Finding a major for a hands on kid, strong in math and physics

So my son wanted to do mechanic engineering. I never saw this as a good fit, but what do I know. (We have an extended family of engineers and it always sounds boring to me). He is hands on, loves to tinker and fix. He will be certified in welding and fabrication from an after school program but wants to learn more… loves it, but not as a career “more of a hobby” he says. He likes making art with welding. We thought Industrial design but after hearing more, not sure that’s the fit. Any other majors or suggested paths. He’s not into computer technical engineering. It has to be creative and hands on.
My daughter followed a path we are familiar with but I’m struggling to help him find his thing.

You said he wanted to - does he still want to? Not sure his age or grade but there are summer programs out there where you can spend a week or more exploring - such as Purdue STEM or Rose Hulman Operation Catapult.

Check colleges with polytechnic - such as Purdue - to see if anything sounds interesting. Polytechnic might be more in line with your son’s interest…I’m not sure.

Some less prestigious colleges offer polytechnic instead of actual engineering.

Let me know - if it works, maybe i can help you find other schools.

Purdue Polytechnic Institute - Undergraduate Admissions - Purdue University


He is a Junior and is still interested in Mechanical Engineering. I understand the diversity of what you can do with engineering but I’m concerned with the drop out rate.
This is a Lego kid, he put together all his siblings gifts Christmas morning without instructions since he was 4. During the pandemic he would go to his dads workshop and create/design, made an electric guitar from a solid piece of wood, Fixed a non working moped, replacing parts without training. Now does an “after dark” welding and fabrication program at the local tech and will be certified upon HS graduation. He could get a well paying job ( always said he didn’t want a lot of college debt) but this program has motivated him even more - his grades have improved and he is fired up to go to college. Wants to learn more. Says welding is “a hobby” and is always looking to make gifts for family - metal artwork. Currently has an A in pre-Calc. But not on the AP track. He has dyslexia. He’s very curious and socially strong, especially with adults. Doesn’t have a big friend group though because he can’t find kids with similar interests. Wants to see the world, and is off to Iceland on an environmental Science trip this spring. He worked last summer to split the cost with us. Sorry for all the info but thought this would be helpful. He has family members who have been engineers at GE, Automotive Industry and Gillette - I can’t see him in any of their roles and fear they have convinced him to follow ‘their’ path. My husband and I are in Social Sciences. Although Dad is very talented/handy “as a hobby” hence the workshop. He loves cars, I wonder is automotive design would be an option. But ironically doesn’t seem to like computer science or robotics.


Mech E sounds like the right intersection of his interests to me. I agree to do a deeper dive around some of the more hands on polytechnic degrees, but if he’s strong in math and physics, engineering will open more career paths.


Thanks. He loves Wentworth so far, likes the urban campus. He needs small. My daughter is at UMass Amherst and he would be swallowed up in the large classes. I want a school that will give him options is Mech Engineering doesn’t work out or just expose him to new opportunities. WPI is probably too competitive- SAT coming up so we’re not sure where he’ll fall. He doesn’t want to go to far beyond NY (we’re in MA) but then wants to explore going to Europe :joy:

1 Like

Environmental Science sounds like a nice fit. Have him explore geology, oceanography, construction management, urban planning, supply chain, transportation systems, game design?

He doesn’t need to map out his adult life right now, so rest assured there are lots and lots of options for a kid who tinkers!


He might consider architecture, especially as it relates to structures, materials and sustainability. Architecture is a broad and diverse field encompassing many specialties, a balance of design and technical know how with a high level of collaborative effort.


A family friend is at Wentworth doing biomedical engineering. He wants to design and produce prosthetic devices.


He does say Architecture too. Then I read this:

And it didn’t help my drop out rate concerns. :joy:
But to the other points, he doesn’t have to map out his career now. As long as he in the right school to explore. It bothers me that you can go undecided when looking at Engineering.

