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What do I major in to become wealthy?

  1. Aug 25, 2014 #1
    I've read that a lot of physics and math PhDs work in finance, and they make a lot of money. I've also read that a Masters in financial engineering is the best finance path that's similar, but that they don't easily get positions/jobs that physics and math PhDs are able to because companies favor physics/math PhD intellect as opposed to formal finance training like a Masters in financial engineering because physics and math PhDs are smarter, solve problems better, have better independent research training, and learn much faster than people with just finance degrees.

    I am starting my first year of college, but I will be entering as a sophomore since I already have 30 college credits taken during high school so I need to choose a major ASAP because I've already taken linear algebra, the entire introductory calculus and physics sequences, and have registered for real analysis and electromagnetism courses (along with a bunch of general education classes) because I don't know what I want to major in yet. I will have to start choosing specific courses for what path I want to take the following semester since I am running out of "general" or "vague" classes to take and I think a double major would be too much for me to handle.

    So can anyone confirm/deny the rumors that I've heard in my first paragraph?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2014 #2
    You should never be majoring in math or physics to make money. That's not why people do it. If all that interests you is money, try getting a business degree, or computer science, or any engineering discipline. Maybe forgo the college process, ridding yourself of debt, and become a skilled tradesmen like a carpenter or an electrician; they make fairly good money without having to wallow in debt.

    Yes, a physics PhD opens some doors for finance. But I feel I'm not overstepping my bounds to say that most everyone going to graduate school for physics wants to do.... physics. Getting a PhD in physics so that you can get a finance job is like going to graduate school for Artificial Intelligence so that you can get a programming job working for State Farm; sure you have the skills for it, and will make decent cash, but it's such a convoluted and idiotic route that, if money is your only concern, ought to be avoided.
  4. Aug 25, 2014 #3


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    There is no sure-fire way to make lots of money, but I agree that science and engineering isn't a good way to go if all you care about is money. Some people make it big in a startup, it's true, but for every person who made a million in a startup there are 100 people like me who worked 70 hour weeks for several years and then got dumped on the side of the road.

    Math, science, and engineering are difficult but wonderful fields. If you don't love them for their own sake, I can't imagine you could succeed.

    If there is such a thing as a good bet to make really good money, it is probably an MBA from a top business school (not night school at the local state college).

    Computer Science is hot right now but most people working at Web 2.0 startups don't remember the dotcom bust like me when it was very difficult to get a job. These things are very cyclical.
  5. Aug 25, 2014 #4
    Yeah, that's the problem with "trying to be Bill gates". Alan Sugar's approach might be safest, "He started selling car aerials and electrical goods out of a van..."


    Keep it simple!
  6. Aug 25, 2014 #5
    I have a PhD in math. I can say it's at least non-trivial to get a finance job, as I have applied to more quant jobs then anything, so far, with not so much as a peep in response (other than rejection notices), unless maybe you count this one guy who found me on LinkedIn. That illustrates the general point that it's very hard to get a job, just by filling out an application online.

    It's sort of a complicated question because I think the best way to make money is going to be different for different people, plus, you might ask what probability distribution you want for your income. If you want a small chance to make a lot of money, buy a lottery ticket. So, you can ask which career paths are lottery tickets and which are the safest bets to make decent money. And of course, your strengths and weaknesses will factor into it.

    One thing I can say is that working on stuff like people skills and networking might be more important than what major you choose. Generally, that will give you the most bang for your buck, by far, although personally, the extra leverage of developing people skills may be almost canceled out, just because it's much harder for me to learn (I still work on them to reach a minimum level).
  7. Aug 25, 2014 #6


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    Your major doesn't make you money. It makes you educated.

    That education is a tool that you can use to generate opportunies with respect to your career and income and to help you make informed decisions.

    Many physics majors do rather well in this respect, in the long run. But there are also many who stuggle because when they finish, there is no clear transition from academia into the working world.
  8. Aug 25, 2014 #7
    I can't quite agree with that, even though it's similar to what I said. The thing is, if you have the right major, you are going to look for jobs and see that you have what employers are asking for. If you majored in math or physics, chances are you will find the job-postings a bit underwhelming.

