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Deciding on my undergraduate field

  1. Jul 5, 2009 #1
    Within a week, I am to select a field of study for the next three or more years of my time as an undergrad. The fields in question are physics and economics. Both subjects interest me, and I will be adding a bit more mathematics than necessary into my course load.

    Things to consider:
    -I am NOT interested in the idea of research in the field of physics
    -Although I wish it were not so, money and job prospects after graduation are important to me (this is primary concern)
    -I want to be able to make a difference in the world (I'm still young, I still have dreams).
    -Even going into the economics stream - I will be able/allowed to take advanced courses in classical mechanics, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and fluid mechanics because of the mathematics courses I plan to take

    Up until now, I wanted to go for the physics stream thinking that things would eventually work themselves out but I suppose that's not something I can realistically gamble on. I was hoping that the members of this forum could offer some advice regarding this, as I'm sure a lot of you have a Bachelor's in physics and have a good idea about what I can or cannot do with one.
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  3. Jul 5, 2009 #2
    If you’re dead set on not doing research in Physics than you should definitely go into economics because a 4-year economics degree hands down beats a 4-year degree in physics when it comes to career prospects.

    Although considering your interest in math and disinterest in research maybe engineering might be a path for you to consider.
  4. Jul 5, 2009 #3


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    +1 for econ
    could go either way
    probably doesn't depend on what kind of degree you have
    sounds like you're trying to justify econ ;-)

    Based on what you're saying it sounds like you should go for economics. But keep in mind that you can get a cushy job in the finance industry with a physics degree just as well as with an econ degree (some people say better... I don't know about that, but hedge funds and banks do seem to like the way physicists think).
  5. Jul 6, 2009 #4
    Depends on your institution's reputation, I'd say. If either department is particularly renowned, then go for that one.

    At my school, it's a lot more demanding to be a physics major than to be an economics major. I'm in (engineering) physics at a school known for its EP program with no particular accolades in its economics department. I've surveyed three junior-level econ classes and was at the top of my class in each of them, doing pretty minimal work.

    In addition, you could look into double-majoring, if it's a possibility. My school offers a 'Physics with concentration outside of Physics' option for physics majors, showing economics as a popular alternative.

    You seem to be very interested in taking high-level physics classes regardless of which degree you pursue. Are you sure there are that many economics classes you want to take?
  6. Jul 6, 2009 #5


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    I would agree with this. A decent amount of the finance jobs for physics degree require/prefer PhD ins physics which means as a bachelors in physics youre going to be pretty uncompetitive for those jobs.
  7. Jul 6, 2009 #6
    I should stop lying to myself if I am to make a good decision...

    I do not find economics as interesting as physics, the only reasons why I am leaning towards economics is because I am worried about finding a job opportunities after getting out of school and I am doing quite well in my economics class (i.e. the "easy" way). I have an interest in engineering (science-oriented with good pay opportunities), but I'd like to have an undergraduate degree be in physics rather than in engineering - the only issue is securing a well-paying science/engineering job in the future or at least getting into graduate school for engineering.

    I am also admittedly interested in research, but I don't think the lifestyle suits me. I would be willing to participate in research over summers and during the school year and maybe even a few years after graduating, as long as I can be sure that it'll help me get where I want in the long run.

    If I were to go through with physics, I would probably specialize in condensed matter theory as it is apparently the field with the most applications in other fields and the (?)largest overlap with engineering(?). The biggest issue is what I can do with a physics degree. If money and job opportunities are important to me, is obtaining a bachelor's in physics a good endeavor? Is it realistic to be able to get into grad schools in engineering with a degree in physics? Would an undergraduate degree in engineering be a more sensible choice for someone in my position?

    Sorry for being so misleading in my first post, I'm very confused myself...
  8. Jul 7, 2009 #7
    find what interests you... the great thing about the digital age and the internet is you can get a sense of what each field is like and also ask people involved in the field what each field entails etc. Personally for me I know I will be choosing economics in my upper level studies, as that is what I find most interesting...
  9. Jul 7, 2009 #8
    As others have said, you CAN still go into finance with a physics BS. Also, you could develop software and other computer-y stuff with a physics degree. I've heard those people make good money.
  10. Jul 7, 2009 #9


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    Yeah, I think about half of the physics majors in my graduating class went into finance jobs (or more precisely, jobs at financial firms - some of them doing programming or system administration). Starting salaries I think are in the $60,000-80,000 range. Of course, this was a year ago, before the financial industry went down the tubes - they're probably not hiring so readily (or paying so well) these days.
  11. Jul 7, 2009 #10
    Not particularly interested in finance but I guess that'd be a suitable backup... I'm more interested in a possible transition from physics to engineering after I graduate. Anyone have thoughts on this?
  12. Jul 7, 2009 #11


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    Half of the graduating class is a bit odd though I believe from previous post you graduated from an ivy league and finance HR loves loves loves ivy league grads.
  13. Jul 7, 2009 #12
    Q1. A bachelor’s degree in Physics will not allow you to work in the condensed matter field of physics, in order to do work in the private sector you will need at the bare minimum a masters, but even then most of those jobs go to PHD holders.

    Q2. I've heard of people doing this, however I don’t really think its necessary because a bachelors in engineering can take you pretty far (at least in my opinion).

    Q3. I definitely think engineering is the right choice for you because you seem to have a high interest in science and a 4-year engineering degree has many job opportunities. Assuming you're American here is a job site for engineers.


    I would like to add though that economic factors shouldn't be the only factor in your career choice because 10 years down the line you don’t want to feel like you've made the wrong career choice.
  14. Jul 7, 2009 #13
    I don't think an economics 'degree' looks any more appealing than a physics degree. If you're interested in the job skills that an econ degree usually implies, then take the appropriate courses (intermediate micro/macro, perhaps a few other cost-benefit analysis type classes).

    From what I can tell, actually, an engineering degree is a stronger bachelor's degree than an economics degree. If you're interested in physics, an electrical engineering major will afford you both good job opportunities (as an engineer, of course) and freedom to take relevant high-level physics electives.
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