What to major in?

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Lime
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What to major in?

Postby Lime » Fri Jan 07, 2011 1:48 am UTC

I'm torn, XKCD. Until recently I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but my recent dissatisfaction with school in general has led me to resent the idea of 8ish years of University. So I'm thinking of just going for general sciences or something. I've always loved physics, but I'm really wondering whether I can get a well paying job with a physics degree. Last year I did surprisingly well in Chemistry, and started to really like it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my teacher was just exceptionally slack when it came to marking, which is why I managed a 93. Engineering is another option, but I don't really like the pedantic nature of math (not so much math itself, just grade 12 math) and I hear there's quite a bit of that in engineering. Biology is my least favourite science, it seems more like book-keeping and magic than ACTUAL science, and it's also my lowest mark (85ish, bah), but I'm still in the top 3 in my class, so I suppose I'd be good at it. I'm good at math, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason I have a mark around 90 is that I'm good at taking multiple choice tests, not that I'm good at math, if you get my meaning. I really like english, social studies and music, but there's not a whole lot of money in those, so I'm avoiding them as a career choice.

Also, from what I understand, to become a doctor you need at least a few years of a degree under your belt before they accept you into medical school anyway, so I could always take the MCAT in a few years if I want to, right? I live in Canada, if that helps.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby keeperofdakeys » Fri Jan 07, 2011 9:56 pm UTC

Personally I'm studying my interests at University and have no idea of career prospects. This might not be the best move for everyone though, just try not to let pre-conceived notions get in your way.

If your really un-decided, your University of choice may let you drop courses without paying for them before a certain day. You could try using this time to decide if you really want to do it. Of course, you could always do a first year of subjects from lots of disciplines then try to decide. You might try researching these topics at home, see how you go. You should also know that maths at University is much different to High School.

Also, unless your going to University this coming season, you may be able to keep undecided for a while longer.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Yakk » Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

What is a good paying job, as far as you are concerned?
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Zarj » Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:32 pm UTC

You don't necessarily need a degree before getting into medicine. A very few people will get in after only two years, and a few more after three (although admittedly, most do have to complete their degree first). I think your MCAT will be a large part of that.

Being only in my third year, and having been a 95+ student in high school, I think I have an understanding where you are coming from. Btw, I took high school in Alberta, so I'm not sure how courses will compare wherever you are.

From my experience, math at a university level is way, wayyyy harder than in high school. I was one of two students who got the math award in grade 12 in my high school, but I'm averaging much lower in my math courses in university (below class average in some). I've found that especially in math, your prof will make you either love or hate the course. If you didn't love math in high school, I wouldn't recommend doing it in university.

I've done some honors physics courses in my first year, and I found that they were pretty interesting, and the math wasn't too bad. If you liked high school physics, you'll probably enjoy university-level as well. (As well, my first semester physics course was mostly a review of physics 30).

I've not done any chemistry, although I've heard it's a lot harder at the university level than it was in high school.

Engineering is pretty math-heavy, my brother is doing it right now. Your first year in engineering is general, and then you choose a specialization (electrical, civil, mechanical, etc) for the rest of your degree.

A few last thoughts:
1. Starting with general sciences isn't a bad idea at all, from there you can transfer into almost any science degree.
2. Almost every class is marked on the curve. I think I have gotten a 90+ mark in maybe two or three of my 25 courses, and that's ok, since you just just need to do better than everyone else. (In physics, our midterm's highest mark was a 78).
3. Whether you love or hate a course will depend a lot on the prof. One of the reasons I haven't taken any more physics was because my professor in the second semester was really lousy. There will probably be some program at your university for rating professors, and checking on a professor's rating. I've never bothered to use it, but my brother has, and he's gotten himself only into classes where the prof was well-rated.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Yakk » Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:46 pm UTC

Note that university-level math has more than one branch. The kind of math that an undergrad physcist or engineer would learn is different than the kind that someone studying analysis would learn, and is different than what a computer scientist would learn, and is different from what an accountant or actuary would learn. And a graduate student in theoretical physics would have to learn much different math than an undergraduate physicist.

