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Thread: Switching Majors

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2003

    Switching Majors

    Hey folks. Been plugging away at the University of Vermont for the past few semesters in pursuit of a ** in Physics...problem is, I just got back my grades for calc II and intro physics for majors...D and F. Part of it is that I don't test very well, I have a habit of forgetting formulae and some applications of it (and I can't do trig to save my life). I know a lot of people have failed this class before and retaken it, but I'm not sure if I want to keep going for physics. My other classes, I've done pretty well in. Mostly B's with some A's and a random C tossed in for flavor. My science/math classes have really been hurting my GPA. I took intro chem (chem 31/32) my freshman year and barely squeeked by with a pair of D's. If I keep going with a science degree, I still have three more math classes to go (calc III and linear algebra, and math for engineers and scientists), and more physics. I did well in the physics lab, but I'm pretty put off by the physics grade. I'll be a junior for next semester, and I know I won't be graduating on time, that's not an issue.

    Should I switch to something less strenuous like Political Science (which is another thing I like, and did well in my classes) or keep trudging along with physics, and see what I can change?


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    That depends on what you intend to do with your degree. What are your plans after you graduate? How set are you on them? If you had to change your future plans, what would you do instead? How bad would this be to you? These are important factors and I don't think anyone can be much help to you without knowing your perspective on these issues.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    My original interest was going into grad school and pursuing astronomy, and so the physics degree was going to be one step towards that. In the past two years, I can honestly say that plans have changed on a weekly basis, usually due to things beyond my control. I think that if my major changed, I wouldn't be too crushed, so long as I could actually do something with it.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    To be perfectly honest, it may be hard to get into a good graduate school with even one C in a real course, not to mention a bunch C's and a bunch of D's and F's. This is coming from a completely different branch of science, however, you may want to ask physicists how it is in physics grad school since I don't really know. Check out university websites, or better yet US News and World Report, to find out what sort of GPA grad school in your field are looking for.

    The problem with majors like political science is what you do after you graduate. There is no such job as "political scientist", few if any companies have a position with that name. If you are going to switch majors out of physical science, you probably want a major that will lead you into a career. It is generally preferable to take a major that leads you into a career, the rule of thumb my father uses is a major whose names matches an actual job, such as physicists, biologist, economist, accountant, etc, is probably better. Nobody hires "political scientists" or "business administrators" or "music businessists". Unless you have some very specific you want to do that only that majors will offer (like my friend who is handling the business side of his band) then you may want to think twice about such majors.

    I would say it would be a good idea, if possible, to take courses in several majors to see what you like, or if you can't afford that at least get their intermediate-level textbooks and look at them (introductory courses are meaningless, they tell you nothing about the major itself). Also talk to the department head/chair, some students, and some professors of the courses you will take to try to get a feel for both what the major is like but also what what options the major will give you once you graduate the what the resulting careers are like. Just keep in mind their concept of difficulty will be different from yours after coming from hard science (possibly extremely different, as I saw in economics).

    There are also career websites maintained by the US federal government. You will have to find them yourself, but they track such career factors as the average salary, growth or decline of salary, what sort of jobs you do, how many people have the job, past growth rate, predicted future growth rate, even how much manual labor is required. Once you find out what jobs the various majors offer, you can find out how much you are likely to enjoy those jobs. Don't forget to do the same for the major you are already in. After you look at all this then you can determine whether physics or something else will better allow you to accomplish your goals.

    You may even want to contact companies and find out what they are looking for, I personally did that with university professors at my university and others to find out what they were looking for in a grad student. Professors and students may be biased or out of touch with the real world, companies don't really have a vested interest in BSing you and are always looking for qualified employees, so they are probably more likely to give it to you straight. It also gives you history with the company in case you ever want to work with them, shows you are driven, forward-thinking, and a "go-getter". Ultimately the companies will be hiring you, not the professors. Just be careful what you tell them, don't lie but you also want to present the best possible image of you so they give you the best possible information in hopes of getting a good employee out of it. Make sure you know something about the company before you call or write or email or whatever. Also see if your family has any friends in the business, they can be a honest and low-stress source of information.

    Also, never understimate the advantage of double majoring, or at least getting a minor or two. If you have been taking a variety of courses alread you may be able to get a minor or even a second major without staying too much longer, maybe even not any longer. That is something you want to take into account when doing your research, and probably ask various professors and students, but keep in mind that they may want you to focus just on their deparment and not divide your efforts. Companies may be a less-biased sources of information on this.

    This isn't a decision to be taken lightly. What major you take will have a massive impact on the future direction of your life. This requires a great deal of research, both in what the major demands but also what it can offer you once you graduate. Harder work in university generally gives rewards once you are out. Majors that are fun and not too difficult often have little or nothing to offer you once you graduate. Hard work pays off in the end. You need to figure out what you want once you graduate and find out which major will best give that to you.

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