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Physics vs Engineering (Research vs Engineering)

  1. Sep 27, 2009 #1
    I am applying to college this year (really soon). Almost all the colleges I am applying to have stellar Physics and Engineering departments (as well as math and sciences in general). However, on my application I have to choose a college to apply to. It comes down to Engineering and Science and most of the time I can only apply to one... Which one should I apply to?

    The question has nothing to do with money I am confused. I just want to hear other peoples opinions (no one talk about money).
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2009 #2


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    You do not know yourself yet. You will know yourself a little at least, after about 2 years of college. You picked a simple question about choosing between research and engineering. If you have not done any research and if you have not done any design or development work, then you do not know which to choose between Physics and Engineering. Find out at each institution where you apply, which is the easier program to gain undergraduate acceptance. If you are qualified to one department, you are most likely qualified for the other department too.

    As you learn to understand yourself, you can switch fields, probably without significant obstacles.
  4. Sep 28, 2009 #3
    This is what I have been doing. For example, at University of Michigan I am applying for Physics because it is easier to get into (for me) than the College of Engineering. However, when applying to a lot of schools you can just apply to the College of Engineering and if you don't get in there you can still get into the college of science and arts (or letters and science or whatever).

    I want to understand myself. I am not looking for someone to make a decision for me, but I wan't to hear what opinions others have. Thank you very much symbolipoint (this is actually exactly what I needed to hear. I knew it already, but I needed to see it)
  5. Sep 28, 2009 #4


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    Some departments at certain/some schools might be overcrowded and may not be able to easily accept new students in your chosen major field. Physics would likely not be impacted in this way. Engineering would be expected more popular. People study Physics as a chosen field because they are interested in understanding, and Physics is known as difficult (as is Engineering). Since Physics is this way, usually Physics departments do not have abundant students choosing this major, so physics departments will give some effort to try to recruit students into the choice as major. You will soon find that during your first 3 semesters of university Physics courses, very few students in them are in the Physics major. After those, most students in these courses are physics majors.
  6. Sep 29, 2009 #5


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    One of the key differences to keep in mind is that engineering is a professional degree. Engineering programs are geared towards preparing the student for entering that professional discipline. At first your courses will be quite similar with fundamental physics, calculus, algebra, differential equations, programming, etc. But as time goes on engineering programs will focus more on design and development.

    In physics the focus will be more on using those fundamental concepts to conduct further scientific investigations. The program will generally have more options to cover fundamental nature of the universe-type concepts like quantum mechanics and cosmology.

    There is naturally a lot of cross-over and technically, you can jump from one field to the other, although doing that may require some back-tracking.

    In the end, this advice may seem a little simplistic and obvious, but I'll pass it on anyways. If you want to be an engineer, take engineering. If you want to study physics, take physics. If you don't know what you want to do, you should spend a little more time investigating each field - job shadow a few engineers and/or some physics graduate students to see what they do day-to-day for example.
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