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Kinda stressed over a major to pick

  1. Sep 16, 2012 #1
    So I have a slight dilemma. I'm a senior in high school right now and I absolutely love math and physics. When I go to college, I don't know whether I should major in math, engineering, or physics . I'll assume that you guys would usually tell someone in my position to not worry about it because I still have plenty of time to make a decision, but I'm sort of a special case because through my high school, I'm also graduating with an Associate's Degree, which also means that it is fairly likely that I won't have much time to really choose what I want to major in once I graduate high schol. Right now I'm taking Calculus 2 and Elementary Linear Algebra through my high school's college program, and in the spring semester I'll take Calc 3, Physics with Calc, and Linear Algebra. I'll probably use this last semester before I graduate to make a decision, but I want to hear all of your opinions. I don't know what do do, or how much these majors overlap so maybe I can switch when I hopefully start graduate school. Am I just worrying over nothing? Any insight is really appreciated guys! :D
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2012 #2
    That's great that you're taking such advanced courses in high school. I didn't even know it was possible to take courses as complicated as linear algebra through any direct high school means. Unfortunately, there's no way for anyone to give you advice on the information you've provided. In order for someone to give advice on which field of study in which you should pursue a major, you need to provide personal information regarding your interests, goals, and strengths; without such information, advising is impossible. You've clearly demonstrated that you're a good student, but you haven't described what you like and/or hope to get out of your major. That being said, what are your strengths? Do you have any favorite classes? Any ideal jobs/careers?
  4. Sep 16, 2012 #3
    You should pick what interests you most. Or which might interest you throughout the course, if you're not quite sure about your major.

    Physics and maths have symbolic overlap, which means that when you study one, it supports understanding the other. Especially when you study math first and then physics that uses that math to describe a phenomenon, although that won't necessarily help you with physics labs/experiments.

    Same goes for engineering as areas of maths and physics are used in most branches, everything that's calculated is maths, everything that's based on physical laws is physics.

    Where those majors deviate is in what you'll be studying and what the studies are in practice. Engineering studies focus on designing and building apparatuses, manufacturing processes or e.g. buildings safely and according to laws and regulations i.e. industrial work, physics studies focus on studying physical phenomena and applications of physics, math studies focus on studying math and applications of math. Engineering undergrad has direct job prospects, because the degree is so tied to industrial practices. With more scientific degrees you need to figure out the applications that you wish to pursue and while you can switch to e.g. engineering grad school, especially when you have an "applied" math or physics background, you may not easily get to engineering work from science undergrad. You can get into something industrial, e.g. something to do with the calculations and experiments or very cutting-edge research or technology, but not something for which an engineer who's specialized and knows all the hands-on stuff, regulations etc. would be a better fit. What you win with a science degree is a deeper grasp of the subject and there are positions and fields where that's useful. And science might also be more gratifying, if you're interested in understanding the overall subject and all the underlying stuff. But it's a personal preference, some prefer engineering.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
  5. Sep 16, 2012 #4
    Can you get on the floor and screw in that last little bolt on the bottom of the machine? How do you like working in the lab and taking measurements with computerized instruments, maintaining those instruments and maintaining lab safety? Ever been on a factory floor or on-site at a construction zone?

    Or do you mostly want to do calculations and stay away from hands on stuff?
  6. Sep 16, 2012 #5
    I was in your shoes last year. Although I didn't graduate with an AA degree (6 credit hours short), I completed all the preprofessional tracks much like you'll do yours. The math you're doing right now is not a good representative of mathematics at the upper level. I believe the same goes for physics (though I've only take phys 1&2 and am not absolute). You also wouldn't get any experience in an engineering course at a community college either (I assume that's what your school does too).

    What I
    recommend is taking a good course in math/physics (intro abstract/theory/etc) or two during your first semester(s) and depending on what engineering specifically, a course on that. The benefits are: You see where you belong, you lose any regret you may have not sampling from a topic later in life, and you pick a major sooner. The cons: None really. A semester full with math,physics, and engineering should be enjoyable in this situation.
  7. Sep 16, 2012 #6
    Thanks for all the replies guys! To camjohn, I've always thought professional research would be something I would enjoy, but unfortunately I have no idea yet. One thing I've always wanted was a doctorate so there's that too. But most importantly I think is that I want to be able to benefit society in one way or another, and hopefully I'd be able to do that with any of the 3 majors I listed.
    Internet human, thanks for the info! That was really informative. And klungo, thanks for the advice since you've been in my shoes.

