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What major to choose in college?

  1. Sep 12, 2012 #1
    I'm thinking of either engineering or physics. I'm interested in technology and I want to stay at the cutting edge of technology and see how it would be in the futuristic world.
    I was thinking of either electrical engineering, engineering physics, or theoretical physics.

    Any ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2012 #2
    It depends what you mean by "cutting edge of technology." If by this you mean emerging technologies like nanotecnology, then there are a variety of different fields in which you could pursue an effective major. If you mean what I think you mean, and you're referring primiarily to technology in the sense of further perfecting existing technologies like computers, phones, etc. then you want electrical engineering. Computer engineering and computer science would also gain you insight into the "cutting edge of technology," in this sense.
  4. Sep 13, 2012 #3
    well what's the primary difference between engineering physics and physics major?
    Do they both take the same level of physics courses? Reason I rather go with either of the two above is because I feel that the engineering courses aren't as intensive as the physics courses you get from a physics major.
    From what I heard engineering physics and physics takes the same level of physics courses except they get engineering above that too. If so, I'd be interested, as engineering physics would allow me flexibility in either pursuing a degree in physics or even working as an engineer.
  5. Sep 13, 2012 #4
    What do you mean by "engineering courses aren't as intensive as the physics courses you get from a physics major"? Are you referring to the intensity of the engineering courses, or the relative amount of physics related coursework in engineering compared to physics? If it's the latter, then of course; engineering has less physics work than a physics major. But I think you already know that for obvious reasons. If you're referring simply to intensity, then that's not neccessairly true. Depending on the school, which field of engineering and your own personal interests and talents, engineering could be harder than physics.

    As for the "engineering physics has as much upper divsion physics work as physics major plus more," that's not true. Unless you're referring to a double major -- a path that may well suit you -- engineering physics can't have as much work as a physics major plus more because it wouldn't be a combined degree; such a degree would be like a 1.5 degree, if you understand what I'm trying to say here. Maybe your school has a unique program but I've never heard of a combined degree program containing all of the work for one of the two majors and then adding on some more from another; combined degree programs usually go along the lines of half one major, half the other.

    What the engineering physics program typically offers is something along the lines of an applied physics program. You'll certainly learn a lot of physics, and you'll take a good chunk of physics upper div work that physics majors will be taking (E&M, Stats/Thermo, Mechanics), but while the physics majors will be taking classes like QM, general relativity etc. you'll be taking some courses related to applied physics concepts and engineering, like math methods for engineers, fluid mechanics, heat transer etc. or simply engineering courses in a specific engineering field (CE, EE, ME etc.). Engineering physics programs are different for each school, but generally students focus in one field of engineering, take less upper div work in the field then their pure engineering counterparts, and take physics upper div work instead. It's essentially a hybrid of physics and enginerering (as the name implies). General attitude is that it's a bit harder than either a single engineering or physics major because it typically requires 40-50 more units than either as a result of its dual nature.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2012
  6. Sep 13, 2012 #5
    I think they have quantum mechanics and optics fields of research in engineering physics as well. And btw, I'm studying at cornell which is why I asked about engineering physics since cornell has the best undergraduate program for that.
  7. Sep 13, 2012 #6
    Right on, sounds good. Cornell does have an excellent reputation for doing solid work in engineering physics, and in applied physics for graduate students (if I'm not mistaken). Have you considered double majoring in engineering and physics?
  8. Sep 13, 2012 #7
    Don't do theoretical physics if you want to work on technology.

    I've heard condensed matter physics usually involves things that are applicable to technology 40 years down the line. But if you like more immediate outcomes, there is always electrical engineering.

    Truth is, there is a big spectrum of fields you can work in for technology. For one, things like optics is important for technology as well. So it depends on what type of job you want really, there are ones that have immediate applications and others that might/will be integrated for future technology.
  9. Sep 13, 2012 #8


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    Have you considered the Applied Engineering Physics (AEP) major? It's the same as the normal physics major for the first four (or so) semesters, after which you diverge (specifically, AEP and physics take different upper division E&M and mechanics courses. Obviously the upper division electives are also different). If you don't know a specific type of engineering you want to go into, I would suggest this. Also, it's a happy compromise between full engineering and physics, since you walk the line between the two (and you can obviously take a lot of classes outside the strict set of applied engineering physics, such as astrophysics).

    A general note about the atmosphere of the programs... The AEP students tend to be more competitive and grade focused than physics. For whatever reason, physics students are just content to learn the material and get what grades they get (A/A-/B+), but AEP people seem to stress much more about being at the top of the class, getting perfect marks, any curving, etc.
  10. Sep 13, 2012 #9
    lol thanks. I'm fine with competition I'm used to it by now. Btw, if you took multi and diff in high school are you exempt in cornell? I'm not sure about this.
    Is it possible to major in engineering physics and take the extra set of courses that a physics major usually would take?
  11. Sep 13, 2012 #10
    condensed matter physics isn't THAT far out. Maybe 10-15 years. Same with biophysics, probably 10 years.

    optics is applicable right now, no wait.
  12. Sep 13, 2012 #11

    I'm no expert but I believe its likely a spectrum where some will take 40 years and others are closer to 10-15 years.
  13. Sep 13, 2012 #12
    Is it possible to major in engineering physics and take the extra set of courses that a physics major usually would take?
  14. Sep 14, 2012 #13


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    I took both multivariable and LA in high school and was exempted from both. You should make sure and talk with someone in the department about it (also depends on how comfortable you feel with what you've learned. If you later find that you're struggling with the LA in quantum mechanics, or vector calculus in E&M, this is a very bad sign. You should be very confident in your abilities to exempt yourself from these classes.)

    Yes you can take the extra physics major courses, many do.
  15. Sep 14, 2012 #14
    I'm an engineering physics major; its the same as a physics major at my school except for you have to take some engineering classes. What this means is an EPhys major won't have as much time to take other interesting courses like chemistry, biology and mathematics. While my classmates are taking differential geomotry, PDES, analysis 2, abstract, physical chemistry, etc. I'm taking things like engineering thermo, and fluid mechanics (alternatively I could've taken CS or EE courses). Ephys prepares you well for physics grad school which is what I plan on, but leaves you a little better off if you decide not to go to grad school. On the downside, you don't get some math/bio/chem you might want to take but those can usually be made up in grad school (that's my understanding anyways).
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