Physics or Computer Science?

Hello. A bit off topic but I’ll leave it here for want of somewhere appropriate. Mods, feel free to move it somewhere better. I thought I’d ask here as it seems like the right sort of crowd. :slightly_smiling_face:

My son is will soon have to choose his A-Levels (UK school exams you take from 16 to 18 - results decide where you can go in terms of higher education; you generally take 3 or 4). He has no idea about what he wants to do, but he’s good at maths so that’s one. Probably further maths too. He likes design, so that’s another. He’s not massively keen on science or coding but sees the value in both. So he’s trying to decided between Computer Science or Physics in terms of general applicability to whatever he decides on doing later. I tilt towards the former as it’s more practical as well as currently in demand but I see the other side too. Has anyone else been through this dilemma?


Just keep in mind, that his bad choice is much better than your bad choice.

So do not let him be somewhere just because he thought that it is expected.


Yes wise words. I’m trying to be careful to open up options rather than closing them down!

@JPL I sympathise with his dilemma and your wish to help. I was in a similar position when I was choosing - no idea what I wanted to do but a developing interest in electronics that flourished as soon as I got to play with some digital stuff while doing a physics degree. So I did my physics degree while choosing all the computing options and building a computer and peripheral interfaces, programming etc in my spare time.

The downside was that although I got a good degree, when it came to jobs, all the electronics and computing stuff was closed to me and I had to take a job where physics was prized. But after 18 months I landed a dream job and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, I agree very much with this:

Which brings me to my second comparable situation. A son who did not know what he wanted to do, was very bright, interested in science and history, and too scared to do the hard subject (science), or to choose for himself.

I just helped him explore and not rule anything out, such as history because of its limited career prospects. One day he made the decision and chose history - the relief in him was palpable and I knew he’d made the right choice. He had now graduated and is finding his own way, growing and not yet settled on a career. I won’t say more here, but happy to chat by PM if it would help.


Thanks @happybeing. I’ve always felt it’s unfortunate that the UK system forces you to shut down options at the very time that many kids don’t have a clue about what they really want to do, or think of themselves as generalists rather than specialists (both were the case with me at that age). I went down the sciences route cos that’s what I was best at but I always missed the arts and ultimately got bored with everything being measured and measurable.The US system is much better in that respect.

So I’m glad my son’s sticking with product design which is a combination of science and art. He has a good eyeand is keen to keep it going. There was no Computer Science A-level option when I was at school but if there had been I’d probably have gone for it over Physics. I don’t want to force his hand but just to find out about the options. For example, I should imagine there’s a fair bit of programming in Physics A-level these days, although the curriculum doesn’t mention it. We’ll have a word with the school before the decision is made, but before we do I’m trying collect a few wise opinions!

1 Like

Well, two of the Inrupters started out with Physics, @timbl and myself! :slight_smile:

My career has been like brownian motion, a nudge there, a bump there, you change direction, sometimes substantially.

Physics is good in that it teaches you to think methodologically, and it may require a good deal of perseverance, both of which are important.

Now, I wouldn’t say “follow your passion” to any young student in this situation, but when the choice is between physics and informatics, I think it is a fair to say. Finding a passion, building momentum and self-esteem enough to punch through the times when everything is dark and you feel like the stupidest person on the planet, and then see where takes you, I think that is the best advice I can give.