    I've always wondered btw, what does a Ph.D engineer do? No one has ever discussed that for me, do they do research like would a math or physics Ph.D does?
  8. Sep 16, 2012 #7
    Engineering is a mix of math and physics, you should look into it.
  9. Sep 17, 2012 #8
    Yes, but the research is generally related to something that has a direct application, e.g. making a prototype/model or enhancing some engineering process. And not many pursue graduate level engineering, because they can jump to workforce from undergrad.

    At graduate and especially doctorate and post-doc level science and engineering come closer to eachother, both do scientific study as well as devise applications. It's the undergrad curriculum which differs a lot.
  10. Sep 18, 2012 #9
    @dark. It really depends on what engineering. I know for example that phd electrical engineering also research in photonics, lightning, etc which I'm certain some physicists also do. In aerospace/mechanical engineering, some research in combustion,aerodynamics, and fluid dynamics. There's sure to be more that physicists also take on. The difference is, as already mentioned before, the research done by engineers is usually done to be directly applicable to some design.
  11. Sep 18, 2012 #10


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    My first thoughts when first reading title of thread was to say you are just a kid and really shouldn't have any idea what you are doing....but not the case here.

    You are way ahead of the game both mentally and intellectually.

    Math and physics will tie into engineering nicely. Ride the next year out and see where it leads you. I like electrical engineering....but all types are rewarding.

    If you are this far advanced....go for your bachelors, masters, P.E. and Phd. What the heck...the skys the limit!
  12. Sep 18, 2012 #11
    Wow, thanks psparky! I don't take a compliment like that lightly. And engineering research definitely sounds interesting, I just don't want to get to a point where I'm stuck doing something and I realize it's not my passion.

    Also, I'm touching up my questbridge essays (it's a scholarship for low income/minorities) as we speak. . .and I was wondering. Is it naive to say I was inspired by one of Brian Greene's novels? His novel is a huge reason why I'm interested in physics and possibly aerospace engineering, but at the same time i don't want the questbridge reader to think along the lines "oh, what a poor little sap."

    And again, sorry if I'm worrying over nothing, but it's a pretty stressful time of year for me so any I'm thankful for every response I get. I'm already annoying my teachers to hell lmao
  13. Sep 18, 2012 #12
    I really don't understand why you're stressing. I don't mean that in a playful/friendly way, I mean that more in a you should stop it way...lol. How could you possibly not be ready to major in these subjects? You're taking college courses already, and from the looks of it, done well in them. In addition to that, you have an entire year during which to develop interest for a more specific major. I know college sophomores still switching their majors. Going online and posting great stats and then worrying can definitely come off as fishing for compliments. I'd say it's abundantly clear that you're worrying about nothing.

    As for the Brian Greene thing, I'd be careful. That type of work is essentially "cool," theories simplified to conceptual groundwork with absolutely no mathematical basis. You're good at math, so I'm sure you can handle it, but you should still be careful with developing a basis for interest in a certain topic that you really haven't been exposed to. And aerospace engineering -- as I'm sure you're semi-aware -- has pretty much nothing to do with Brian Greene's books. What I'm trying to say is this: You should keep your mind open to topics and stop worring. Taket those classes and do well in them. That is the only academic interest in which you should be investing any time and any worry (hopefully not).
  14. Sep 18, 2012 #13
    Oh sorry if I'm coming off as fishing for compliments, definitely not dude. I have a healthy ego, it's just the way I am when deadlines start coming around. And I'm fairly certain there are plenty of other students like me applying to college as well, so the stress/worrying is probably nerves from competition.

    And yeah, regarding the Brian Greene subject, that's exactly what I thought. Alright, it's good to keep in mind. Hopefully there won't be any repercussions for writing about the book.
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