Mark Montgomery, college admissions counselor and educational consultant, advises students to keep their options open when they enter college: don’t major in too narrow of a field until you’ve acquired a more foundational understanding of what you’re interested in.
A lot of students ask me about their major and what major they should consider. And I find a lot with my more science-oriented students that they are very interested in things like biomedical engineering. It’s so hot right now. Everybody wants to do biomedical engineering.
It was interesting, today, here at Georgia Tech, where I’m taking a tour, my tour guide was a second-year student and she came in as a biomedical engineering student. She loved the idea of working on prosthetics or some sort of — using technology in the medical field to help repair or advance healing. So I asked her, “Why did you switch? Why did you switch from biomedical engineering into mechanical engineering?” And she told me, “Look, I’m interested in prosthetics but a lot of what prosthetics is is mechanical. So I found that as I was looking at what I wanted to do, that I felt that having a strong foundation in mechanical engineering,” which is really a specialty here at Georgia Tech anyway, “that that would give me a strong foundation for no matter what it is I ended up doing. So yes, I probably would still like to work in the biomedical engineering field, and a strong foundation in mechanical engineering will enable me to do that because so much of what the prosthetic field is doing is pretty mechanical.”
But she said, “If I wanted to work on cars, or I wanted to work on some other thing,” she said, “I didn’t want to limit my opportunities.” And by choosing a much more narrow field like biomedical engineering, absolutely, it’s hot, it’s what there seems to be a lot of things going on, but you miss out on that foundational education that can launch you into many new directions, some of which you may not have thought of, or that may be hotter in the future. Right now, biotech is huge. Bioengineering, biomedical engineering. It’s huge. It’s really, really, popular. But if you want to be employable in this next century, I think it’s a really good idea to think about that foundation of your education as an undergraduate.
If you plan to go on into graduate school, or if you want to work in a particular field that carries you into a new professional track, absolutely, biomedical engineering can be really cool, but the question you have to ask yourself is how soon do you want to narrow yourself? At 18, do you want to make that decision? Or do you want to wait and do some exploration? If you want to explore and you’re not absolutely sure, then a place like Georgia Tech actually could be fantastic because you don’t apply to your particular major, you apply to the school as a whole, then you begin to do some of your foundational requirements, and then you can make some decisions about whether or not you want that more narrow focus, like biomedical engineering, or whether you want to do something a little bit more general and have a stronger foundation in something like mechanical engineering.
So a big choice to make, but one that you shouldn’t make lightly. Especially when you’re coming out of high school, I mean how many biomedical engineering courses have you taken? Frankly, how many engineering courses have you taken? Probably very few. So think about that, before you narrow your choices. How much do you want and need to explore your academic possibilities, your professional possibilities before you choose a very narrow major? Interesting food for thought, and it was really fun to hear somebody who had that choice to make, rather then somebody like me, to explain this difference in trajectory.