|Majoring or Minoring in Physics|
Simple question, simple answer: because studying physics helps you understand how the universe works. The laws of physics, when you really look at them, are absolutely amazing. The more you learn about physics, the more you come to see how seemingly unrelated phenomena in the universe can have remarkably similar explanations.
Learning the laws of physics gives you an appreciation for some incredibly cool everyday phenomena that you might (probably) otherwise take for granted. In addition, you also learn about phenomena that you don't see everyday, but address some very fundamental questions: What is the nature of time and distance? How did the universe begin, and what is its ultimate fate? What really is matter and energy? What are the limits of what we truly can know about the universe? Would the earth fall out of its orbit if everyone in Asia jumped at precisely the same time?
The skills that you learn studying physics are also very useful in the job market (see discussion below). Whether you go on to grad school (in physics, medicine, law, business, etc.) or find a regular job when you graduate, you will benefit from the problem-solving skills, laboratory techniques, writing and speaking skills, and appreciation of the physics of modern technology learned in a standard physics curriculum. And, of course, since the laws of physics describe the real world, an understanding of these laws is important for understanding (and manipulating) many (actually, most) real things.
The bottom line: if you enjoy learning about how the universe works, you should consider a physics major or minor.
The BS degree is designed for students who want a complete program in physics. The courses required in this degree cover all the main branches of physics (classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity & magnetism), and, in addition, give you experience doing experimental work (collecting and analyzing data and, in some cases, designing experimental projects as well). Some additional required courses provide you with some of the tools required to study physics (mathematics and electronics, in particular). Finally, some of the optional upper level courses provide you with an introduction to some of the most current topics in physics: solid state (condensed matter) physics, astrophysics, relativity, optics, etc. Independent research with a faculty member is also encouraged as part of a BS (and AB) degree.
The BS degree is appropriate both for students who want to continue studying physics at the graduate level and for students who want to pursue other career options.
The BA degree is designed for students who enjoy studying physics but who would like more flexibility in their schedules. Fewer courses are required for the BA degree, enabling you to choose the aspects of physics that most interest you. The same courses are available as with the BS degree, including independent research.
The BA physics degree is particularly appropriate for a student who is interested in medicine, law, or business and would like to take more courses, say, in biology, chemistry, computer science/engineering, management and/or economics than would be possible with a BS physics degree.
You should also consider an BA physics major in conjuction with another major or minor. For instance, an BA physics major with a minor in biology would make a fantastic pre-med program. Or, an BA physics with a minor in economics or management would be well-suited for a business or law career.
Bucknell's engineering program allows for a 5-year engineering/liberal arts double major. Several students in the past have chosen to add a physics degree to their engineering degree. There are various reasons why you might choose this option (assuming that you are in the engineering program): (a) you enjoy physics and want more than the 2 or 3 courses that you would get as part of a standard engineering major; (b) you want your resume to stand out a bit when applying for jobs. This could be particularly useful if you are planning on going into a field of engineering that involves cutting-edge technology; specifically, taking recent developments in physics and turning them into useful applications. (For example, if you are interested in developing applications for the recently-discovered high temperature superconductors, or if you are interested in developing optical computers using recent advances in nonlinear optics.)
A physics minor consists of 4 or 5 courses and is aimed at students who have chosen a different major, but who would like more than just the minimum exposure to physics. The advantage of a physics minor is that it lets you choose specifically the branch of physics that most interests you. For instance, if you are fascinated by quantum mechanics and modern electronics, but less so by thermodynamics and classical mechanics, you could take PHYS 222 (Introduction to Modern Physics) and, say, PHYS 235 (Applied Electronics). Needless to say, this is only one possible combination.
A physics minor is also appropriate for a humanities student who would like an exposure to science and technology (more and more important these days, considering the prevalence of technology in our lives).
It is a common misconception that a physics degree is only useful for a student considering a career as a research physicist or college professor. This is far from the truth. In addition to the traditional research and academic careers, a physics degree would work very well if you are interested in business, law or medicine, or if you would like to get a job working for a high-tech company.
