Author Topic: In college and not sure of my chosen major.  (Read 1171 times)

redwood_canyon

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In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« on: December 05, 2018, 06:24:40 PM »
Hello my name is Nathan, I am a college student going through a dilemma. I am interested in engineering and in the Material Science department. But as a freshman, I am not doing well in the core math and chemistry classes. I am not sure if I can continue on this path for the next few years. I am not really that interested in Material Science given my tiny bit of exposure. I am thinking about possibly switching my major to something else, possibly business, English, or something else. Teaching also interests me as my family has a few teachers in it. My fall back plan is to work with my Dad as an insurance agent. I enjoyed MMM's post of the 50 jobs that pay around 50k but I am not sure how to get into anything like that.  Does anyone have recommendations on how to figure this out? Or a personal story they would like to share in response?

nic1

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2018, 07:18:03 PM »
I think it is great you are reaching out for advice, it is tough being in college and not sure of your interests and aptitude in certain subjects.
My husband is an electrical engineer, so this is not from personal experience but I was married to him while he completed his degree.
I will say if you are struggling with your freshman math and science classes, this may be a sign that this is not the right path.  I actually had a Physician colleague tell me he dropped out of the engineering program and went into pre-med because he couldn't handle the math classes.  The junior and senior level math is insanely difficult, my husband's math problems were like pages long in higher level calculus.  This is not to discourage you, but just a realistic perspective. 
Is there a way that you could shadow, or just observe a teacher?  Do you like being around kids or high school students and do you enjoy speaking in front of people? 
Business is always a good degree as you would have many options open to you.  My oldest child wants to open a dance studio, and I am encouraging her to get a business/finance degree to fall back on and to help her. 
Best of luck to you in whatever path you choose, I definately would continue in college, regardless and not be discouraged. There are many different degrees that do not have as much math and science, you will find your best fit. 
« Last Edit: December 05, 2018, 07:20:30 PM by nic1 »

Freedomin5

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2018, 10:13:15 PM »
Which subjects do you have a natural talent/interest in?

I have a degree in business, and it is not a good degree in and of itself because it is too general (unless you’re at Harvard or Wharton and that’s where you’re getting your business degree). If you want to study business, I’d do something specific like finance or accounting to increase your chances of getting a good job after college. My business degree plus three summer internships at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company as a business analyst made me barely competitive for a full-time position following graduation. It’s quite math intensive but more along the lines of modeling and using Excel well. To really be competitive with a general business degree, you probably need an MBA.

DH is a teacher and that is a good degree to have. If you’re not tied to one specific location, you can get very well paid work with a teaching license. Lots of demand for teachers abroad, especially ones holding an American teaching license.

While most people here might say go with something with good job prospects, I take a more modified view and suggest that you do something you enjoy. My graduate degree was in a “fluffy” social science, but I’ve found a way to monetize that so that I now make a decent living.

WalkaboutStache

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2018, 10:25:25 PM »
There will come a point where you MUST know.  It doesn't look like it is now, since you are just at the start.  Most departments will let you fool around a bit with core subjects until you decide.  The one thing I would say is that if you are in an engineering degree you must have some mathematical aptitude, even if not enough for an engineering degree - so hang on to that.  You don't have to take the toughest classes to come ahead of the general population and it is a hell of a set of tools to have in any field.

Back to that time where you must know.  It may come, and by then you may not know.  If you find yourself in such a situation, and finances allow you, consider taking a semester or year off to see if your mind clears.  Travel a bit, volunteer, swing a hammer, paint a wall, visit a place where you don't know the language.  Just plowing through and choosing a major blindly can end up in tears.

K-ice

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2018, 12:52:33 AM »
Does anyone have recommendations on how to figure this out? Or a personal story they would like to share in response?

So if I understand correctly you are in 1st year and don't like about 40% of your classes?  That is not a great sign but not horrible.

A lot of people struggle with those core courses, myself included. But I loved the kinematics, statics, dynamics, design and strength of materials. Math and Chem sucked. I was done with Chem after 1st year but my weakness in math haunted me throughout my degree. I think I've taken 8 math classes or something. Never did like the calculus but algebra, programming and optimization can be fun. Looking at the future course in your program do any of them excite you?   

Even after graduating a lot of engineers don't love their jobs and have a career change or find themselves here ;)

That said it can be a well paying rewarding career. 

My advice to others in your shoes, stick with it until you know what else to try.  I gave this advice to a 3rd year student who finished but then went on to get a masters in communications (or something) and now does patent work. They are no longer cranking out math but their technical background certainly helps them with their job.

I mentored a strong engineering student who was accepted to med school. They ditched engineering 1 year from the end but have now told me they regret not finishing that degree.   

