Choosing a Major at USxA...

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by Zaphod, Aug 27, 2009.

  1. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    The question is asked several times each "season" as new applicants and their parents begin to pop up here. Lots of great answers have been given in the past, but I've been thinking about this lately as we have been interviewing some folks for some open positions we have.

    I may not be able to help much with the application process anymore, but I can bloody well help with what you can expect later, so here goes...

    To begin, let the word go forth that your selection of major at USxA will have little if any impact upon your service selection. My roommate was a History major and went on to fly helicopters, so that puts the lie to they myth that only Aerospace Engineers get chosen for Flight School. I know some Aerospace Engineers that ended up being Marine ground-pounders. The point is that you should NOT, under ANY circumstances, select a major because you think it will help you get into a certain career track. It simply doesn't work that way. Now that THAT'S out of the way...

    What you SHOULD be considering when deciding what major to pursue are TWO things and TWO things ONLY:

    1) What do you LIKE?
    2) Assuming you weren't to stay for a career in the military, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO AFTERWARDS?

    Item 1) should be obvious. Don't study something you hate. If you suck at math, then I suggest a bull major. If you couldn't care less about Shakespeare, then English is probably not a great choice. If you love the oceans, then Ocean Engineering or Oceanography will be far better choices than Chemistry or Systems Engineering. If you like Engineering but can't nail down which one to do, then do General Engineering and take the electives you like later. In short, and especially in light of what I said in Paragraph 3 above, study something you LIKE, not what you think will give you a leg up in Service Selection, because it WON'T give you a leg up.

    Item 2) is a bit more sticky. Unless things have really gone into the ****ter, the majority of kids that waltz through the gates of USxA on that fine morning of I-Day are thinking of making the Service a career. Unfortunately, it more often than not doesn't end that way. Injuries, family requirements, boredom, or hitting the promotional ceiling are all very real causes for folks to return to civilian life, and if you think it can't happen to you, then I've got a bridge on Mars I'd like to sell you. I was an ardent careerist right up to the point where I got the "We regret to inform you..." letter from the Bureau of Naval Reactors. **** happens.

    So...... What WOULD you want to do if you suddenly found yourself in a suit and tie rather than in SDB's? This is where your choice of a major can be CRITICAL.

    For instance..... If you would be interested in working on Wall Street, a degree in Economics will go over far better than a degree in Mechanical Engineering. If you want to work in industry, then Economics or Engineering will work great, depending on which side of the business you want to go. Want to work for NASA? Aerospace is going to be better than Poli Sci, but if you want to be a lawyer, then Poli Sci is better.

    Get it?

    Now before you think that this is all a matter of preference, let me clue you in on some realities in Corporate America. My group is currently hiring for an Engineer. The job description for that position specifically REQUIRES a DEGREE in ENGINEERING. In other words, unless there are some very extenuating circumstances, you would NOT be considered for the position if you had a degree in History. PERIOD. It doesn't matter that you are from USNA and drove nuclear subs. If the job description REQUIRES a BS in Engineering and you don't have it, chances are very high that you will be looked over unless there is no one else to consider.

    If you think that last part is no big worry, let me share an anecdote with you. Way back in the heady days of the mid-1990's, life was wild, rich, and largely taxed to death. It was also the time that I was looking to make the transition from USN to CIVLANTFLT. As part of my preps, I attended a seminar held by a recruiter (Don't worry. Recruiters are the subject of my next thread.) where a whole bunch of other Navy and Marine Corps wanna-be civilians had collected to find out how to get a job in the real world. After the presentation, several of us mobbed the speaker with questions. One guy (an ROTC type, as you'll see in a moment) was there in uniform. He was asking what opportunities he would have through the recruiter.

    "What's your degree in?", asked the recruiter.

    "Music." said the officer.

    A pause.

    "Sorry. Can't help you."

    Now mind you, a recruiter's job is to find YOU a job, and they don't get paid until they do, so you can imagine that turning someone away isn't done lightly. Still, it makes the point that while the degree you get may not matter when you're standing in Smoke Hall, it bloody well matters when you're logging on to Monster.com. Think about that when selecting.

