Choosing a potential major for college?

  • #1
I'm currently at crossroads about what field I should head into for university. I'd appreciate any advice about what would be a good direction to head into based on my interests and goals.

If I had to name my favorite subject, it would most likely be either mathematics or physics. I've pursued these subjects quite a bit throughout high school and have taken a moderate amount of college classes in both fields. For context, my current background includes the following (I don't know if the course names mean much, considering the different curriculum at each university):

Calculus I + II (Differential and Integral Calculus)
Calculus III (Multivariable Calculus)
Differential Equations
Linear Algebra
Introduction to Proofs: Logic, Sets, and Functions
Analysis I
Analysis II
Theory of Positive Integers (Number Theory)
Probability Theory (Current)

Physics for Scientists and Engineers II, II, and III (Classical Mechanics, E&M, etc. with Calculus)
Mathematical Methods for Physics (Overview of vector calc, lin alg, ODEs, PDEs, complex analysis, etc.)
Classical Mechanics
Quantum Mechanics
Electricity Magnetism
Thermal and Statistical Physics (Current)

I also took a few engineering classes:

Mechanics of Materials
Circuits I (Basics of circuit design)

Having taken a few college courses, I do feel like I have a fairly good idea of what sort of content to expect in university. I was certainly surprised by how different higher-level mathematics and physics are from their lower-level counterparts. Out of all the courses I've taken, I definitely find physics the most fascinating. I guess I enjoy the challenge in tackling the course material and find the actual content the most interesting (Sorry if that comes off as a little over-dramatic).

Anyway, on towards actual questions and concerns I have.
  1. For a long time, I was almost certain that I would major in Physics. In the past few years, I've received the opportunity to perform research in a variety laboratory environments (including a microbiology lab, a physics lab, a mechanical engineering lab, and a mentorship with a theoretical physicist). And while I thoroughly enjoyed these research experiences, I'm starting to feel like I wouldn't actually enjoy a career in academia. It seems like there is a lot of pressure to constantly be publishing papers, alongside the process of applying for grants, managing classes, etc. And attaining tenure isn't exactly easy in itself either.

    Is this outlook accurate? With an undergraduate major in physics, there doesn't seem like there are many career paths to follow other than into graduate school and academia. And if I go into the job market with just an undergrad physics degree, I'll most likely end up working in an entirely different field anyway. If I don't want to go into academia, is it still worthwhile to get a degree in physics?

  2. I've always enjoyed building things and hobby projects - in fact, some of my favorite lab experiences involved building things. So I suppose another good major option would be a field of engineering. The classes I've taken so far have been interesting, if a little bit repetitive (most of Statics was just balancing force/torque equations, and Circuits I was mostly the same principles applied to increasingly complicated circuits). I was wondering if anyone could provide advice as to which field of engineering would be closest to a physics degree in terms of content? Considering that I enjoyed the Classical Mechanics and Thermal Physics courses the most in physics, I am currently leaning towards a degree in mechanical or aerospace engineering.

  3. What would careers for an engineering major actually look like? I would consider myself to be fairly ambitious, and I hope to be get into a career with a lot of potential for growth. And while careers in engineering do provide high salaries in comparison to many other majors, it seems like a career in mechanical engineering wouldn't be nearly as fast-moving than a career like, for example, computer science. In other words, I feel like it would be very easy to spend large amounts of time on a single project in engineering with little potential for actual career advancement. Of course, this is an opinion derived from my already poor understanding of engineering careers - is this even accurate?
  4. Are there any other careers or majors that would be good to look into, considering my interests in math, physics, and engineering? If a bit shallow, I do want to get into a field with a high salary potential. And I feel like I would most enjoy a job where I get to work with new technology and concepts. I imagine these criteria are rather idealistic, but I would appreciate any advice nevertheless. On a side note, I've tried to get into computer science on several occasions, but it has never truly interested me.
This entire post has been a bit of rant, and I apologize if my questions are far too general to provide actual advice. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts and would be happy to answer any questions that could help me narrow down my options.
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
1. Sounds like you shouldn't become an academic. I'd advise that you earn a degree that has market demand. Unless of course you're already comfortable with money.

4. Of those three choices, engineering sounds like it would probably be the best fit for your lifestyle and goals.

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