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Physics Change of major as a junior: Physics or Aerospace Engineering?

  1. Sep 15, 2017 #1

    This is a little long but I promise it won't take that long to read and I want to tell my whole story. I have posted on here before in the past, but those posts are now conflicting and totally irrelevant. I've gone through a rough patch in my life where I couldn't decide what I want to do in my life. I would choose an idea, go with it for a while, and then realize I am unhappy. I'm technically a junior in college and I've changed my major 4 times, starting with Physics, changing to Political Science as a freshman still, back to Physics briefly last year, back to Political Science this past spring, and then I narrowed it to International Politics - National Security most recently. My two big passions in life have always been astronomy/space and international affairs/world events.

    When I narrowed it to National Security I thought I was done changing and all set. But a few months into it, again I'm relapsing. I went to my college career fair and even though I was able to meet with a few government agencies like the NSA and NRO, and my education background fits those organizations, most companies at the fair were looking for more technical majors and STEM fields. My liberal arts major just felt like a total letdown. I've already gone into this in detail on another college advising forum, so I'll try not to drag this out for long. The bottom line is, I think I was wrong about going with International Politics - National Security again. I'm saying to myself, "Man, what are you doing? You view this stuff as insignificant now. You're heart's not in it because you know deep down that space is your passion, not petty conflicts on Earth."

    Space and astronomy is my biggest passion in life. I admire people like Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, etc. Every time I stray away from this subject, I get unhappy and have to find my way back somehow. I had chosen to major in International Politics and keep astronomy as the side hobby, but I'm seriously feeling like they should be reversed now. The reason why I avoided sticking with a major in physics from the start is because the high-level math was difficult for me and I was afraid of failure (I'm an extremely unhealthy perfectionist). Even though I had a natural interest and unbreakable curiosity in astronomy and physics, taking courses like general chemistry in college were a nightmare for me. I wasn't having fun. Perhaps it was the below-average professor, I don't know. I got a C- in foundational Chemistry in college. Thinking back to high school though, I did well in Advanced Placement Physics (I got a B and that was a really tough course).

    But since, I've read so many things and watched so many videos about how, yeah...the high-level math IS difficult, but there's no such thing as being "too stupid" to learn it. You just have to put in the time and dedication. Neil deGrasse Tyson says it's normal to struggle with it right away, partially because professors at our schools have removed the exciting science from it and made it confusing and uninteresting, but he says you have to keep chugging along and over the years you will learn the language of math. Another career advisor online told me the harsh reality of what I've done: I gave up on my deepest passion because of a fear of failure. Now, I really believe I CAN do the math because I took Calculus just this past summer for the first time (didn't need it for political science initially) and I got an A. I put in the time to study, and I did well as a result. So I know I have it in me to succeed in the math. Sometimes it can just get frustrating.

    My intention with the National Security major was to go into Intelligence Analysis in the government. But even the National Security major seems so shallow. I learn no technical skills at all. I just take courses on world history and affairs, a criminology course, a terrorism course, etc. Sure, I could work at one or two government agencies. But beyond that it's really limited.

    I'm really settling on the thought that either Physics or Aerospace Engineering would be (1) more useful and give me better career options and (2) would be the better financial choice too...LONG TERM.

    Now to finances, which is a big concern for me too. I'm a first generation college student and attending a public school, I haven't received much aid. Just a few grants along the way. The rest is all federal and private loans, which are already over $50,000. I'm way off track as far as the standard college curriculum goes; there's nothing I can do about that now. It is what it is. I likely am going to take an extra 2 years or so to graduate. Whatever. It sucks, but I'd rather come out doing something I truly am satisfied with. I've also been told that if I were to finish my national security degree and go back later for physics, I would not receive any grants or awards because I would already have a bachelors in a field.

