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Physics major vs mechanical engineering?

  1. Jan 14, 2012 #1
    Hey guys. So I came here to ask a couple of questions that you guys probably know the answers to. Basically, I am a high school senior and I took physics in my junior year, and I loved it so much I took it again in senior year (this time just a higher level course). I'm really loving it. I ace every test and I was always the best student in my class. I consider math and physics my best subjects in high school, but preferably physics.

    I originally made my major mechanical engineering because of my skills with physics and math. However I started thinking it would be too hard, since engineering is considered very difficult. So I was thinking about majoring in physics. What would be the difference in these two majors difficulty wise? Also, what would you say would be best for me based on my description?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2012 #2


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    Engineering is more or less applied physics. If one considers engineering hard, then one might find physics as much a challenge, if not more so.

    To be proficient in science and engineering, one must apply effort. If one wants an easy major, then don't go into science or engineering.
  4. Jan 14, 2012 #3
    Physics is much more theoretical than engineering. It's often said that physicists can become engineers but not vice-versa
  5. Jan 14, 2012 #4


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    It really depends on what you're looking for. The way you've written your post, it sounds like your biggest priority is ease of major. If that's the case, as Astronuc said, engineering or any of the sciences would be majors to avoid.

    I suspect however that you were interested in engineering and heard a few horror stories that are giving you some cold feet. Just like anything else, take such stories with a grain of salt. Students love to play up how difficult their workload is. Sometimes it's justified, but often you'll get a summary of the "worst" day presented as a common day (and often half of that "worst" day results from the student's lack of organization or self-discipline).

    One thing you'll find is that courseload-wise, first year engineering and first year physics are pretty similar. So if you chose one, it's not really that difficult to transfer over to the other if, after a year, you think the grass is greener on the other side.
  6. Jan 15, 2012 #5


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    Undergrad physics in the US should be quite doable for any amateur interested in the subject. Undergraduate physics is a highly standardized discipline with good textbooks and teaching (and internet forums :tongue2:). Of course, some parts will be exceedingly hard if you're especially good in physics :biggrin: A friend of mine who's an excellent theorist detested his lab classes, which are compulsory at the undergraduate level.

    You have to think about career options carefully though. Particle Grl and Two-fish quant who post here frequently give two different useful perspectives on career choices if you go on to a physics PhD (which is presumably hard, and not for amateurs).
  7. Jan 15, 2012 #6
    I don't think that's really true. If I were to go into orbital mechanics, I would be a physicist much more than an engineer. Engineers specializing in computational fluid dynamics are also much more inclined towards physics than any actual engineering work, except in the sense that their model-making leads to greater efficiency in the shape of an aero/hydrodynamic object.

    Not saying your point isn't invalid, I just disliked the absolutism in your statement. Engineers most definitely can become physicists. They just don't push boundaries as often as physicists, and when they do it is certainly in very different fields of interest.
  8. Jan 15, 2012 #7


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    The first two are physicists whose first degrees were in engineering. The next is an engineer who engineered a device useful only in physics. I'm not sure Kao and Kilby really count, since that would make Rutherford a chemist.
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