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Welp. Another 'Which college, which degree' thread. Sorry

  1. Dec 26, 2014 #1
    So here's the deal. I LOVE physics. I am positively amazed at what the universe has to offer, and would love to learn LOTS more about it. However, I would like to have a job at some point in the future, preferably one that pays well. I enjoy problem solving and math, so a career as an engineer would suit me well.

    I'm a senior in high school, and have applied to five colleges. I've been accepted to three (with decent scholarships to two of them), and am waiting on the other two (with reasonable certainty that I'll be admitted.)

    Missouri University of Science and Technology (In state)
    University of Colorado - Boulder
    Texas A&M University

    Colorado School of Mines
    University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (Little to no desire to go here, got roped in with a free app lol)

    I considered a double major in Physics and a yet-to-be-determined field of Engineering. I was told this was unfeasible. Makes sense to me, but I'm still undecided as to what I should do.

    Is there a best of both worlds somewhere?

    Currently leaning to Nuclear Engineering as it seems to be the most "physicsy" of the Engineering disciplines. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated. (Cost is a big factor, as my family makes too much for financial aid but I will not be relying on my parents to pay for college.) [I know, first world problems..]

    I have ruled out Physics at M S&T as I do not believe that can provide the education I desire (in physics), but they seem to be a decent engineering school. Boulder looks too expensive, even with Chancellor's Achievement Scholarship, as does CO School of Mines. But I'd be very very grateful for any input, advice, etc. I'm sort of using this post as a way to work through my thoughts, so I'm terribly sorry if this is a bit long.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 26, 2014 #2
    It helps to know exactly what interests you. What parts of physics interest you? What parts have you been exposed to? Do you like programming? Working with computers? Pen and paper? Do you like chemistry? Biology? Do you feel you would like doing research, or do you want to do other types of work?

    I can't help you with the university choice (you're really the only one qualified to make that decision--it will be based upon many factors, such as location, cost, etc.). It will, however, be easier to offer suggestions if you stated some specific interests of yours. What's your exposure to physics, and what makes you love it?
  4. Dec 26, 2014 #3
    Thanks for the reply!

    I'm interested in the answers. I like knowing what's going on in our universe, and I like knowing how, why, etc. I really just enjoy learning about it. I have a very basic knowledge of QM, GR, Atomic, Chaos, and CM/Engineering physics. They all fascinate me, although I seem to understand GR the most. I have almost no programming knowledge, but would probably pick it up pretty quick. I like working with pen/paper, and love chemistry, although I'm not very good at it. (I HATE biology lol.) I don't know about research. I feel it would come naturally after I ran out of things to learn in a specific field, but I certainly can't say for sure at this point.

    That's understandable, I'm really just looking for a "No, don't go there, I went there and it's bad: the environment is not suitable for learning" or "It's not a good place for that field," something along those lines, should something like that apply. I'd love to go to school in Colorado (it's beautiful, and I'm moving there immediately out of college), but cost is looking too high.

    As for specific interests, that's tough. I'm fascinated with the major concepts I've read about in physics. (I've read quite a lot, but nothing too technical.) I am ineffably amazed at the vastness of our universe, I am baffled by 1/2 integer spin as I understand it, I am fascinated with the thought experiments like Schrodinger's Cat or the Twin Paradox. I love the concept of the Hafele-Keating Experiment and what it means, as well as the shape of spacetime and how that works with gravity. Dark Matter/Dark Energy confuse me, and I'd love to learn more about the subjects (I will get around to it eventually, I've just been busy). I also enjoy learning about new concepts that I've not heard of, and how they relate to what I know. I am simply a curious person, and I like knowing things, to put it simply.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.
  5. Dec 26, 2014 #4
    I feel it's worth pointing out that not all physics concerns itself with Schrodinger's cats or Einstein's theories. I know professors at my university that specialize in underwater acoustics--interpreting the signals that come from under the ocean.

    One issue is that it's very difficult to truly know how much you like physics if you haven't been very exposed to the mathematical aspects of it (which is why your exposure to physics is important). It's one thing to read about the history of Maxwell's equations. It's another thing to apply them. For the longest time, I wanted to go into physics, but I chose electrical engineering instead. After taking a couple of physics courses at my university, I realized that I didn't like physics as much as I thought I did anyway. I still enjoy it, and I plan on taking extra modern physics classes not required for my major, but it's an entirely different beast when you're actually grinding through the less "sexy" areas.

    Do engineering if you like knowing how things work. Do physics if you like knowing why things work. Of course, there is a lot of overlap, but that's the gist of things. After all, it's impossible to be an engineer that doesn't know any theory, and it's probably impossible to be a physicist that doesn't know how to design a device if required. Realistically, on a more depressing note, it is true that it is much easier to get a job as an engineer than as someone who does research in general relativity. That's the way society (and our economy) works, and it is always something that students have to take into consideration.

