you're interested in doing research(although it may be too early to tell) or industry. You can't tell if you don't try, and I'm sure you won't be as anxious once you start getting through courses for your major.
  4. Jun 8, 2010 #3
    Hello JnCrWe, welcome!

    I am also a "nontrad" student slightly older than you. I'm also debating whether I should follow a pure science path or an engineering path. If you are interested, we may exchange some ideas to see what would be reasonable and what wouldn't. For the sake of simplicity, I'll just generalize everything and only assume you are financially independent.

    I think folks like you and I should sit down and make sure we benefit from investing time and money into education and/or training. The answer to that is most likely yes because in today's world we need some sort of formal education/experience to get a decent job. Secondly, people like us are probably better off staying on the practical side of things; we should focus on the short/medium term since we don't have enough information to make an informed long term decision, in other words, thinking about a PhD now is not useful because we have not taken upper division classes that might help us make a "good" decision about whether or not we should or could pursue a PhD.

    My opinion is that our decisions should be based on reason over emotion since we don't have the luxury of time and support many 18 - 20 year olds have. We need to make sure we can devote time to our studies just so we don't waste our money. Those college kids normally have parents standing by to help and the kids' margin of error is wider than ours.

    I'm very interested in reading your opinion!
  5. Jun 9, 2010 #4
    Leptos: I agree, except that I have goals outside of academics that factor into this decision. For instance, while my dad was 41 when I was born, I'd rather get started a bit sooner than that; and I'd rather not be trying to get an advanced degree while dealing with young children, heh. However, I don't necessarily mind waiting that long (really, I'm not 100% sure I want kids, but at the moment I'm leaning towards yes). There are finances to consider, as well. While I can make enough to support myself for the moment, I don't know how well off I'll be while trying to complete a degree that requires more than a pulse to graduate. Therefore I'll almost certainly end up in a lot of debt, and putting off repayment for years longer while getting a PhD would add quite a bit to the financial burden.

    Mathnomalous: Well, given those things (with which I agree), the argument to double major is strong. For instance, doing phys/EE would be good preparation for graduate school while still offering a job post-bacc if grad school didn't work out. Then again, push really comes to shove, one could strive to become a UPS driver in that case. Those guys make good money, and the only real requirement for the job is a willingness to work.

    The deal is, I'll hopefully live long enough that in the end the length of my education won't be a huge deal. For instance, assuming I succeed in either EE with a BS or mathematics with a PhD, by age 65 I will have been an engineer for 35 years or a mathematician for 25-30 years (not including any extra postdocs I might have to do). Is an extra 5-10 years worth having a less satisfying career? This, of course, assumes mathematics is more satisfying than engineering, which I don't know for sure but imagine is the case, given I've always been more abstract and theoretical than practical.

    Then again, being an engineer doesn't preclude one from studying mathematics or physics and even making contributions to the field, so there's that to consider too.

    Reason over emotion, true, I suppose. But it's still hard to decide. ;)
  6. Jun 9, 2010 #5
    Yes, it's very hard to decide because we are looking for the optimal choice. There's probably no optimal choice here. It's similar to choosing between a car or an SUV; either will take you to specific places yet both will take you many of the exact same places.

    I do agree that double majoring is a stronger option but only as long as the two majors share some significant overlap, like phys/ee, math/ee, or phys/math.

    Is an extra 5-10 years worth having a less satisfying career? That depends on life circumstances. If you encounter serious difficulties along the way, that time you spent not building decent capital could haunt you for a while. Whatever the case, we should probably concentrate on the first 2 years before anything else. Luckily, most science/engineering programs share the same initial classes so a switch during junior - senior years may not be a big deal after all. More beneficial to focus on performing well in class and learning the material as best we possibly can. Anyways, good night friend.
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