Your grades in high school are a relatively poor predictor of your performance in university, because your school's grading scheme is nearly arbitrary, and the structure of most high schools is centered around teachers holding the students hands and leading the class at the speed of the slowest expected student towards a modest goal. And universities vary even more than high schools. Plus there is far less tendency to pace material for the slowest expected student and hand-holding at the university level.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Hooch » Sat Jan 08, 2011 6:36 pm UTC

Well, not to sound sappy or preach to the choir, but try not to worry too much about money. Find a career that you'll enjoy doing, and work your way up from there. I mean, I plan on becoming a band director a high school band. The very first thing my previous director told me was, "You won't be rich." However, they can get paid as low as the minimum educator's salary, or they could make as much as $400k a year. There's opportunity.

Want my advice? Whatever you do, get teacher certification in it. It's a common suggestion to music majors, and it might work in other fields. For example, it's hard to get a job when you have a degree in musical performance; it's like saying, "I'm good at this craft," when all of the other degrees in that field say the same thing in essence. There's no easy way to apply it. Getting an teacher certification, however, gives you a fall-back plan if your main career goals aren't going so well.
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Re: What to major in?

Postby Zarj » Sat Jan 08, 2011 6:46 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:Note that university-level math has more than one branch. The kind of math that an undergrad physcist or engineer would learn is different than the kind that someone studying analysis would learn, and is different than what a computer scientist would learn, and is different from what an accountant or actuary would learn. And a graduate student in theoretical physics would have to learn much different math than an undergraduate physicist.


Although this is true, I've got to say that all the math I took (be it calculus, linear algebra, or statistics) was substantially harder than any math in high school. And also less enjoyable.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Lime » Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:30 am UTC

Yakk wrote:What is a good paying job, as far as you are concerned?

70k per year by the time I'm 30 sounds like a decent wage to me.

Zarj wrote:You don't necessarily need a degree before getting into medicine. A very few people will get in after only two years, and a few more after three (although admittedly, most do have to complete their degree first). I think your MCAT will be a large part of that.

Being only in my third year, and having been a 95+ student in high school, I think I have an understanding where you are coming from. Btw, I took high school in Alberta, so I'm not sure how courses will compare wherever you are.

From my experience, math at a university level is way, wayyyy harder than in high school. I was one of two students who got the math award in grade 12 in my high school, but I'm averaging much lower in my math courses in university (below class average in some). I've found that especially in math, your prof will make you either love or hate the course. If you didn't love math in high school, I wouldn't recommend doing it in university.

I've done some honors physics courses in my first year, and I found that they were pretty interesting, and the math wasn't too bad. If you liked high school physics, you'll probably enjoy university-level as well. (As well, my first semester physics course was mostly a review of physics 30).

I've not done any chemistry, although I've heard it's a lot harder at the university level than it was in high school.

Engineering is pretty math-heavy, my brother is doing it right now. Your first year in engineering is general, and then you choose a specialization (electrical, civil, mechanical, etc) for the rest of your degree.

A few last thoughts:
1. Starting with general sciences isn't a bad idea at all, from there you can transfer into almost any science degree.
2. Almost every class is marked on the curve. I think I have gotten a 90+ mark in maybe two or three of my 25 courses, and that's ok, since you just just need to do better than everyone else. (In physics, our midterm's highest mark was a 78).
3. Whether you love or hate a course will depend a lot on the prof. One of the reasons I haven't taken any more physics was because my professor in the second semester was really lousy. There will probably be some program at your university for rating professors, and checking on a professor's rating. I've never bothered to use it, but my brother has, and he's gotten himself only into classes where the prof was well-rated.

Thanks for the information, I think I'm going to go for general science with a major in physics and minor in chem. Worst case scenario is I hate everything and switch to music, I guess.

Yakk wrote:Note that university-level math has more than one branch. The kind of math that an undergrad physcist or engineer would learn is different than the kind that someone studying analysis would learn, and is different than what a computer scientist would learn, and is different from what an accountant or actuary would learn. And a graduate student in theoretical physics would have to learn much different math than an undergraduate physicist.

Your grades in high school are a relatively poor predictor of your performance in university, because your school's grading scheme is nearly arbitrary, and the structure of most high schools is centered around teachers holding the students hands and leading the class at the speed of the slowest expected student towards a modest goal. And universities vary even more than high schools. Plus there is far less tendency to pace material for the slowest expected student and hand-holding at the university level.

I realise the different kinds of university math, which is why I was asking what kinds of math you had to take for different degrees. The esoteric stuff with no application is the kind I hate, I'm really good at trig and statistics. I was more wondering which kinds of math people had to take in University for which kinds of courses,

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Re: What to major in?

