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colorado_mom
Posts: **6,155**Registered User Senior Member

[bold]Math Lovers - How to choose Math major vs Engineering?[/bold]

Ok, there are no right or wrong answers here. I'm just trying to solicit some hints and insights.

One of our kids is a gifted mathematician who briefly considered switching from Engineering (undecided) to Math major. My husband and I and many of our friends are engineers, so we know a lot about Engineering careers. The Math discussions made me realize how little we know about Math careers.

Other families are likely having similar Math vs Engineering discussions. In some cases it may be a factor in the college choice. (Engineering schools usually do offer math majors. But schools with Math may not have engineering, especially if more of a liberal arts college). So I decided to start this thread.

Ok, there are no right or wrong answers here. I'm just trying to solicit some hints and insights.

One of our kids is a gifted mathematician who briefly considered switching from Engineering (undecided) to Math major. My husband and I and many of our friends are engineers, so we know a lot about Engineering careers. The Math discussions made me realize how little we know about Math careers.

Other families are likely having similar Math vs Engineering discussions. In some cases it may be a factor in the college choice. (Engineering schools usually do offer math majors. But schools with Math may not have engineering, especially if more of a liberal arts college). So I decided to start this thread.

Post edited by colorado_mom on

## Replies to: Math Lovers - How to choose Math major vs Engineering?

815Registered User MemberWe are thinking that a smaller school with engineering and math and liberal arts would suit him. Bucknell, Villanova, Lafayette, that sort of place.

I can't name a lot of careers off hand that demand a math major, but I am a big proponent of a broad liberal arts education - after all, many of the jobs our kids will have have not even been invented yet!

417Registered User Member806Registered User MemberUltimately, our son wants a PhD in nuclear engineering, but for undergraduate he will be a Physics major with a minor in nuclear engineering.

I would echo what michone says about acutarial math. We friends whose daughter has many job offers in that field as well. She just has to decide on which city to select.

3,846Registered User Senior MemberYou might also look at "Dilbert - The Knack" on YouTube for clarity on this issue.

5,612Registered User Senior MemberAs a first-year doctoral student taking econ courses, here's an illustration of the difference between a math major and an engineering major. (I was a business major, but I took math up to ordinary differential equations.) I recently had a problem on how to use the chain rule in taking derivatives of a matrix, as I wanted to derive an expression in my textbook.

I didn't know why the chain rule term was in the front, not the back. I was looking for a formula to use and keep in mind for future reference. But the two guys I asked for help were both math undergrads, and they responded differently: don't remember the formula, just check the dimension of the matrix, and you'll be fine.

Indeed, their answer reflects a training in logical thinking. If the chain rule term were in the back, then the matrix multiplication is not well-defined. So logically, it HAS to be in the front. To me, a guy who loves formulas, the answer is not "satisfying," but it is certainly correct.

19,213Super Moderator Senior Member115Registered User Junior Member1moremom--My son has no interest in engineering, but is wavering between a math major and a physics major. I have similar questions about how he will decide between those two.

1,502Registered User Senior MemberEngineering requires a lot of problem solving. Some of the problem solving can be quite mathematically complex, but engineers generally don't derive proofs from first principles that a beam will hold a certain load or a circuit will work a certain way. They need to mathematically handy, but not necessarily mathematically original thinkers.

In the people I've seen, the engineering drive is a fairly clear desire to understand how things really work, how to build things, fix things, make things work better. Many mathematicians have little interest in how "things" actually work, as long as there's a beautiful proof.

36,274Registered User Senior Membercomputer science (e.g. algorithms and complexity, operating systems, networks, software engineering)

economics (e.g. intermediate micro and macro with math, finance)

statistics (e.g. junior level probability and statistics)

in addition to math courses. Including such courses can allow the math major to be have some preparation for jobs and careers in software development, actuarial science, and/or quantitative finance in case more pure math job, career, or graduate school do not pan out.

As others have said, junior and senior level math courses tend to be mostly proofs rather than problem solving. Honors freshman and sophomore level math, if offered, is likely to emphasize proofs more than the regular version.

3,846Registered User Senior Member6,155Registered User Senior Member"Engineering is math driven also, but I think there is a good bit of physics involved also. " - Definitely. But a lot of that physics is intertwined with calculus. There is also chemistry required, with the amount depending on the specialty. And many other science-like courses, usually with mathematics based problem sets. (You can avoid biology totally if desired).

"engineering drive is a fairly clear desire to understand how things really work" - True. Some engineering students are disappointed that the academics are so intense, with less hand-on projects than expected. That depends a lot on the college and the program. For students that choose Engineering, I highly recommend joining a campus club such as Mini Baja (all terrain vehicle) or ChemCar or other project fun.

I agree that math would allow more course flexibility. I only had two free electives in college (plus many engineering electives). There were some humanities electives, but much fewer than other majors. If a student arrives with AP/IB credits, that can make space for more electives.

1,612Registered User Senior Member66Registered User Junior Member8,845Registered User Senior MemberIt is best for an entering freshman to look at the available math courses. Most science/engineering students are best served by the regular/problem solving calculus sequence at son's school. A look at math major course requirements will also show differences based on whether abstract or applied math is desired. My son is about as abstract (and absent minded about practical things) as they come. I can't imagine him as an engineer, or majoring in applied math and engineering physics (AMEP). Statistics is a separate department at his highly math ranked school- I think it may be in the Comp Sci building.

My perusal of what math majors can do besides teaching at any level from Hs to college showed more possibilities than for a physics major. As always, there will be some overlap in what jobs different majors end up in. Still waiting regarding son, now that he decided to wait with grad school. I keep reminding my procrastinator he needs to be looking (hopefully he has been- won't tell us anything).

737Registered User MemberD's best high school friend is graduating this year as an engineer, but decided to go to grad school in statistics.