    If it was really the case that the degree didn't help make money, which it does indirectly by helping you get a job, then there would be no need for the degree. If you give me the job without the degree, I'll take the job and educate myself, rather than pay for it.
  9. Aug 25, 2014 #8
    Wealthy and company jobs don't belong in the same paragraph. If you want to become a millionaire, then surely it's not a pony ride through any degree program (only). There is, obviously, more to it. Starting a company sounds easy. Register your name, either a publicly traded or LLC (if I'm wrong, please correct me), register your trademarks, and you're already in debt. Not to mention the size, any kind of facilities and employees you'd have to pay, excluding marketing and all other costs.

    Programming is probably the easiest (well, I am one, so this may be biased) way to make money by sitting on your chair, at home, and be your own boss. You can build and design websites, sell them, market them, and hey... programming and design is your time, your webspace, domain, trademarks and/or company name and marketing are your only accounting costs. Sounds easy, but well.. try to get the right customers first, which will, and I assure you, take a lot more time, energy and money than you think. This brings me to the point that a knowledge about business, economics and marketing in general is very handy while having your own type of services.

    You probably want to know how much a website costs, and my answer would be: It depends. Most people charge in a smart way, but before I go on talking about my "awesome" idea here and programming in general, you can easily make a few thousand bucks per week if you dedicate your time (almost) completely to doing that. The emphasis is on dedicate.

    I can't speak for finance, math or physics, although I believe that worrying about money too much in your freshman year is the last thing you should do. That's my advice. Things can change rapidly, even for the best of the best paid people and employers. Do your research on the internet, and if all you can find is "useless degree" (and please don't take this comment too serious), then you probably shouldn't consider majoring in it. Unless, of course, you want to make academia your profession in the future.
  10. Aug 25, 2014 #9


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    You're arguing with the first line of my post without consideration of the second.

    Your education is a tool that can be used to generate opportunities. An example of this is that it will give you qualifications that are needed to enter certain positions. But the degree does not guarantee that you'll get (or even be competitive for) any job you're qualified for.

    I think you're missing the point of a getting an education, here. There's a tremendous value to an education where individuals are systematically guided through a subject, are given the proper context and history behind what knoweldge there is in that subject, go through the exercises of verifying that knowledge using resources not accessible to the average person, engage in debates about the uncertain areas, explore the various sub-fields of the subject's application, etc. I don't doubt that it's possible in some fields for some extraordinary people to educate themselves, but as a general rule when people try to do this they end up with extreme gaps in their knowledge base that they are not aware of.

    The value of an education comes not in simply qualifying someone for a job. The value comes in putting the educated individual in a position to apply that knoweldge in all aspects of his or her life. This includes career, but it also includes hobbies, social activism, socialization, dialogue and debate, investment, and endevanours of invention and artistic creation.

    Besides, there are lots of jobs that don't require a degree that pay very well.
  11. Aug 25, 2014 #10
    It may be degree + extra stuff, but the degree is part of what ends up getting you the job, thus making you money. If you major in CS or engineering, you'll be competitive/qualified for more jobs than math or physics. Whatever happens to CS and engineering, the over-supply of physics and math people is, I think, pretty predictable any time in the near future, although, things could get much less annoying for everyone if the economy improves. The fact that the degree is not enough merely underscores why it's a good idea to choose a major that's more marketable because it will just get you that much closer, but, of course, you also have to factor in finding something that you like to do.

    There may be some value, but there's also an opportunity cost, particularly if you're talking about a graduate degree. Personally, as far as my PhD goes, I would have been MUCH better off teaching myself, even if I didn't get as far.

    I'm not sure a graduate degree is so good for that. In fact, at least while you are in grad school, it's pretty hard to keep up with politics or anything like that. So, at least for a time, it's more likely to isolate you and cut you off from the rest of life and make you ignorant about anything other than your own field. Some people might be able to live a more balanced life in grad school, but this is clearly a trap that's easy to fall into. Don't let your schooling interfere with your education, as Mark Twain put it. You could make more of a case for an undergraduate degree. But a CS major will require those same humanities courses and so on that are supposed to make you more well-rounded. If you are not a job-search master, there's no need to get a degree that puts you at a disadvantage in the job market.

    Not sure those are so easy to get. Part of the point is to get a job doing something sort of technical because that's the kind of thing you like to do.
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