    One other thing to consider is the difficulty of the degree. While it sounds like taking the low road (and it is), one has to remember that graduating from USxA is a marathon, not a sprint, and that those who make it are the ones who manage to keep the lightbulb on the whole way through, not the ones who flare brightly for a while then burn out. If you have real difficulties in Mathematics, then you will most likely not do well in a Track I major such as Mechanical or Electrical Engineering. In such cases, you may want to consider General Science, General Engineering, or even a bull major. I say this because if choosing an easier major allows you to get better grades, then your chances at Service Selection Night DO get better. The flip side is that if you choose History and do lousy, you're still going to end up a SWO, assuming you even graduate.

    Choose what you like, choose what you can do, and choose what you think will be best for you long-term. Be honest with yourself and you should be fine.

    Before anyone asks, I went in to USNA wanting to study Aerospace Engineering. After a peek at the Oceanography labs, an introduction to SCUBA diving, and a patrol aboard a submarine, I made my decision going into 3/C and chode Ocean Engineering instead. That worked great until the end of first semester my 2/C year when I was forced to switch to General Engineering after my GPA dropped lower than Congress' approval ratings. Looking back, however, I can't help but think it was a good thing because "General Engineering" (which I describe as "Mechanical Engineering Lite") fits exceedingly well into my line of work (Quality Assurance in the Medical Device field). I later got an MBA and a Masters in Industrial Engineering which really rounded out the academic package.

    Oh, and one last thing. LEARN TO WRITE. It's absolutely horrifying to see what some "professionals" try to pass off as "work" these days. The fact that I'm a perfectionist at work makes me a great QA-type, but plays hell on the blood pressure.

    That's all for now. Answers will follow if questions emerge. Just remember that I tend to shoot from the hip. As a recovering moderator, I can be a lot more blunt than I used to be. :thumb:
     
  2. goaliedad

    goaliedad Parent

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    Excellent post!

    The only thing I'd change is that this applies not only to USxA as the title would indicate, but to any ROTC candidate at an SMC or other 4-year university.
     
  3. TheKnight

    TheKnight Class of 2014

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    I have a question....


    Does you major affect the job you end up doing after your graduation from an Academy? For instance, if I go to USMA and major in law...will I have to do J.A.G. or something of that sort? Or could you major in something like mathematics and then not do anything mathematics related in the military?

    The reason I ask is because I want to major in Philosophy (in case I am thrown back into the civilian world due to injury or other unforeseen mishap) but I want to do Military Police as an MOS. Would I have to get a law-enforcement related degree in order to be an MP or could I get a degree that is entirely not related to what I'm going to be doing while in the military?

    Thanks in advance,
    TheKnight (Daniel)
     
  4. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    If you cannot figure out what academic subject you like, consider how you spend your free time.

    I spent quite a bit of time watching the military channel and the history channel...it turned out that military history is a pretty good fit!

    I know other people who like to design websites...comp sci works pretty well for them.
     
  5. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Absolutely, although there are some exceptions.
    You will not be an engineer without an appropriate engineering degree.
    You cannot be a USAF test pilot as a history major. Test Pilot School only allows people with hard science and engineering degrees.

    So, as a non-technical major, you will have your choices limited a little bit (No engineering or TPS).
     
  6. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    Agreed.
     
  7. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    Except in the rarest of examples (a few cited above for USAF), the answer is NO.

    I know for a fact that at USNA, bull majors do go all the way to Aviation in jets aboard carriers, so there are no restrictions there.

    The only other technical avenues after graduation (that I'm aware of) are nuclear power and Medical Corps. In the case of Nuclear Power, I seem to recall Bull Majors getting in, but it was rare because bull majors rarely wanted to do nuclear power anyway. Perhaps someone with more up-to-date information can nail that one down. I do know that, for obvious reasons, they prefer techies because of the nature of the work, but I don't think they descriminate. You just need to have DAMNED good grades on the technical stuff.

    As for Medical Corps, my memory indicates that the relatively few guys given that opportunity mostly come from the Chemistry major, but I don't know if that's set in stone, clay, or water. Again, someone closer to the current action will have to answer that specific question.

    Otherwise, the answer to your question is still pretty much NO.
     
  8. Kero

    Kero Member

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    ^^^^

    Pretty much all still true.

    As for med corps there have been a couple non-chem majors in recent classes but its very rare mainly just due to the leg work you have to do as a non-chem major to get your name in contention for a med spot.

