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Struggling in choosing between BA or BS in Physics

  1. Jul 20, 2012 #1
    I'm currently a student at University of Pittsburgh and I am undecided in my academic path. I enjoy writing and English, though I want to study physics - I don't necessarily need or want to get an engineering job when I graduate, and grad school is not something I'm hell-bent on attending. I enjoy the problem solving and subject matter of physics, and after a year of soul-searching cannot find anything that I could continually study that would interest me besides physics and English. I would be very happy studying physics and working in a loosely related or even unrelated field - I want to know how a BA in physics would set me apart from other people in combination with an English major and what opportunities this combination of studies would open up to me.

    To explain why I am debating on steering clear of the BS in physics: in order to complete the BS at this point, even if I attend summer classes, I would need to most likely go for another 4 years. I have my reasons for not wanting to stay in school for too long (I've been in for a year thus far), but if it is much more worthwhile to get the BS rather than the BA - or if it'd be worth it to get the BA and take a few extra higher level physics courses typical of those in the BS program - I would be willing to take this into consideration. ANY advice on what I should do is greatly appreciated.

    I posted on a separate forum about this and received overwhelmingly negative responses toward the BA, so I'd like to see what you guys have to say seeing as you may have much more knowledge on the subject. I didn't want to give up on the idea too fast!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2012 #2


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    A lot will depend on the actual courses involved in each path. In some schools the difference between a BSc and a BA is just semantic. At others, one can get you into graduate school, while the other won't. So the first thing to do is talk with your academic advisor and figure out what the implications are.

    I suspect, based on what you've said, that the BSc contains more senior level courses and this would be the avenue you would want to take if you were seriously considering graduate school. Is there any reason why you couldn't sign up for the BA now, but align your courses so that finishing a BSc is still an option? That way, you could make the decision at the end of your thrid year as to whether you want to extend your studies for another year or finish up with a nice shiny BA.
  4. Jul 20, 2012 #3
    That's definitely something I'm strongly considering. I'm going to leave the option for continuing to do the B.S. wide open so that I could potentially switch, and I'll work with my regular advisor for that. I spoke specifically to the physics advisor yesterday and he was somewhat unhelpful. He told me that you COULD go to grad school, but in looking at the differences between the B.A. and B.S. it is clear that the B.A. contains a lot less physics courses and only goes up to calculus 3. This is why I'm considering doing the B.A. and then filling in a couple courses that would be very useful should I consider grad school or an engineering career, yet I don't know exactly what those courses are. I can post the course requirements if anybody feels like looking through them quickly.

    B.S. Physics requirements:

    Basic Physics 1, Basic Physics 2 (these are just freshman physics courses)
    Basic Physics Lab (freshman lab)
    Principles of Modern Physics 1
    Principles of Modern Physics 2
    Analog and Digital Electronics
    2 Undergrad Physics Seminars
    Computational Methods in Physics
    Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
    Intermediate Electricity/Magnetism
    Wave Motion and Optics
    Modern Physics Lab
    Calc 1, Calc 2, Calc 3, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations
    Gen Chem 1, Gen Chem 2 OR Intermediate Java, Data Structures

    B.A. Physics/Astronomy:

    Basic Physics 1, Basic Physics 2
    Basic Physics Lab
    Principles of Modern Physics 1
    Principles of Modern Physics 2
    1 Undergrad Physics Seminar
    Introductory Astronomy
    Two upper level astronomy courses OR one upper level astronomy course and one upper level geology course
    Calc 1, Calc 2, Calc 3
    One History/Philosophy of Science course

    This is the link to more information on the various programs at Pitt for physics for more information:

    http://www.physicsandastronomy.pitt.edu/undergraduate/programs [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Jul 20, 2012 #4


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    The BA in physics doesn't look like much more than what is considered a physics minor at many schools. I have a BA in physics (that's all most liberal arts colleges offer) but took the equivalent of your BS in physics and more. But if you don't want to go to grad school in physics, and don't necessarily want a physics-related job, the BA would be fine.
  6. Jul 20, 2012 #5
    Hmm, I see. So do you think the B.A. in physics is essentially worthless? Will it not give me any opportunities beyond what just an English degree would? It doesn't sound like it'd be enough for any technical careers.
  7. Jul 22, 2012 #6
    I have a new question - if I were to go with a B.A. in physics but attempt to get done as many extra classes as I could in 3 years, what classes would be most beneficial for getting into grad school or getting an engineering position beyond what was posted for the B.A. in physics? Should I take the B.A. classes along with optics, thermodynamics, or other classes? Which classes would be most important if I could focus on specific ones?
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