I am torn between majoring in aerospace engineering, physics, or double majoring in both

Hello Engineers,

Throughout my high school years, I have had to deal with several health issues and financial constraints that unfortunately set me back as a result. Before that, I was always a straight A student with a love for mathematics and a deep interest the sciences. However, as a result of my difficulties, I did not complete all of high school (I missed much of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade). With an exponential amount of perseverance, I am now getting back on track and will be taking a high school equivalency test to start college this fall. I am torn between majoring in aerospace engineering, physics, or double majoring in both (I am willing to put in the extra work), and hope to work for NASA, SpaceX, SPAWAR, or other similar company. My questions are: 1)Do you think these are good areas to major in if I want to work with spacecraft and military aircraft, or do you recommend others? 2)Will my difficulties give me a negative stigma in college? and 3) If any of you went through some hardships, how did you deal with it and how did it help you in the future?

Thank you very much for your response!
posted by Giselle, California on June 8, 2016

Answer by Jamie Krakover

Giselle,
First let me say I applaud you for persevering and continuing to reach for your goals despite the struggles you've faced so far. That is the kind of attitude that will make you successful in your career and in life.

In answer to your questions, if you want to work for an aerospace company, I think your best bang for your buck is going to be majoring in aerospace engineering. While most of those companies hire physicists, they are primarily looking for engineers because the engineering background is going to give you the solid foundation and understanding of the kind of work they do. And aerospace engineering specifically will give you the additional knowledge and background in aircraft and spacecraft that will give you a concrete understanding of the products you will be working on. That's not to say physics isn't important because physics and engineering go hand in hand and if you enjoy physics a double major will only give you an additional leg up. But your best understanding of the product you want to work on will come from an aerospace background.

As for your second question, there is not simple answer. Some people may have an issue with your background and that's okay that's on them. Find the people who like you for your good qualities and your bad. Those that give you a stigma aren't worth your time.

In terms of the third question, I don't know anyone who didn't struggle at some point in their school, career, and/or life. Everyone has hard times now and then, some are better at hiding it than others. That said, I had an extremely tough time in college. Partway through I discovered I had learning disabilities, that had finally caught up to me. And relearning how to learn and effectively navigate school was extremely difficult that late in the game. But it taught me several things:
1.) I'm much stronger than I thought I was.
2.) I can do anything, I just might need to find the way that works for me and it's okay if that way is different than how other people do it.
3.) I shouldn't care so much what other people think. The people I need in my life are those that accept me for my amazing qualities and my faults and don't judge me for either.

In the end, it took me a while, but I finally found who I was and became more comfortable in my own skin. And I was much happier for it.

I wish you the best of luck moving forward into college and your career. It sounds like you are on the right track and have the determination required to make it happen. Go forth and be great, I know you can be!