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Major in physics to be an engineer while working full time?

  1. Dec 10, 2012 #1
    Hello, glad I found this place. I really don't know much about college admissions right now. I'm 30 years old, and have never been to college. When I graduated from high school, I jumped straight into the US Navy at 17, so I do have the GI bill to make tuition a bit easier, as long as I take enough classes to be considered a full-time student.

    I currently work in the semiconductor industry as an equipment technician, and was talking with my boss about the requirements to become an engineer. He suggested a physics major would be more beneficial than an EE or ME, especially since I would want to continue working with the same types of systems that I currently work with (physical vapor deposition).

    I would continue working full time, so unlike a lot of college applicants, I am limited on universities to choose, as I can't travel too far to make it to classes from the area that I live and work in, which limits me to probably University of Texas Austin, Texas A&M, and Texas State, although I am pretty sure with so long since high school, I would probably benefit from pursuing an AS in Physics at the local community college and then applying to one (or all) of the aforementioned universities.

    My questions are:

    Is it common to only apply to local universities and be accepted, provided you are starting from an AS?

    Would it be simpler and quicker to just use the community college for placement tests and ensure I am ready for Calc I, and then apply to the universities for a full degree program?

    Is it uncommon for would-be engineers to pursue degrees in physics?

    Thanks for your time
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2012 #2


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    A bachelor's degree in physics doesn't qualify you to be an engineer. In general, a bachelor's degree isn't like a certificate that makes you eligible for a certain kind of work. It seems odd to me to enter college with such a narrow focus on one specific technology, physical vapor deposition. By the time you get out of college, the world will be a different place, the job market will be a different one, and you'll be a different person.

    Your expectation of being able to work full time while getting a bachelor's degree in physics is unrealistic. A typical class load in college is 12 to 15 units, and the usual rule of thumb is that every unit represents at least 1 hour in class (more for lab classes) plus at least 2 hours outside of class (more if you find the material challenging -- as most people do with physics). This adds up to roughly 40 hours a week of schoolwork. It isn't physically possible to do that while working full time.
  4. Dec 10, 2012 #3
    Honestly, I'd go to your local community college and take calculus 1 2 3, physics 1 2 3, differential equations, chemistry 1, linear algebra, programming, and general education. You can take one or two classes a semester while working full time. It'll be cheap as hell, AND regardless of whether you do engineering or physics, you will need all those classes.

    They will also help you in your work. A basic understanding of physics/calculus helps a LOT regardless of what area.

    By the time you have all your physics, math, programming, calculus done it'll only be 2 years worth of "real college" left. You can worry about it then. Be warned, taking a class or two a semester while still working will take a LONG time. But it'll get you started in the right path.

    Also you might take a class at a JC and realize you hate it. That's perfectly okay too.
  5. Dec 10, 2012 #4
    Engineering majors typically need 3 years of heavy course load to transfer from a JC to a real college. Doing a class or two a semester will be much, much longer. But it'll be doable where full time job AND engineering degree simply isn't.

    If you want, you can message me and I can provide you with links to materials to self learn calculus and physics. I can help you out a bit too, if you ever get stuck (so will anyone on here).

    Anyway, the core is calculus. Regardless of whether you go engineering, physics or whatever. Calculus is the core.
  6. Dec 10, 2012 #5
    I understand that physics degrees have nothing to do with ABET, although the requirement in Texas to hold the title of Engineer is to have a Bachelor's in a science or engineering field, so physics qualifies in my situation. I also understand that an overly narrow focus (PVD) may not be the best, but if I just wanted to get a degree for the sake of being an engineer, there are certainly less difficult degrees to obtain. The little I understand about physics interests me a lot. I work compressed workweeks, 12 hour shifts so half of every week (4 days one week, 3 the next) is 100% my time. I never work on wednesdays, thursdays, or fridays, and I work the night shift, so I can be in class during the days. I know this situation isn't ideal, but I have to play the cards I'm dealt.
  7. Dec 10, 2012 #6


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    So what is the number of units you intend to take every semester? If you think it's going to be a full load, you're delusional. Your desire to do x, y, and z doesn't exempt you from the laws of arithmetic, which say that there aren't enough hours in the week to do what you say you want to do. Or are you in denial about having to spend at least 2 hours outside of class for every unit?
  8. Dec 10, 2012 #7
    I'm not exactly sure why you're trying so hard to tell me what I can't do, instead of answering one of the 3 questions I asked in my OP. ok, so we'll do the arithmetic to figure out why I can't do this.

    15 units working in a semester (is this reduced by summer classes?) which gives ~45 hours weekly of work, 15 hours in the classroom and another 30 outside of the classroom studying. the 15 hours is easy since I work nights every single day is an option to take a class, although of course, for sanity and sleep, it would be preferable to have those classes on my weekends (wed, thurs, fri) I think in a guaranteed weekend of 72 to 96 hours, I can find 30 hours to study, although if 15 of those hours are required to be in the classroom, I would need to find those 15 hours somewhere during my workweek...luckily for me, there's 12 hours of each day during my workweek that I am not working, so 36 to 48 hours of time during which I would need to find those 15 hours to study or be in class, depending on class schedule. I'm not going to deny that I may need up to 2 hours outside of class for each unit, I don't know and won't until I experience the coursework, but you also don't know me, so it very well could be that I only need an hour per unit, or that I may need 3 hours per unit.