Postby keeperofdakeys » Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:36 am UTC

Lime wrote:I realise the different kinds of university math, which is why I was asking what kinds of math you had to take for different degrees. The esoteric stuff with no application is the kind I hate, I'm really good at trig and statistics. I was more wondering which kinds of math people had to take in University for which kinds of courses,

In my university, the same first year math course is used as an introduction to all the math heavy courses (like engineering, computer science and mathematics); this course also has a rather high failure rate, but that probably is more to do with lazy students than the breadth of the course. In second year there are many different math courses, which are more tuned toward their target areas. Third year sees specialised courses for particular topics.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Yakk » Tue Jan 11, 2011 3:00 pm UTC

I am not aware of a university program that generates anything like a guarantee of a 70k job by the time you are 30.

A few programs are going to have median salaries of their graduates of that level or higher. But really, we should look at the 5th percentile salary of people who are accepted into the program, not graduates, at a particular point in time.

The academic path in most disciplines is far from guaranteed -- so that isn't a path to any level of certainty of a 70k salary by 30.

Non-academic paths are more up to you than the program you are in.

A medical degree won't, for example. The 10-year MD rate is 96%, that is after an undergraduate degree. So by 30, you might still be in medical school. (and that is after getting into medical school -- roughly 1/3 of people who apply to medical school get in in the USA, and those are people self-selected to try knowing how hard it is to get in.)

Other academic-professional programs might have a chance of giving you a good chance at that level of salary. Most of them are relatively math-heavy (engineering, accounting, actuarial science, etc). As you are in high school, I doubt you have had exposure to real theoretical math -- basically everything you see in high-school programs in the US that I'm aware of is engineer-style math busywork connected to physical applications, with the most "theory" and "applicationless" being a mention of what "limit" means (ie, epsilon-delta definitions). Lawyer is another "rock-star" program (ie, a career with far worse average results than what you see, because the many relative economic failures aren't as obvious as the handful of "winners"), in that the salaries of 30 year old lawyers is going to be heavily bimodal, with a few "lottery winners", and fluctuate heavily by year (do they need more corporate lawyers this year? If not, your degree is wasted -- they'll recruit next year's cream of the crop instead of you.)
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Random-person » Wed Jan 12, 2011 2:22 pm UTC

Lime wrote:Engineering is another option, but I don't really like the pedantic nature of math (not so much math itself, just grade 12 math) and I hear there's quite a bit of that in engineering.

In what way do you mean that it's pedantic?
If anything engineering is where you write ∆x/∆t on a board, looks around in the room to see if there's a mathematician in there, and if not, you cross it over and write dx/dt and go on with your calculations. At least that's my experience (studying engineering physics, which is well, physics and engineering combined; I don't know how engineering and physics differs where you live).

Now, really, if you love physics: do physics! Having a fun four+ years studying and after that perhaps decades of fun and inspiring work really is worth more than a slightly bigger paycheck, at least that's what I think. You don't get happy from money, you get unhappy from not having money. And besides, a physicist doesn't have much time to spend money; work will be demanding as is.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Jan 12, 2011 8:26 pm UTC

Lime wrote:
Yakk wrote:What is a good paying job, as far as you are concerned?

70k per year by the time I'm 30 sounds like a decent wage to me.


Consider skilled trades. It is rather doubtful that you will be able to make this kind of money with a science degree, certainly not a bachelor's alone, unless you are extremely exceptional.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby ^_^ » Wed Feb 02, 2011 1:00 pm UTC

I had a similar issue of pretty much having nooo idea what to study in first year... So I did a general science course, tried a bit of everything, and then decided after a semester or two. It was definitely the easiest way for me to work out what I wanted to do with my future. And if you find you hate it all... Arts degree time! :P Either way, a year of general science is likely to give you a much better idea of where you want to go with your studies.

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Re: What to major in?

Postby TikiGod » Sun Apr 10, 2011 10:09 pm UTC

I actually registered for the fora after lurking for a few years just to revive this thread. For what it's worth, I started off "undeclared" in college with a general plan similar to what you've described, and spent the better part of two years "settling" on a major. In the end, my choice of major played some role in what I was able to participate in educationally & professionally, but I believe we'll see more professional and academic areas put stress on things other than your major.