Since we are also on this forum I think it depends how much your current program is costing you. Are you living at home and going to an affordable college? Can you do a co-op program to help with tuition? I would feel differently about $20K in debt after 4 years vs  $100K.   

I hope some of this was helpful, even if a bit contradictory.

My final advice is if you feel a strong draw towards something else go for it, otherwise try to tough it out past those core courses and then you can get to the fun stuff.

reeshau

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2018, 02:53:20 AM »
Electrical Engineer here; eventually took the MBA route, now in IT.

What brought you into Materials Science in the first place?  Did you have some interest or extracurricular activity, or was it just a survey result or a counselor's suggestion?  Sometimes school counselors try to fill up classes, too--like investment advisors, they may be making "suitable" recommendations, but it's not a fiduciary service.

If the math is really a no-go, you might look into a degree in Engineering Technology.  This puts you on a track more as a lab or plant technician, working with technical tools and probably assisting engineers or scientists.  If you are in a high-falootin' school, they may not offer that kind of degree.  But it usually specifically involves less math.  (not *no* math, though)

I do recall the low point in math for me was the final exam question about calculating intersecting volumes of overlapping spheres.  Doing that "long hand" with 2, 3 dimensional integrals in polar coordinates (while timed) was a grind.  For me, differential equations made it easier--short cut!--but sometimes people can't make the leap there, and it gets harder / weirder.

rothwem

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2018, 06:28:07 AM »
Hey! I majored in Materials Science.  If you're not going to grad school to study electronic materials, GTFO now.  Seriously.  The job market is fucking brutal, and you'll likely end up in a shitty QA position.  90% of the jobs blow and you have very little choice where you live.  You'll likely be a lab manager in a manufacturing plant, supervising $10/hour employees as they measure case depth and bicker with each other.  However, since the jobs blow so hard, you likely won't get layed off, since there's not many metallurgists out there and you'll end up quitting after a while.

I lucked out and got an automotive job, working on high temperature superalloys and its awesome.  However, by the time you get out of school and get enough experience to have a job this good, the industry will have changed directions and they won't be using these kind of products anymore.  I predict that I've got about 5 more years with this job if I'm lucky. 

If I were you, I'd switch to Mechanical, and keep a minor in Materials.  I wish I had done that.  A lot of education is about versatility, and materials science is VERY specialized. 

Imma

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2018, 07:20:21 AM »
Which subjects do you have a natural talent/interest in?
 (....)
While most people here might say go with something with good job prospects, I take a more modified view and suggest that you do something you enjoy. My graduate degree was in a “fluffy” social science, but I’ve found a way to monetize that so that I now make a decent living.

I totally agree with you. I'm not in a STEM field like most people on here (major law, minor in history) but as I'm approaching 30 I already see many people of my age totally burned out from their careers because they never really liked what they were doing. Yes, making money is important, but it's not everything in life, and it's not totally dependent on taking a certain type of major over another type of major. Making money is about seizing opportunities and I know more than a few people who went to art school and are doing well now. I also know someone with a degree in computer science who has never had a job in their field.

Occasionally people have asked me in interviews why I've chosen this particular minor and not another, more "useful" minor, and I've always just plainly told them that I love history and wanted to take some courses that I thoroughly enjoyed. That answer has always been sufficient and tbh, I wouldn't really want to work for a company where they think enjoyment is a waste of time.

FIRE@50

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2018, 07:27:41 AM »
My advice to almost any young person would be to get a business degree and be willing to move to wherever the jobs are.

I have a teaching degree and an MBA. I never wanted to be a teacher. I just didn't know what else to go to school for. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gotten a finance degree. I now work for a large bank and make a pretty good living.

I would not recommend a teaching degree. While I have enormous respect for education and teachers, american society as a whole does not. You will make a lot more money with a business degree.

rubybeth

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2018, 07:38:41 AM »
Hello my name is Nathan, I am a college student going through a dilemma. I am interested in engineering and in the Material Science department. But as a freshman, I am not doing well in the core math and chemistry classes. I am not sure if I can continue on this path for the next few years. I am not really that interested in Material Science given my tiny bit of exposure. I am thinking about possibly switching my major to something else, possibly business, English, or something else. Teaching also interests me as my family has a few teachers in it. My fall back plan is to work with my Dad as an insurance agent. I enjoyed MMM's post of the 50 jobs that pay around 50k but I am not sure how to get into anything like that.  Does anyone have recommendations on how to figure this out? Or a personal story they would like to share in response?

What classes are going well? Are other classes easier? I wonder if some tutoring would help.

