If you are deciding between majoring in physics or civil engineering, you might want to know more about what each major has to offer. This post will show you the key facts about each major and help you to decide which would be a better degree for you.
At a glance:
|Types of jobs
you can qualify for
Water resources engineer
|Difficulty of the
|Key things to note
A relatively secure field
once you are able to land a
Employable with just a bachelor’s
High-stress work environment
in the early years.
High job satisfaction and fulfillment.
Low predicted job growth
over the next decade.
The work environment can
be more physically active than most
jobs since you’ll need to go to the construction
locations occasionally. However,
there is also a lot of meetings and
design work using computer software.
Very employable if
you combine it with
a more applied minor
such as computer
Also employable if
you combine it with
data analysis skills.
Source for civil engineering degree salary and jobs
There are important things to consider when choosing between the two degrees since they can take you down very different paths. Also, there are some things to consider if you do choose either of them such as which classes you should take.
Details about a degree in civil engineering
Below are some details about the civil engineering major.
According to Payscale, the average pay for a person with a degree in civil engineering is $70,508. This is higher than the average pay for most majors. However, it is a lot lower than alternative engineering majors such as computer engineering ($87,000) and electrical engineering ($92,000). It is also a lot lower than the average reported pay for physics which is $86,000. This might be because, when combined with programming skills, physics can be a good pathway towards data science and software engineering roles which both tend to pay well.
On one hand, civil engineering could be seen as a safe major because there will always be buildings, dams, highways, stadiums, etc that need to be built. As a result, once you are able to get a job in civil engineering, it is typically seen as a relatively secure job to have.
However, it can be tricky to find a job at the entry-level and the price of the job security is that the pay is slightly lower than alternative majors such as computer engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. Also, because you will be building structures that many people will be using and that cost millions of dollars, it can be a very stressful job, especially in the early years. Although, it is also typically a very interesting field to work in, and completing a project successfully can be very fulfilling.
Jobs that you can get with a civil engineering degree include:
- Civil engineer
- Project engineer
- Structural engineer
- Transportation engineer
- Geotechnical engineer
- Water resources engineer
- Construction engineer
Civil engineering has a number of sub-fields and you will need to specialize in one of them before getting a job.
The subfields include:
Construction engineering. This involves managing the project as it is underway and building the temporary structures that are used while constructing the actual structure.
Geotechnical engineering. This involves ensuring that the foundations of the structure are well built.
Structural engineering. This involves designing the structure and ensuring that it will be able to support itself.
Transportation engineering. This involves building and maintaining streets, highways, airports, docks, and harbors.
Water resource engineering. This involves managing water resources by designing new equipment and facilities.
Civil engineering is a difficult degree that will involve a lot of mathematics including calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. It will also involve some physics and the engineering classes themselves can be difficult. There will also be a lot of lab classes that will involve a lot of projects. When compared with a physics major, you can expect them both to be equivalently difficult.
Classes that you can expect to take in a civil engineering degree can include:
Introduction to programming
Introduction to civil engineering
Civil engineering materials
Mechanics of structures
Water resources engineering
You can also expect to take more specialized classes related to the specialization that you choose.
Things to consider
Before choosing civil engineering and the university that you want to go to, it would help to research the type of civil engineering you are most interested in. This is so that you know what to specialize in and so that you know what university to choose because some universities will only offer certain specializations.
Details about a physics degree
Below are some details about a degree in physics.
According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a bachelor’s degree in physics is $86,600. This makes physics one of the best paying degrees available and only certain engineering degrees, such as electrical engineering and computer science are able to match it.
However, something to be aware of is that the average pay of someone fresh out of college, with no work experience, will likely be a lot lower than that.
A physics degree can give access to a wide range of job opportunities. However, a physics degree can be quite general in nature and it can be difficult to find a job with just a bachelor’s degree in physics. However, this will depend a lot on the classes that you choose to take. You can also greatly improve your job prospects by minoring in something more applied such as computer science, completing programming projects and getting summer internships.
Jobs that you could get with a bachelor’s degree in physics could include:
- Software engineer
- Data scientist
- Data analyst
- Mechanical engineer
Physics can give good job opportunities if you combine it with more practical skills. Currently, data science is a popular career path for physics majors. If you are interested in data science, it would help to learn programming, data analysis, machine learning to complete data science projects and to take a number of computer science classes including data structures and algorithms.
A physics degree can also be a very difficult degree and you will have to put a lot of time into the degree. Physics involves a lot of mathematics and the physics classes themselves can be difficult.
You can expect to take math classes such as:
- Differential calculus
- Integral calculus
- Multivariate calculus
- Differential equations
- Linear algebra
- Partial differential equations
In addition you can expect to have the option to take more math classes if you would like. You might also have the option to take some classes from related disciplines such as statistics, engineering and computer science.
You can also expect to take multiple physics classes including:
- Introduction to physics
- Mechanics and waves
- Electricity and magnetism
- Quantum physics
- Statistical mechanics
You can look here to see an example of required classes in a physics degree.
Reasons to choose civil engineering
Civil engineering is a major that can qualify you for a lot of jobs, at the entry-level, by itself without having to learn extra skills in your own time. This should make it easier to find a job after graduation.
Furthermore, the jobs that an civil engineering degree can qualify you for tend to be very interesting jobs that have high levels of satisfaction and are very important to society. Although, many of the physics jobs can be very interesting in their own right but they often require a master’s degree.
Reasons to choose a physics degree
As the numbers show, a physics degree can also qualify you for a lot of jobs with high pay. Also, the demand for people with physics degrees is climbing due to companies getting more and more data that they need people with mathematical skills to make use of. A physics degree combined with statistics, data analytics, data science and machine learning skills will likely put you in a very good position in the job market in the coming years. Getting a minor in computer science would also put you in a good position to obtain software engineering type roles.
Additionally, physics can also qualify you for many jobs in other disciplines including software engineering, finance, and engineering, provided that you take relevant classes.
However, it is very important to be aware that a physics degree by itself can be difficult to qualify for jobs with. The degree will only have good employment prospects if you combine it with applied knowledge as mentioned above.