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BA or BS in physics for future engineer?

  1. Feb 24, 2008 #1
    Whats the big difference between BA/BS?? Right now im doing the BS in physics in my sophomore year. Here at my school you are required to have an "emphasis" area in the physics programs. Im hoping to do some type of engineering (Mechanical is prefered, though i hear the only one that works well in the program is environmental and you can actually get a minor in it here) but it really seems like I would be craming in a lot of tough classes for this. Right now im considering the environmental b/c of how it fits into the program, but would the minor in it really help land a job??

    The BA option you are not required to take as many physics classes so i would have more time for engineering. But is a BA just as marketable as a BS, are the salaries any different, etc? I would just switch to engineering but ive switched majors a few times already so im actually a year behind for a bachelors degree and a 6th year would be too expensive. FWIW I switched from chemistry to physics so I've actually taken enough chem classes for a minor in chem as well.

    Also ive heard you can get into grad school for engineering w/ a BS in physics...anyone know much about this? Can you get into grad school w/ a BA??
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2008 #2
    Where both are offered, generally the BA is less rigorous. You'd be better served to look at the actual requirements.

    You can get into grad school with just about anything, but you're going to be expected to master the same material no matter what you come in with. Less preparation now = more catch-up later.

    For a future engineer, an engineering degree would probably serve you better. Most places, it's hard to get a PE license without one.
  4. Feb 24, 2008 #3
    I figure if i want to get a engineering job im going to have to go to grad school for some type of engineering. The only reason im going with physics instead of engineering for a bachelor is because of time/money. I can graduate w/ physics in 2 years but it will take 3 years for engineering cause im so far behind there.

    But if im not going into physics grad school then a BA should be fine then?? The only physics classes i wouldnt take compared to the BS would be electrodyanmics II, quantum II, Experimental physics II, Thermodynamics and Stat. Mech (I have taken physical chem=thermo) and Physics Research. I dont think these courses would really effect me going into eng grad school. Im just worried the BA wont "look" as good to employers or i may have trouble gettin into grad school (though a plus would be i would have more time to take undergrad eng courses). But then if you have a MS or PhD the bachelor degree probably doesnt matter that much i would think??
  5. Feb 24, 2008 #4
    Depending on which engineering discipline you go into, the lack of thermo could be a problem. The BA may not be an issue at all, but the BS is safer.

    But, more importantly, if you want to be an engineer, you have 3 years of school to do that via the engineering major. That gives you the standard professional degree and you never have to worry.

    The other route require 2 years to get the BA/BS in Physics, followed by 2 more years (maybe 1.5 years) for an MS and you might have to worry.

    In other words, the straight engineering major is shorter and safer. If that's what you want to do, go that route.
  6. Feb 24, 2008 #5
    In order of preference, you should be considering
    1. B.S. in mechanical engineering: If this is what you want to do, then there's no point in putting it off until graduate school. This is also the track that will best prepare you to work as a mechanical engineer.
    2. B.S. in physics: If for whatever reason you decide to put off actually learning what you want to do, this is the next best thing. A B.S. in physics will give you a solid technical foundation that will give you a good shot at admission into almost any sort of engineering graduate program.
    3. B.A. in physics: Danger Will Robinson! The courses you mention as not being required for the B.A. are some of the central course for physics. Without Electromagnetism II, you might not even get to electromagnetic waves. Without Quantum II, you might not get to the hydrogen atom or spin. And if you're serious about engineering, you should be getting all the hands-on (i.e. experimental) experience that you can get. This is especially true if you're considering mechanical engineering, as machine shop courses are a fundamental part of every undergraduate program in mechanical engineering. With just a B.A. in physics, not only might you have trouble getting into graduate school--you might find yourself underprepared once you get there.
  7. Feb 24, 2008 #6
    I don't really understand why people say a B.A. is less rigorous. Yea, they require less classes, but it isn't like you CANNOT take those classes. Every school tends to define their B.A.slightly different, but overall, in a B.A. the difference in hours are made up with a language. A B.A. is a wonderful route to go if you want to learn a language and still do science. Hell, you can take your language requirement during the summer and take extra courses during the school year. It really is what you make it to be.