A lot of American schools make it a pain in the ass for students to register for upper level classes in certain disciplines without being "officially" affiliated with the department, so keep this in mind. Also, deadlines may exist for when you can declare majors and/or minors. I ended up doing research and loving the discipline/major I ended up in due to my vested interests in human health, but spent a lot more time involved with theoretical/technical research experiences rather than (pre)professional programs. AND my major I chose was and still is the most popular option for the pre-meds at the university I attended.

Don't be afraid to explore classes beyond the introductory level in a discipline when making your decision; I absolutely despised most of the freshman & sophomore level in-major courses I had to take. If you're looking at biomedical options, things are largely becoming interdisciplinary in both research and applied sciences. I currently work at a large government research organization, and a LOT of the "biologists" there got their degrees in something you'd never imagine tied to biological sciences (physics, engineering, math, etc).

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Re: What to major in?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Mon Apr 11, 2011 7:11 am UTC

Seriously consider Chemistry, as It gives you options to move to anything from quantum physics to molelcular biology and all points in between; during your extended academic career.

I'd strongly council you against studying biology unless you really want to be a biologist or simillar, as the oportunites to migrate slowly away if you find it uninteresting (and the transferable skills that you need in order to do this) are much thinner on the ground for biologists than people who've studied another pure science.
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Re: What to major in?

Postby Andromeda321 » Mon Apr 11, 2011 10:14 am UTC

As a graduate student in physics, what makes you think we don't make money? Sure the grad student contingent doesn't (and doesn't in any field for that matter) but the ones who leave after 4 years to go into industry make a ton of money. As in I really don't think 70k at the age of 30 is unattainable at all provided you're proficient at it, albeit I'd say the same about any kind of engineering. After all you're basically spending 4 years learning how to solve problems, and what kind of employer doesn't like that?

That said, I wouldn't do physics just because of the money because trust me, it is hard. You have to love it. That said, physics is probably more difficult than an engineering or more general science degree, so one other way to think of it is you can always major in physics and switch to something easier if you decide it's not for you, but it would be much more difficult to switch from something else back into physics (both because it's intense and often the course requirements are extremely rigid).

One option you might want to consider is many schools offer hybrid degrees such as engineering physics, biophysics, or even mathematical physics. So while I wouldn't worry about the salary down the line with a Physics BS, my friends who did engineering physics as their major were snapped up very quickly when it came time for employment and with an average salary in the 50k range.

Hope this helps!

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Yakk » Mon Apr 11, 2011 1:12 pm UTC

70k not a tonne of money if that is what you are earning after a 10 year negative-to-zero-net-income post-secondary education run.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: What to major in?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Mon Apr 11, 2011 1:22 pm UTC

Andromeda makes a good point; A BSc in Phys or Chem will be hard, definately for UK students they represent the hardest non-medical courses, with maths and engineeing trailing very close behind.

I'm not talking about academic difficulty (because that's very subjective), but in terms of the time commitment and contact hours.
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Re: What to major in?

Postby 314man » Tue Apr 12, 2011 1:49 am UTC

If money is important, I'd recommend actuarial science. Tough program, but it's worth it if you can make it through. It's basically half statistics, half business/econ (example of classes are corporate finances, financial math, life contingencies and derivative markets). I was in act sci, but I found myself disinterested in the business side so I just switched to statistics. It's also easy to switch into math and applied math from act sci if you end up not liking it.
The pay for act sci is incredible. You'll probably make $70k well before 30, and many internships exist. In fact, there's a paid internship at my university where the median actuarial science intern gets paid $63k a year. On top, a friend of mine just got his bachelor recently and he's already making six figures.

It's a lot of work though, and you pretty much have to do exams for life (when you get hired though, the companies tend to pay you to study for SOA exams!).

Btw I'm also in Canada, in my 2nd year at University of Western Ontario. If you're also in Ontario, the internships and scholarships for act sci at Western are great. And there's some kind of agreement or something with London Life Insurances, who hire a lot of act sci alumni (and students!) here. University of Waterloo also has a great act sci program so you can consider there too. UofT also has one, and although UofT has a great reputation, I hear a LOT of complaints from the students there. Those are the only 3 universities in Ontario that offer it (might be four... I'm not sure if Queen's offers it).

Whatever you choose though, make sure you take your time to research it. And you don't really need to know what you're going to do until midway through first year of university. Although you want a general idea before going into first year

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Re: What to major in?

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:12 am UTC

You guys realize this thread is several months old, right? There was even a Statement of Intent to Necro made.
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