    Anyway, I can give you some breakdowns of fields based on interests. If you like electricity and magnetism, computers, radio, power, etc., then electrical engineering is the best choice. If you like structures, roads, etc, civil is the best choice. Chemical engineering involves a good amount of thermodynamics, possibly fluid dynamics, and chemistry, from what I know. Nuclear engineering I'm sure involves a lot of physics, maybe chemistry, and I'm sure a lot of thermodynamics. None of these fields will have you studying general relativity, though.

    It's something you have to make a pro/con list about and think through. Don't rush into anything, though. It's easy to convince yourself you want something, but I encourage you to explore all your options. What you like can easily change in 10 years. Try everything out and keep your options open. And if, after real exposures to these fields, physics is still the thing that fires you up the most, then go for it. But always have a plan B for whatever you do. Have some marketable skills.

    (lastly., good choice with Colorado. I just got back from vacation there--it's beautiful)
  6. Dec 26, 2014 #5
    mrnike992 - Good luck with the application process! Have you considered applying to some private schools? Although the sticker prices are usually higher, the financial aid packages are usually better as well. Many of my friends found that is was cheaper to go to a private school than our in-state universities after the financial aid packages came.

    Have you looked into Honors Colleges/Programs within the schools you're applying to? Most of the schools you listed are so big that your experience can vary from "love it" to "hate it" just based on the people you're surrounded by. An honors program can be a good way to find a high-achieving niche within your university.

    As a math major, I will say that the math program at UMTC is very highly regarded. According to US News, a rough guide, their physics and engineering programs are pretty good as well. Maybe you could give it another look?
  7. Dec 26, 2014 #6
    Very good point. I realize this, and have even considered acoustical engineering, but it's never struck me as "exciting" enough.. So I suppose when I say that I enjoy studying physics, I do mean the more pure physics, even like astrophysics or something to that effect.

    Being only a Calculus I student, there aren't a whole lot of branches of physics that can be worked with so little knowledge of math. But I have always enjoyed (and been quite good at) math and don't expect any sort math to ever hold me back from learning anything.

    That was sort of my plan too, to major in an Engineering field but take side courses that interest me. I was just hoping there was a better solution.

    That's a nice way of putting it..

    I've certainly got some stuff to figure out..

    Absolutely. Everything there is gorgeous. So much to do: hiking in all seasons, skiing in winter, white-water rafting in spring, and more. (I love Colorado lol.)


    I've never found any that looked affordable.. I wanted to go to some very nice Private schools (ie Wash U Stl, Duke, Cornell, etc), but the price was absolutely unreasonable. It's mostly personal mindset, but I don't want my parents spending a dime on my education after I leave the house. It's probably unreasonable, but while we make far too much to qualify for need based aid, it would create an unnecessary struggle for my family. (I am the oldest of five kids that will be going to college within the next ten years.)

    I was admitted into the honors college at Boulder, haven't looked into it much though.

    I'm not a fan of Minnesota, especially not the Minneapolis area. If accepted with a generous scholarship that rivaled the other schools, then I would make a visit to the campus, but it is highly unlikely that I would end up there.

    Thank you guys very much for your help, it has truly been a good 'walkthrough' of the things I need to be thinking about. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to reply.
  8. Dec 26, 2014 #7
    There is a best of both worlds out there, there are lots of programs called engineering physics which splice the two, in fact one of your choices CU boulder has such a program:

    http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/academics/degree/engineering-physics [Broken]

    Missouri actually has pretty interesting (to me) plasma physics research, which is applied to space propulsion; it's being done in their aerospace engineering department:


    Texas A&M has a good nuclear engineering department from what I've heard, they also do applied/engineering research in their physics department.

    Unless you have a lot of AP credit, I would say avoid double majoring in physics and engineering (I did physics and EE), because of the fact that there isn't lots of overlap between courses and it takes alot more time and is a lot more work. The advantage is that you get access to the research done by professors in both departments, which can land you a pretty nice resume post graduation if you play your cards right. Going back to the best of both worlds engineering/applied physics courses, I would look into programs like this; the trend I've seen is that you take most of the core physics and specialize in some sort of engineering of your choice.

    Best of luck.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  9. Dec 26, 2014 #8
    [/PLAIN] [Broken]

    So would a program like this still leave me a chance for a job out of college? It is my understanding that most fields of engineering are easy to find jobs in after getting your degree, but that physics is another story. Would this engineering physics degree be sought-after by employers?

    Yeah, I was trying to stay away from a double major, which is why I'm so torn about what I should study. I'll definitely look into those programs, I kinda figured they were more engineering with very little physics, but after looking at Boulder's I'll definitely look into those some more. Thanks!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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