    The only other restriction are CEC and EDO which requires a enginneering major to select straight out of the academy but I don't belive there are any restrictions transfering later in your service. However since these are not line officers you have to have be NPQ'ed for line also.
     
  9. sprog

    sprog Member

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    I'm not an SA grad but did get n Air Force commission from VMI. Since that is ROTC, we competed with all other ROTC programs throughout the country for AFSCs. I was not PQ or Navigator qualified, and I had a degree in International Studies with an English minor (a "bull" major, I guess you could say). I got Space/Missile Operations, and became a Missile Launch Officer for the Minuteman III ICBM in beautiful Minot, ND. There was some technical knowledge required for this; but, you didn't need to be an engineer or anything. Pretty much anyone with a college degree could handle any technical aspect of being a missileer. I only wish it WAS limited to techies, as I could have found a nice supply or transportation base in Hawaii or something. Oh well.

    Another post stated that if you are interested in law, that you should major in political science. That is really true only if political science is interesting to you. I'm an attorney now as a civilian in the federal government ( I work for the VA and went to law school after my Air Force service commitment). While it's true that my degree is in a political science discipline, I just wanted to point out that law schools get tons and tons of applications from guys with political science degrees, and they actually really like different majors to diversify the class, like engineering, biology, whatever. In fact, only people with technical degrees are eligible to become patent attorneys, and that is a very lucrative civilian career. This is probably off in the distance for most of the people on here; but, if you are thinking about law school after the service, study what you enjoy, and get good grades...really good grades.

    Essentially, unless you really want to be a physicist, test pilot, psychologist or something that requires a specific degree, major in what you like.
     
  10. SteveHolt243

    SteveHolt243 Member

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    Piggyback on Zaphod's difficulty point -

    Difficulty is an important reason not to choose something above your abilities and less than enjoyable. The former is tough because the lower spectrum of Academy go-getter types tend to overestimate their capabilities (and if you're offended by that, tough) and because their seems to be a mentality among the engineering majors of taking pride in punishing grades which, again, makes it difficult for incapable people to recognize they're simply out of their element. If this compounded with a sheer lack on enjoyment, it's going to turn out poorly. While their are other contributors, academics is the number one contributor to order of merit and therefore service selection (~60%).

    I know quite a few aeronautical engineering majors who did it because they thought it would make them better pilots or help them get pilot or some such nonsense. They proceeded to both hate their lives and do poorly, and the english majors took their pilot slots.
     
  11. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    Yep. Big time...
     
  12. Kero

    Kero Member

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    To add to steve's point though, If you're good at mechanical things or hate english, don't be affraid of engineering majors. It's all about what you are good at. I went mechanical engineering because I was good with cars and engines and thought the major was easy, but I'm practically illiterate so if I had gone english or history I would have had an awful time.
     
  13. SteveHolt243

    SteveHolt243 Member

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    At least you got the sense to admit it - had a couple engineers come down to group 3 electives, blab about how they were going to do great because they knew how to work hard and we didn't. Their grades were less than admirable.
     
  14. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Yeah, overestimating one's abilities can be a problem.

    ...I came to the academy thinking, "Well, I'll start out with a 3.5GPA as my minimum goal, and go from there." :eek::rolleyes:
    One guy in my squad had planned on being a 2 sport IC AND double major! The best I've managed to pull at the academy was a 3.4 (and I got lucky with the B+ boost in half my classes). Both myself and the other guy are now (non-IC) history majors.
     
  15. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    Well, in my case, I was one of those kids who could just sit in class, not take a single note, and ace the exams. It worked through my last two years of High School and it went pretty darn' well at NAPS.

    It DID NOT work at the Academy. NOTHING seemed to work.

    Even when I made a sincere all-out effort to pay attention, take notes, study, and seek EI, I STILL got my *** kicked. I can't explain it.

    Of course, later on in life, I was working full-time and studying for two Master's degrees simultaneously. Guess what? Never took a note, read the book the night before the exam, and graduated with a 3.97 GPA. Go figure. :rolleyes:
     
  16. usna1985

    usna1985 USNA Alumnus

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    For those considering USNA . . . . I do want to add something to this based on what they told us 2 months ago at BGO training -- this is for public consumption. What follows is USNA's position -- you can agree or disagree with it, but it is the way they currently are approaching this issue.