As is the case with most liberal arts degrees, you can do almost anything you want to with a physics degree. To a great extent, your career won't rely on the details that you learn in your specific classes, but moreso on the techniques that you learn here and the work ethic that you develop. From that perspective, a physics degree often looks quite good on a job resume. A perspective employer will look at this and immediately think of someone who has a good mathematical background (always useful on the job), someone who has had a lot of practice analyzing complicated problems methodically and trying to come up with logical solutions, someone who has probably had some good experience with computers, and someone who will be able to actually understand a lot of the modern technology that is so central to a lot of businesses today. A "physics" degree on your transcripts will most likely be as attractive (if not moreso) to an employer as just about any other liberal arts degree.
A physics degree is particularly appropriate if you would like to get a job working for a high-tech company (e.g., IBM, Bell Atlantic, National Instruments, GE, Tektronix, etc). The usefulness of a physics degree to high-tech companies is fairly clear --> you need a technical degree to be able to understand the products that you are working on. This is particularly important for cutting-edge technologies, such as superconductivity, optical devices, magnetic resonance imaging, nano-fabrication, etc. The newer the technology, the more important it is to be able to understand the underlying physics when designing and testing new devices. With the recent (and continuing) explosion in technology, this is a career path with a bright future.
A lot of people fail to realize how useful a physics (or any technical degree) major would be for business-related jobs. Let's say you want to become a banker (loan officer) for a major bank. More and more these days, the big loans are going to support high-tech companies. You will certainly be in a better position to represent those companies (and understand the potential success of their products) if you have a technical degree. Of course, a degree in something like economics is perfectly good for a business career, but a physics major gives you something on your resume that enables you to stand out from the rest of the crowd a bit. Here is an area where a double major or a major-minor combination could be very useful, say with physics and management or economics.
Similar thinking works for law school. There is no tremendous advantage to having a history or poli-sci degree if you are going to law school, unless you want to be a judge or trial lawyer. Most lawyers these days represent companies and/or individuals, and, once again, an understanding of current technology is certainly a useful asset. More and more these days (as technology becomes more prevalent), a physics degree makes a fantastic pre-law major.
As far as medicine is concerned, of course a bio major is a great pre-med major. But so is physics. All you need is a couple of bio, physics and chem courses to fulfil the pre-med requirements. An AB in physics along with, say, a minor in Bio (or a double-major), would make a fantastic pre-med curriculum. Indications these days are that med schools (and law schools) love people coming in with physics degrees.
By the way, a related field is medical physics --> applying developments in the field of physics to making great diagnostic devices for medicine. There are tons of examples of diagnostic devices which are direct spin-offs of physics research, the best example being magnetic resonance imaging, truly a miracle of modern technology (and a direct application of basic physics research from the mid-1900s).
Of course, there are numerous other career paths that can come from a physics degree, e.g., technical writing for a publisher or newspaper, consulting, stock trading (there are quite a lot of physicists on Wall Street these days), politics, administration, teaching, sales, etc.
Naturally, you can continue on to graduate school in whatever field you choose as your major. This option is great if you want to devote your life to studying in the field at a basic level. This can be a very fulfilling career-choice, as long as you are dedicated. But this type of life is not for everyone --> you really have to love your field to do this. Most physics majors do not go on to physics grad. school (just like most econ majors don't go on to econ grad. school).
The bottom line as far as choice of major is concerned: think about what you want to do for your career. If that choice clearly prefers one major over another, then your major choice is simple. (For instance, if you want to become an electrical engineer, then do an EE major, or if you want to become a biologist, then choose a Bio major.) If it doesn't clearly prefer one over another (as is often the case), then choose a major that you enjoy. Also consider using the option of a minor to fill in any gaps in your curriculum.
Simple answer: of course not. Anyone who claims that any major will guarantee you a job after you graduate is not being realistic. As with any major, the most important thing is not what you choose as a major, but what you do with that major, i.e., how hard you work during your four/five years here. Majoring in physics won't help you in the job market if you don't do well in your classes; i.e., if you don't do the work required to do well. (This is true for any major.) When applying for jobs, the thing that will help you more than anything else is if you have recommendations from professors saying things like: "This student worked very hard, always showed up for class on time, and always did the required work (again, on time)."
For the answer to this (and many other) question(s), see PHYS 211/212.