    I got a B.A. in mathematics and I managed into get into a fairly top rated graduate school.
  8. Feb 24, 2008 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    What matters is the actual courses that you take, not the name of your degree. In a previous thread on this topic, I think someone mentioned that at least one of the "big name" schools (Harvard?) offers "only" a BA in physics. Who in his right mind would turn up his nose at it? :rolleyes:

    Where I teach, the only difference between a BA and a BS is that science/math departments give BS's, whereas humanities departments give BA's. Exception: the psychology department gives both BA's and BS's, with identical requirements! Psych majors simply pick which one they want on their diploma.

    Once upon a time, our BA's had to take a foreign language but didn't have to take any math. Our BS's had to take math, but didn't have to take a foreign language. Now all students have to take both, for their general education requirements.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2008
  9. Feb 24, 2008 #8
    well looking back over the BA program, so your not required to take those classes i mentioned earlyer (btw i meant E&M II rather than statics II) but you are required to take 2 additional physics courses 300+ level so i would not be missing out on as many physics courses as i said earlyer (and actually i choose which courses so it could be more interesting). You are required to take 4 semester of foreign language though which kinda sucks, but the BA definately opens up room for a minor or emphasis.

    I could still do BS in physics and get the minor/emphasis in engineering but the workload would def be considerably tougher.

    if i take the physics route im lookin at probably: BS/BA in phyics, minor in chem, minor/emphasis in either environmental or mechanical eng. This will take 2 years. Not sure how easy it would be to get a job with all this though. So maybe grad school?

    Eng: it will take 3 years so more money (i run out of life scholarship next year so id go 2 additional years without 7.5k a year scholarship)

    I really dont mind going to grad school as long as its obviously somethin i will enjoy learning more about. And I hear most grad schools have really good fellowships and assitantships.

    But I really cant make up my mind. Im probably going to go talk to an advisor this week and hopefully they can help me out with it all. Thanks for the comments so far.
  10. Feb 24, 2008 #9
    I am curious as to why you have this assumption. Most engineering jobs simply require a B.S. degree. Some companies may even pay for you to get an M.S., which certainly negates the extra cost of a year of undergraduate education. Also, since you can "easily" get a job with a B.S., you would start making money right away instead of spending more time in graduate school. If you know you want to do engineering later, just do it now.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2008
  11. Feb 24, 2008 #10
    If i took the bachelor physics path then i assume to get a engineering job i would need a grad degree in engineering. I have heard of B.S physicist doing engineering but i image it would be a lot more difficult since you are competing against people that actually do have a eng degree.

    It seems like most of the advice leans toward switching over to eng major but the idea/cost of 6 years of undergrad is, I guess, a lot more difficult than it sounds.
  12. Feb 24, 2008 #11
    Disregarding issues related to becoming a licensed engineer (for which you usually need an engineering degree) and getting employment as an engineer (for which you usually need an engineering degree):

    The engineering degrees have had quite a lot of work go into determining their curriculum. The accreditation process is actually fairly strict since they have to make sure it counts not just towards the department's graduation requirements, and the university's graduation requirements - but also satisfies rules laid down by the certifying body (that's asserting you know enough basic engineering to be trusted with things that can kill people if they break) as well as state and federal laws that are also trying to keep undertrained engineers from creating a public safety hazard.

    If you want to work as an engineer, and aren't planning on taking a research-oriented career path (for which you would need *at least* a masters, preferably a Ph.D.), find a way to get the engineering degree. Dealing with funding sucks, but there are tons of scholarships and state/federal grants for engineering fields.
  13. Feb 26, 2008 #12
    Danger Will Robinson LOL!!!!
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