Best Engineering Major for Undergrad?

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Hello everyone,

Well I’m at that crossroads where I need to make a decision about what I should start moving towards as it relates to a degree, so I figured I’d get y’all’s input.

So, my situation is a little bit of a complex one. Here goes:

I am a senior in HS, and have been accepted to both MIT and Texas A&M, and will be going (most likely to TAMU) on an Air Force ROTC Scholarship, meaning I have a career in the Air Force ahead of me. I thought that was a great idea so I could get work experience and move into higher level positions faster relative to the civilian world, as AF is technically focused.

My dream job outside of this is nuclear fusion research, just because of how impactful this technology would be once fully developed. I initially wanted to go with nuclear engineering because I found nuclear physics to be interesting in my AP coursework and in general, but the versatility of my degree is very important to me, just so I have very good options for plans B and C.

Therefore, I’m looking at EE for the versatility plus application to fusion. The problem is I’m not interested in programming or computer related topics all that much. Also, I have been successful and have a good grasp of AP Physics C E&M, but it’s less interesting to me than nuclear physics. I realize a HS course is a joke compared to college, but it’s the closest thing to experience I have at this time.

Also, EE incorporates a lot of programming and digital systems design, which I couldn’t care less about. So, I’m looking for alternatives for undergrad. As I’ve said, versatility is important, so I don’t really want a straight science major (e.g physics), because from what I understand I will end up as one of a few top flight researchers, a professor (which I want to avoid) or be in a realm that engineers are better prepared for. Physics I plan to get some coursework done in, maybe a minor, but I am not sure.

So the question is this: is there a better undergrad path for me to take for what I want to do in life? Maybe MechE?
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Mech Engr is probably the most broad of all engineering topics and it has much to do with nuclear technology. Much of nuclear energy work is associated with heat transfer (how to get heat out of nuclear reactions and into a usable form), and heat transfer is a major topic in ME (also in ChemE).

TAMU issa great school, and I strongly recommend it to you. (I taught there 1979-1982 and really liked it.)
 
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  • #3
CrysPhys
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Another alternative is materials science and engineering. You can focus on materials specifically for nuclear fusion. But as a fallback, the field is widely applicable to a variety of industries. MIT has top-flight depts in materials science and engineering and nuclear science and engineering. Don't know anything about Texas A&M.
 
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  • #4
Is Texas A&M really up there with MIT? I wouldn't have thought. Personally I hate Texas weather and would go to MIT. Congrats on the scholarship!

Also you can look into SMART scholarships, it is a DoD program and instead of being a military officer at the end you would be a engineer for one of their labs. Just something to consider.
 
  • #5
Scrumhalf
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With all due respect to Texas A&M, you are turning down MIT? Why? Is the ROTC scholarship only applicable to A&M?
 
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There is no question but that MIT is a great school for graduate work, but in my limited experience, their undergraduates are nothing special. I can honestly say that, for undergraduate education, I'd advise going to TAUM over MIT. For graduate work, that advice would flip the other way around.
 
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  • #7
Scrumhalf
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That's a fair point.
 
  • #8
Dr. Courtney
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MIT is s pressure cooker for undergrads. Take A&M for your BS. If you get in for grad school, MIT is a great choice.

(I'm a Course 8 PhD 1995).
 
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MIT is s pressure cooker for undergrads. Take A&M for your BS. If you get in for grad school, MIT is a great choice.

(I'm a Course 8 PhD 1995).
Pressure cooker? Never heard that expression. Guessing it means high-intensity. Well, that’s what I’ve heard as well. That would really hurt my GPA along with the worse curves I would be getting on tests, along with the environment, being far from home, having to take many courses over again that I scored a 5 on for the AP equivalent, etc.