    So my options are this:
    1) Finish National Security major and hope to get a job in Intelligence Analysis, which is really limited to 2 or 3 agencies at most and highly competitive. Graduate in 2019. Make $77,000 a year on average. Be miserable and likely unsatisfied with career or won't even find a job in that field because I have no practical experience compared to other students who have had the luxuries of travelling abroad and knowing another language.
    2) Change my major starting next semester to Physics or Aerospace Engineering. Much more useful degree with bigger career options. But I would have to drop a couple of my current classes that would be pointless to finish AND I would delay my graduation until 2020 or 2021. More student loan debt. But make $110,000+ a year on average. Potentially be more satisfied with my life, getting to be a part of science, space, and solving problems that help the human civilization as a whole. I'm totally on board with Elon Musk's motto that we have to expand to space for our society to survive the ultimate death of our solar system. And I want to be a part of that frontier.

    If I choose option 2, I might actually be able to save some money by returning home to a local community college to take a few more basic fundamental math courses. I think I would have to request a leave from my university and then return when I can no longer take any more classes at the community college. It would be a big and difficult change, living back at home for a while, but hey, I have no social life as it is so I guess it can't get any worse. And I might be able to go back to work at my job of 4 years to make some money; they love me there and would instantly welcome me back.

    I really need advice on what you think I should do. I'm leaning towards option 2, which would mean starting near the beginning of that academic plan, other than gen ends which I already have completed. If so, should I do Physics or Aerospace Engineering? My college academic record is a mess. I know. I don't want to hear about the past anymore though. I will have to work to fix it, but I need to get my future right. I appreciate all the help you can give me in advance!

    (*If this post would fit better in the Academic Guidance category, please move it there*)

    For more information, this is my math academic record in college along with my grades...
    Chemical Principles I: D first attempt, retook just this past spring and got a C+
    Chemical Principles I LAB: B-
    Trigonometry: A (spring 2017)
    Calculus with Analytical Geometry: A (summer 2017)
    Statistics (unrelated): A (2 years ago)

    I also took AP Physics back in high school and got a B.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2017 #2
    I also wanted to add that 2 of my closest (and very few) friends are also older college students. One spent a few years in the military right after high school and is a junior at 26 years old, getting a bachelors. The other is 25 with a bachelors in one field but he didn't like it so he is going back to school to get another bachelors in a different field. So I don't have a problem with being the "weird" student who is out of place. It's just a matter of finances and whether I can dedicate myself to the math. I look forward to any advice I can get.
  4. Sep 15, 2017 #3
    in short, please follow your passion. and about math , if you want something REALLY , from the deepest point in your HEART, then you can do it incredibly (( WHAT IS DONE WITH LOVE ,DONE WELL)) -Van Gogh - I can’t say anything about your description of your passion with space/Astronomy , but just... just do it and don’t think about anything else . About physics or Aerospace engineering, ... physics talk about everything in this universe not just space ,it’s really difficult to define what exactly physics is, but aerospace engineering specialized in space technology and others about space.. . do MORE search online about them and see what you will decide at the end ... I read your post by chance and it’s like I am who wrote it (( your passion, models and invest in making life multi-planetary , your confusion between physics and Aerospace engineering... )) I took my first steps to follow my passion with space/Astronomy, despite a lot of hard personal struggles... but your confusion it’s not big problem ,JUST you need “YOUR FINAL DECISION” without any pressure, you have golden chances between your hands , about career, good education and practical experiences.
    “BE CONFIDENT” , and there is nothing called failure, and you seem intelligent one, of course you know that...
  5. Sep 16, 2017 #4
    It usually does when it comes time to find a job. Sorry you had such an expensive lesson. When you think about the loan/finances picture, consider if you really need to stay at your current school for the whole thing. You can likely save a ton by moving back home (or with other relatives) and attending a cheap school you can commute to for a couple years to get all the core courses in your desired STEM major.
  6. Sep 16, 2017 #5
    First off..
    My adviser pointed out to me that Aerospace Engineering is likely ruled out because it's a controlled major and they likely wouldn't admit me at this point.
    But she said I could do Physics, or even another science major like Earth Science & Policy, Geoscience, or just general Science with a Government and Policy option.

    She jokingly apologized for throwing more majors at me but said there's no single way to get into the space field, and that people of all different backgrounds can get into it. She said the adviser next door majored in Earth Science and now he has contracts with NASA and got to control one of the Mars Rovers.

    So now I have a huge dilemma...which science major do I choose? Or should I just finish out the National Security degree...some people are even telling me just to finish it out and then see where it goes....
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