    USNA graduates people for 2 employers -- the USN and USMC. USMC does not care about your major -- major in what you want to and they'll still make a Marine out of you. :smile: USN wants technical majors -- this comes directly from the CNO. The reason is that the USN's systems (ships, planes, nuke reactors, etc.) are very technical and, while the enlisted are primarily responsible for maintaining them, the officers should understand how they work.

    Thus, USN wants at least 2/3 of its officers to have "technical" majors, which translates into Groups 1 (engineering) and 2 (math/science) at USNA. Because USNA can't predict who will go USN and who will go USMC, USNA has a goal of 2/3 of its students having technical majors. So, how will they do this?

    First, it will be a factor in applications. How? They will look for people with an expressed desire to major in Groups 1 or 2 AND the proven track record to support it. IOW, if the majority of your h.s. classes are humanities and you're taking the lowest track of math, they may not be convinced that you will want to major in Group 1 or 2 or have the aptitude to do so.

    Second, mids will be "encouraged" to major in Groups 1 and 2, especially if they are considered to have the aptitude. Not sure how this encouragement will work -- they are considering a bunch of different things but nothing has yet been done.

    Also, it is my understanding that something like 90% of NROTC scholarships will go to technical majors (the equivalent of Groups 1 and 2 at USNA).

    As a Poly Sci major myself, I personally think there's great benefit in having both the technical side that you get from the core courses and the humanities side (i.e., being able to write well). That, however, is not the approach USNA is taking -- more emphasis is being placed on the technical side, so be prepared.
     
  17. Kero

    Kero Member

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    It seems to me that the Academy has said that every year and I've never seen it actually change anything. In fact there were so many plebe's that wanted to go mechanical engineering in the class of 2012 that the lower performing ones were rejected and made to go general engineering.
     
  18. usna1985

    usna1985 USNA Alumnus

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    YEARS ago (as in the 1970s and 1980s) Rickover's influence created an 80/20 split -- it was mandatory and folks could be forced into a technical major. At the time, "Management" and "General Science" were considered technical majors and that's where many folks ended up.

    In the 1990s and beyond, the percentages were allowed to slip until it was closer to 55/45 or maybe 60/40.

    The difference now is that this is a CNO mandate. No longer an option.

    As to the Mech E issue, I don't know the facts but would guess that there was concern about the ability of the "lower performing" plebes to handle the rigors of Mech E. Thus, better to start them off in Gen E rather than having to switch them later on. However, that's only a guess.
     
  19. Just_A_Mom

    Just_A_Mom Member

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    USNA1985 - good info and it will be interesting to see how this plays out at USNA. Anecdotally on these forums it appears that NROTC scholarships are being restricted to mostly those who are technical majors.

    The AFROTC offers type 1 and type 2 to mostly technical fields now.

    To the best of my knowledge NROTC-MC doesn't restrict scholarship to those who have certain technical majors at all. Army definitely doesn't. They don't care what you major in as long as you major in something and graduate.
    If you want to join the Army and major in Art or Music or Education - that is just fine. It also won't matter when you get out. If you serve 5-8 years and wish a different career path then use the GI Bill for grad school.
     
  20. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    I'm going to go out on a limb and assume this particular item hasn't changed since I was there.

    As a Plebe, your major means zilch anyway because you are taking the core Plebe curriculum. Even folks who validate a bunch of stuff will see only limited changes their first year.

    It's in the second and subsequent years where the major selection really begins to kick in, and where the differentiations between Group 1 (Mech E) and Gropu 2 (General E) begin to show. Group 2's take Wires instead of Cables, and Boats instead of Ships, The Wires vs. Cables difference was HUGE in my day, and many a 2/c got slaughtered by Cables. As for Thermo, Group 2's don't run across such legendary assholes as Rocket "My job is not to teach you, it's to fail you if you don't learn" Reid. So many 3/c and 2/c suffered through this jerk's bombast that there were actually unauthorized T-Shirts with a Saturn V taking off and the caption "I rode the Rocket!" with a "Pass/Fail" checkbox under it. Yeah, it was THAT bad.

    Back in the day, General Engineering was rarely chosen as a major at the outset. It was the repository where all the Group 1's who survived Academic and Advisory Boards ended up. It was almost a status symbol to see a Mid carrying around his EE3 breadboard box because only General Engineers used them. I made an alarm clock out of mine.

    If any of this has changed, I now await correction from folks in the know. :redface:
     

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