As for why I would basically turn down any college other than TAMU at this point, the reasons are many.
1) For what TAMU lacks in prestige, it makes up for, to an extent, with its postgraduate network. Tamu alumni are everywhere.
2) Pretty sure that TAMU is #2 to MIT in research endowment or output, can’t remember which. Very close for a fraction of the price is what Im getting at here.
3) I can potentially get a BS and MS in 4 years (I have 76 hours in AP credit, plus I can take some courses that count towards both degrees)
4) 1.5 hour, pleasant drive to get from campus to my house.
5) Virtually no pay difference in engineering careers based upon where you graduated from.
6) I plan to go to a prestigious school for graduate school, and if I do, no one will really care that I went to TAMU for undergrad. About that, if I graduate with a very high GPA with plenty of research and a good SoP, would it still be difficult to get in to the likes of Stanford, MIT, etc?
7) I would be exceptional at TAMU as opposed to average at MIT, being in honors and a Brown Scholar (prestigious scholarship awarded to ~25 incoming freshmen per year), and thus have access to many of the university’s resources. This combined with the less intense workload will allow me to get more experience, internships, and research done.
8) The way it worked out is I received both a Type 7 AFROTC Scholarship, which covers all tuition and fees up to 18000 per year, and a full tuition Army ROTC Scholarship. The Air Force is much more technical, and would afford me opportunities to do research at first, then manage other engineers, possibly leading different research projects, with me moving up these tiers, if you will, faster relative to the civilian world (or so I’ve been told). The Army gave me three options: be a normal nontechnical officer leaving me with few transferable skills, go into Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or become essentially a civil engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers. Might be able to get into joint projects, and even if I do, I’d be transferred back before long, so this track is not one I’d like to risk taking. So, how does this relate to MIT? If I go, I have to use that scholarship. And because if this, I will get close to zero financial aid, even if I use the AFROTC one instead. So, from a career outlook, MIT is a poor choice for undergrad.
9) TAMU opened the floodgates on me with scholarships. And I’m still getting more, and whatever I don’t use, I keep. I will, as it appears now, graduate with several thousands of dollars in surplus. MIT would leave me in debt.
10) Don’t think the MIT culture and environment would be very compatible with my own. I personally don’t like being in cities for too long; tend to lean slightly right politically, regularly debating with those who lean left; hate the cold and would really not enjoy a Bostonian winter; would be very far from home, making it more inconvenient and more expensive for me to get home when I need to.
11) As for why I plan to go the ROTC route as opposed to with some other DoD program, it’s that a military career would be a stable one, leaving me something to fall back on if I ever need to. Like I said above, it would also equip me with work experience before I become a reservist and go looking for a job in the civilian world. It also would be keeping with military tradition, with both my father and grandfather serving 26 and 20 years respectively as officers. Finally, it has much better retirement options, along with active duty pay.


Sorry to throw out a wall of text, but I think it’s important for me to do so so I may have any misconceptions corrected. Thank you all very much for your advice and help; you may very well be saving me wasted years in a career I don’t want to be in in the future. Boy am I glad I grew up with the Internet.

As for materials science, I’m not sure that would be a great option, as it is somewhat related to fusion, kind of like how EE and ME are.
What do MEs do for the most part/what is a typical career track for a mechanical engineer? For an electrical engineer?
 
  • #10
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There is no question but that MIT is a great school for graduate work, but in my limited experience, their undergraduates are nothing special. I can honestly say that, for undergraduate education, I'd advise going to TAUM over MIT. For graduate work, that advice would flip the other way around.
Nothing special in reference to what? Quality of work or insight?
 
  • #11
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Nothing special in reference to what? Quality of work or insight?
In general usage, the term "nothing special" means just what it says. There is nothing outstanding about the people or objects to which the phrase is applied.
 
  • #12
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In general usage, the term "nothing special" means just what it says. There is nothing outstanding about the people or objects to which the phrase is applied.
I understand. Thought you meant in reference to specific qualities.
 
  • #13
CrysPhys
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There is no question but that MIT is a great school for graduate work, but in my limited experience, their undergraduates are nothing special. I can honestly say that, for undergraduate education, I'd advise going to TAUM over MIT. For graduate work, that advice would flip the other way around.
<<Emphasis added>> My post here is moot for the OP since he has already made up his mind not to go to MIT. For other students trying to decide between MIT and another school, however, I have this to say: It doesn't matter whether anyone considers the undergrads there to be special or not [however you construe that]. What does matter is whether, for a particular student of concern, MIT offers special opportunities and resources that alternative options available to that particular student do not. The answer will depend on the particular student and on the alternative options available. But for me the answer was a resounding yes (Course 8, SB). [And, of course, other factors such as location, costs, and culture need to be taken into consideration when deciding among schools.]
 

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