I have a cousin who tutored math for her university's math department and she helped a lot of students really "get" math and pass their classes more easily, with less stress. Sometimes it just takes the right kind of teacher/tutor to help things 'click.' Honestly, if my cousin had been my math teacher, I probably would have enjoyed it a whole lot more and actually understood it (unfortunately, she was born when I was 12, so that timeline didn't work out in my favor!).

Also, how early are you in your education? Do you need to be taking classes toward a major right now? Are you required to declare a major yet? I ask because as a freshman and sophomore, I mainly focused on getting my general education credits done, and then as a junior and senior, did the "major" and "minor" coursework. I got to double (and triple!) count a few classes from my generals toward my major, but largely, I did the 100/200 level classes during the first and second years in the university setting, then did the 300/400 (and some 400/500 classes with grad students) levels my third and fourth years. I did have to take one extra class my final semester since I was two credits shy of the required 120 to graduate, so I took a 100 level music course. It also wasn't required at my university to declare a major until I was taking those 300/400 level classes and needed to be "admitted." I think I declared my English major early on, but it wasn't essential to know that as a first year student. My first semester, I took a film course, geology, history, philosophy, etc. and did nothing related to my major. :D

Better Change

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2018, 11:29:08 AM »
OP, you're going to have to answer for yourself what the real problems are here.  Is your performance in your core math and science classes putting a bad taste in your mouth?  Is this the first time that you've had trouble, and so you think you've chosen the wrong path?  That's pretty common for freshmen.  I was a teaching assistant for multiple intro-level chemistry classes.  They're demoralizing wastelands.  Most kids don't know how to study for or take the exams properly.  They don't realize that they're sinking until they get that first 30% score, and it's almost too late at that point to recover (your grade or your morale).  The good news?  Those classes are NOT representative of chemistry or materials science.

Does your program have you locked into a certain curriculum?  Does leaving the materials science division mean changing your degree trajectory irreparably?  I know some engineering schools are pretty stringent on the courses they require to get a degree, and that path starts early on in the freshman year.

You don't have to major in STEM if it doesn't excite you.  Better to make the choice to do something else now rather than four years from now when you've paid for the [wrong] education.  But it could also be time for some tough love, and internet strangers aren't really in the position to provide that for you.  :)  You have an academic advisor, right?  That'd be a good place to start, or find another advisor in the materials science department and get exposed to more than the "tiny bit" you've seen so far.


CNM

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2018, 12:01:13 PM »
I'd suggest talking to a professor, TA, or maybe the academic adviser for the department about your troubles and your options.  It could just be a matter of changing your study habits or getting a tutor (I had a calc tutor when I was in college and it made a HUGE difference).  Or, if it really is that you hate a particular subject or aspect of the curriculum, these people may be able to guide to toward a related major that does not emphasize those areas of learning and suggest possible career paths for your interests. 

Lady SA

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2018, 02:39:05 PM »
What kinds of subjects or skills do you have aptitude in? I will say that if you can find an industry or profession that you are good at, that feeling of competency goes a long way. "Following your passion" can be good advice, but if you don't really have a strong passion that correlates with a job or your passion involves tasks that you struggle with, your passion can quickly turn sour when you feel constantly behind the 8-ball and feel inferior to your colleagues. However, it is easy to find (because you are good at it in the first place) and stay in a job you feel competent and strong in, even if it isn't "sexy". These types of jobs can still have a lot of growth/change and interesting things to learn and keep your interest, but the foundational skills are just... easy/simple for you.

So perhaps I would simply start with writing down your interests and your strengths and things that you are good at. Poll your friends and family and ask them what they consider your skills and strengths are. Also look for things you are NOT strong at -- perhaps avoid professions that lean on those types of skills heavily.

I personally switched majors 2 times, once to a different engineering discipline, and then to a peripheral profession. I now am in the tech industry and work directly with engineers as a project manager, but I don't do any actual engineering myself. But engineering is interesting to me and I'm close enough to help do some of the high level problem solving because I found I liked that aspect from my engineering days, but the actual execution was not as strong for me. And this job plays on my actual skills very heavily so my day to day job is relatively low stress, because I can kind of go on autopilot for a lot of the tasks. However, working at this particular company or this particular industry is not my passion or my dream, but this job gives me the freedom and ease to pursue my passions outside of my profession.

FindingFI

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2018, 08:36:20 AM »
Mechanical engineer here. First I'll echo what a few things others have already said.  If you are still interesting in engineering, a switch to mechanical engineering could be a good move.  It's one of the broader engineering disciplines that touches on many of the others.  I took some material science, electrical engineering, computer programming, even some ocean engineering classes as part of my degree. And the kids I graduated with are in a ton of different industries now.  It's broad enough to give lots of opportunity, but specialized enough to demand a high salary. The math was intense, but it only required 1 year of intro chemistry. If the math is still a struggle, then an Engineering Technology degree could be a good option, as mentioned in another reply.

