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BA in physics plus engineering BS - overqualified?

  1. Mar 21, 2013 #1
    So I'm going to go to a small liberal arts college for a BA in physics, then go to Columbia for two years for a BS in engineering. The reason I'm doing this is that the college I'm going to (Earlham College in Indiana, U.S.) has a special transfer program that will guarantee me admission to Columbia as soon as I graduate, whereas applying to Columbia right now would not give me very good chances of getting in. I'm also using the liberal arts college first because their program will allow me to learn an extra language and learn to program in addition to my physics and engineering knowledge, so I'll have plenty of marketable skills. My question is, will having a BA in physics in addition to the engineering BS leave me overqualified for a job?

    A second question I have is this: I'm 23 right now, just going back to college after working in dead-end jobs for five years. By the time I finish my years at Columbia and Earlham, I'll be just shy of 30. Will someone with recent engineering qualifications at that age face any special challenges getting a job? My specialty will probably be chemical engineering, for what it's worth.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2013 #2
    That isn't a bad plan. Is there an accelerated master's program at Columbia? The accelerated BSE is nice, but it would be even better if you could get an MSE in another year or 18 months. I cannot speak for others, but I wouldn't consider you overqualified for the kinds of entry level engineering positions I have.

    Being 30 instead of 23 probably won't present any special difficulties in the job market.
  4. Mar 22, 2013 #3
    Two BS degrees isn't overqualified. I would highly recommend an MS in engineering if you can do it. It's fast become the basic professional degree and you'll have a lot more career opportunities if you can get it.
  5. Mar 23, 2013 #4


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    Is this a standard "3-2" program (3 years liberal arts school, 2 years engineering) where you have just decided to extend the "3" to "4" so you can finish a physics BA? Anyway, these types of degrees are not super common, especially with the high cost of college these days, but I do not think anyone will look down on you for it. I am an engineer in industry, and if I were assessing your resume I would see it as similar to a double major. The extra physics would be great in my opinion (a chem-e that understands electromagnetic waves!), but even those who do not value the extra physics will not hold it against you. The advantage with the extra liberal arts you will able to take is that there is a better chance that you can actually write reasonably well. Those of us that went to engineering school know that the technical requirements are so high (I recall taking 30 math/science/engineering classes and just 10 humanities / liberal arts over 8 semesters) that it is possible to graduate some engineering schools without good communication skills. So make sure you take advantage of that opportunity at a liberal arts school and really learn how to communicate - both written and oral presentations matter. It is a skill that can be more important in industry than your technical skill at times.

    My advice to you is to try and get on some undergraduate research project with a professor, or try to get a summer on a NSF-REU program (these are much more likely your 3rd or 4th years I would think), or a summer co-op with a company if possible (the co-op option may be easier when you are at Columbia ... I don't know how often industry does co-ops with physicists). I think you get the idea. These days having one (or more!) things like that will dramatically help your job prospects. This may be unlikely until you are in your third year or so once you have some basic coursework behind you. But it really is in your best interest.

    I wish you the best,

  6. Mar 24, 2013 #5
    Thanks Ben Espen, carlgrace, and jasonRF for your responses!

    Indeed, that's exactly what I plan to do. The problem is that, if I only stay 3 years at Earlham, I'll only end up with a BA in "Pre-Engineering Studies," and really, who wants that when you can have a BA in the science of your choice?

    I take it that the extra physics can be an asset. To steer this thread in a slightly different direction, I ask: what sort of (preferably chemical) engineering work can I do that would harness an extra knowledge of physics? Surely there must be some such opportunities in industry. Does anyone have any pointers?
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