He’s not into the Gaming Design and although his trip is environmental science, it was just a means to get to Iceland. Although he does well in Science he doesn’t seem interested in that direction. I do think that’s partially maturity.
Thanks for all the input! Any school recommendations appreciated too. Doesn’t want isolated (like Clarkson). Any thoughts on Manhattan College? It has Engineering, is a nice size and he loves the location and videos he’s watched. It doesn’t have industrial design - not sure about architecture.

I was going to suggest Clarkson ; ).

Is RPI on the list for consideration?

1 Like

This is probably going to sound like an odd choice, but you might look at the Design and Innovation Management major at Oregon State University.

It is not a small school, but felt VERY small when we toured in terms of structure and supports for business students. The campus is also beautiful and walkable.

Business students can participate in LaunchPad where they are sorted into small groups for a “first-year experience” under the supervision of one of a group of instructors who are very available with office hours in the business dorms, etc. During our tour, we ran into two of these instructors who stopped what they were doing to chat.

Students create their own small business, usually designing a unique product, and marketing and selling it for real money that is reinvested in the department. There are required exploration sessions to learn more about different business majors of interest.

Business students live together in close proximity to the business school building and the DAMLab — a maker space open 24/7 for tinkering:

The lab is shared with engineering students and OSU has a strong engineering program if he continues his interest in engineering or wants to double major, too.


Drop out rate is inversely associated with student academic strength. While HS academic strength is not a perfect predictor, it is less likely for a student with a 4.0 HS GPA in hard courses to drop out than a student with 3.0 HS GPA in minimal college prep courses at the same high school.


This is probably off the table because of how far it is from MA, but it echoes a lot of what @CMA22 suggested above, and could be worth considering. Someone on CC linked to the Industrial Technology and Packaging major at Cal Poly SLO a little while ago and I can’t stop thinking about how cool it’d be. Cal Poly is very focused on hands-on, practical application (“learn by doing”), and it might mesh well with your son’s approach.


Yes. He is not a 4.0 student. 3.0 (with a really bad semester when remote during COVID). This validates my concerns.

How well is he doing in math and science (particularly physics and chemistry)?

1 Like

@LionsTigersAndBears Interesting. I’ll check it out. Also to @CMA22 Oregon would be beautiful. I have even considered business - he says he’d like to work for himself some day.
@ucbalumnus he did very well in Physics 1 freshman year and is planning to take Physics 2 next year (looking forward to it actually). I don’t actually think he has taken Chemistry but I could be wrong. I don’t have his transcript in front of me.

I appreciate why you would be concerned- but would encourage you to focus on the fit of the program. He’s got an a in math, which is a good start. Plenty of people drop out of engineering b/c they can’t hack the work- but ime more drop out b/c the program they are in is a bad fit for them. Over the summer research options like the project-focused ones mentioned upthread (eg CalPoly, RPI, R-H, Purdue PolyTech, etc).

Don’t let pre-conceptions about engineering get in the way of letting him figure out his path! I have a foot in both the social science and engineering camps, have taught at university level in both, and for good measure currently have an engineering kid (who had no interest in CS, robotics or even Lego!). Both the opportunities and the teaching programs have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.


Robotics and biomedical engineering. For undergrad, WPI is really good for robotics. For biomed there are many programs. I’d look at hands on vs. other programs.

This reminds me of my son. He loves math & physics and is majoring in Mechanical Engineering at a top 25 school. He is enjoying his freshman year.

There are definitely “weed out” classes. From talking with my son, the people getting As & Bs in the hardest classes had SAT math scores in the 780 - 800 range, and had 5s on AP Physics and AP Calculus BC. If your son performed well in these areas, you likely don’t need to be too worried about him having to change majors.

1 Like

Doing well in math and physics is a good sign. A strong foundation in math through precalculus (take calculus if available to the student in high school) and introduction to physics at the high school level are important or highly useful when the student takes math and physics in college.

But note that many engineering majors require a semester or year of general chemistry. It is best if the student has at least high school chemistry before taking general chemistry in college (which often has a highly competitive environment if the class is shared with pre-meds).

1 Like