    I don't see where arithmetic says I can't do this, I just see a person who, for whatever reason, is trying to talk me out of school. I know how to budget my time to accomplish goals, I figured that one out a while back. Now if you have a good reason for physics being a poor choice of major for engineering, I'm all ears
  9. Dec 10, 2012 #8


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    Nope, just trying to talk you out of flunking school. But that's your privilege.
  10. Dec 10, 2012 #9
    Ah, so a person who has never met me is telling me how unsuccessful I will be in school. Got it.
  11. Dec 10, 2012 #10


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    If you ask for advice here, we have to make assumptiions, and one of those is that you are a reasonably close approximation to a normal human being, unless your posts say otherwise.

    You are working 3.5 x 12 = 42 hours a week already. A "full time" college degree will add another 45 hours to that.

    If you fhink you can work (and I mean WORK, not just show up and stay awake) for close to 90 hours a week non-stop, fine, go ahead and do it. All I can say is, I know a few people who can do that for a couple of weeks without crashing out, but none who can keep up that pace for a couple of months, let alone several years.
  12. Dec 10, 2012 #11
    Technically, I asked for the answers to 3 questions, and Johnqwertyful was the only person that provided a response to those 3 questions. I didn't ask anyone to talk me out of getting an education, which is what it seemed that bcrowell was pushing. I made a decision earlier in life that I don't regret, but is going to make getting an education much more difficult. I get that. That's not what I was asking about. I'm positive I can't be the first person with a full time job that wants to get a physics degree
  13. Dec 10, 2012 #12


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    I rewrote my reply because I wasn't happy with how it turned out.

    First, I don't like the attitude that people here have. I would hope we don't confuse 'extremely difficult' for most people with 'impossible.' If the OP is willing to accept the risk and the stress of working full time and going to school full time, then so be it. The simple truth of the matter is, that I'm mostly baffled bcrowell promise that the guy will fail. I'm a living example of a former soldier who HAD to work full time to support his wife and child while go to school FULL TIME (I do mean a minimum of 15 credit hours) and still walk out with a fantastic GPA. Was it easy, of course not. It's brutally hard, brutally difficult. Stress, and lack of sleep were common words I used. Yet, in my life, it wasn't the hardest thing I've done. I spent a year in a mountain showering once a week. I spent a year in the desert scared to drive on a road. Compared to that, college was actually a relatively easy time :).

    To answer your first question, this isn't an issue. Do well at your CC, and it should be easy to get into UT or A&M or Texas State or any other school. As a veteran in Texas, you're basically the definition of qualified candidate (I say this coming from Texas.)

    Question 2 I highly recommend starting at CC. I say this simply so that you can readjust to the course load. Plus, if you find you need extra help in math, or science, then you can pay for remedial classes. I do know the GI BILL will not cover remedial classes, so looking at it like this, it's beneficial to start at a CC, relearn what you may have forgotten, and readjust to school.

    Question 3: Keep it simple. If you want to be an engineer, study engineering. Why build a base in the valley when you can have the high ground? (Sadly...I think we did this in A-stan a lot...le sigh MI.) Moral of the story, if you do engineering, you'll have the magic word to you an engineering job and that magic word is "Engineering Degree." You don't have to convince people you can do an engineering job (like a physics major would have too) if you got a degree that says you can do it.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  14. Dec 11, 2012 #13
    Thanks for your perspective on this...CC sounds like a great starter to get going in the right direction. I didn't know that the GI bill won't cover remedial classes, so I think that is even better reason to start out there and figure out what I need to shore up in before I start using it. I know it won't be easy, but I'm not looking for easy, just trying to plan out the how. Thanks again, and sorry about the Knights the other day :)
  15. Dec 11, 2012 #14
    CC would also be the best bet because credits are so affordable that you could start easy and not jump into trying to be a full-time student with a full-time job. (I wouldn't say that is completely impossible... but it will be very, VERY painful!)

    Also if your goal is to be an engineer, I'm not sure a degree in physics is a good idea. Again, it is *possible* to become an engineer with a physics degree, but you are making life more difficult for yourself.
  16. Dec 11, 2012 #15
    I have recently started down the same path, so I would say CC is the only way it is going to happen,unless you have taken the SAT's or something equivalent. I had not, and I had to take 12 credits at CC before the university would even consider me. You also needed at least a B in pre-calc or calc. My CC has a concurrent engineering program with the university. You may want to see if there is something like that by you. You will end up taking quite a few more credits if you finish your AS degree and transfer. I am taking 8 credits and working full time; I also have a family, and it's a brutal amount of work. Good luck.
  17. Dec 11, 2012 #16
    I'll chip in here,

    I do know someone who works full time and goes to school full time for EE..but she works nonstop and never has downtime. It's not the life most people want, and it is going to take her longer than 4 years to get a BS degree.
  18. Dec 11, 2012 #17
    To the OP- I've known a few people who worked full time while completing a college degree (in physics no less), so it is doable, but its not easy. Having a flexible work schedule is a necessity (the capstone lab course for many physics majors requires many(often 40+) hours a week FOR THAT CLASS ALONE, for instance, and its usually only 4 credit or so). And the people I've known attempthing to do a full-time degree with a full time job didn't have kids,responsibilities, etc. I'd recommend starting with a few community college classes (which are often cheap enough to pay out of pocket) and seeing how well it works before going all-in.

    I can only answer 3- yes, it is uncommon. Most companies prefer engineers for their engineering companies to physics majors. Most physics majors I know went to get a phd in an attempt to find engineering-like work, and then after the phd went into IT,insurance or finance.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
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