Do you have any kind of study group? Doesn't need to be anything formal or big.  I had a group of maybe 4 friends that were in most of my classes and we worked through almost all of our assignments together.  We all sat in the same room and talked our way through the problems, trying to answers each other's questions until everyone understood how to do it.  This was a huge help! (Our professors were fine with this type of collaboration and didn't consider it cheating or copying).

GuitarStv

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2018, 08:44:40 AM »
Figure out where you want to be and the kind of work that you want to be doing.  Then figure out exactly what courses are going to be important for you in that field.  If you hate doing those things, switch majors as soon as possible.  If you like doing those things, but hate some of the other general engineering type courses, buckle down and squeak past the ones you hate so you can get to the fun stuff.

I took Systems and Computing as my engineering major.  I sucked at chemistry and several of the required math courses . . . but my goal was to work designing software architecture and I liked the programming/data structures stuff that was more important for this.  Otherwise I would have changed majors.

I'm a red panda

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2018, 09:20:08 AM »
Here's my personal story.

My mother really wanted me to be an engineer. I had no idea what engineers do, and I don't think she did either. I was smart in high school and got great scholarships.
My first semester of freshman year killed me. I've never worked so hard to get such bad grades. I worked my ass off; I lived in an engineering living community and had study groups, went to off campus tutoring. There was no partying. It was honestly just too hard (and too damn boring) for me. I failed differential equations, and got a C in my gen. engineering class.  (I passed AP Calc in high school.)

My second semester of college I lost all my engineering scholarships (thankfully retained the general ones) was on scholastic probation (required to get a 2.3 to stay in the university- I got a 4.0) and switched my major from petroleum engineering to undecided.  My third semester I switched my major to middle school math/science education with a math minor, which is what I wanted to do in the first place. (Well, I wanted to do elementary education; but the middle school courses looked more transferable if I wanted to do something else, as all the math and science took place in the respective department as opposed to "math for educators).

I never taught, but have always worked in education: textbook publishing and assessment.
I make far less than I would have as a petroleum engineer, but make more than enough. With a Master's degree, I make the same as my husband who has a PhD in medicinal chemistry.

I think business would have gone well for me too. I'm doing an MBA now for fun. 
The people I know who majored in business have been successful, many without additional grad school.

I think doing something you hate is pointless. It's an even bigger waste of money than doing something with a low ROI. 
« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 10:34:10 AM by I'm a red panda »

Bradfurd

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2018, 10:23:34 AM »
Here's my two cents, since I could have been in your shoes at a similar point in my educational journey more than a decade ago...

I was a civil engineering major at a top tier private institute...and was possibly the only one in my freshman class that didn't have calc in HS. I was shellshocked by the difficulty of the classes my freshman year, but at my low points, I was encouraged by my brother (in his senior year at the same school, had a similar experience) and my uncle who had graduated from the same school decades before. I was heavily considering transferring and being an English major. I felt that I had skills in both realms. I loved architecture and construction, and I loved writing.

All in all, I struggled but never failed a class and really made an effort to get one-on-one time with the Profs when I just couldn't get something. Small class sizes helped in this effort. Sometimes the prof can make or break the experience....I struggled tremendously in Physics I, and got a B+ in Physics II, and I attribute a bulk of that success to the Physics II prof's effort and approach in the classroom. If a particular class isn't working out, ask your peers about other profs who may teach the subject matter in a way that works better for you.

I am SO GLAD I stuck it out. The work ethic instilled in those four years helps me every day in my career. I finished my MBA a few years after getting my Bachelor's. I've learned that there are engineers scattered throughout organizations everywhere - and lots of times they want to hire other engineers who can view and solve problems using their engineering background as a launchpad. As others have stated, a business degree is generally a solid option.

Best of luck - you can do it.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 10:25:49 AM by Bradfurd »

Beardy

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Re: In college and not sure of my chosen major.
« Reply #17 on: December 10, 2018, 02:57:11 PM »
As someone who questioned their degree path and stupidly did nothing about it, I applaud you for considering it and taking steps to find a possibly more suitable path now.

I graduated with a BM Classical Music Performance degree on an instrument not known for being a classical instrument (Saxophone). Please no face punches, I am still recovering from the 8 year long game of "Stop Hitting Yourself" I've been playing.

My point is, I took an IT path and am now back in school for an AS in Software Development. Just because you major in one thing doesn't mean it is what you have to stick with, unless doing a true specialization. I second going for a more broad Engineering path if that genre of career appeals to you.

You're doing a lot right! You've found MMM and are willing to ask for advice from other people. Keep it up!