And other thoughts on grad school....
Why Study Engineering?
It is the most common undgrad degree among Fortune 500 CEOs (20%), has the highest average starting salary of any undergraduate major ($51k for mechanical, $53 for electrical, and $56 for chemical), and on average earns ~ 65% more than a degree in science.
I have found the probelm-solving skills and quantitative background I got while studying mechanical engineering to be invaluable tools for all the jobs I've held and gave me a great academic foundation for pursuing my MBA and my PhD in economics. My engineering degree has also opened many doors on the job-market that I never would have gotten through without it, including some terrific international experiences.
If you're good at math and science, are getting ready to start college, and aren't sure what you want to study, I'd strongly recommend you consider an engineering program. It will open many doors for you, while closing very few. If you decide later to change, it's easier to switch from engineering to another major than vice-versa. (We often joked that Virginia Tech's first year engineering school was the best pre-business program in the country.) Even if you don't go to work as an engineer after you graduate, I think you'll find the skillset you learn invaluable.
What Type Of Engineering?
What type of If you're going to study engineering and don't have a strong passion for a particular sub-field, strongly consider staying in a general area such as civil, electrical, chemical, industrial, or mechanical. I'd avoid too narrow a focus such as aerospace or ocean engineering, petroleum, nuclear, etc. unless you have a very clear direction you want to head. You can always specialize further in grad school, but won't have as many employment opportunities if you specialize too early in your academic career. At the bachelor's level, I'd encourage generalization.
Best Bang For Your Buck At the Masters Level?
With many schools now offering an accelerated 5-year BS/MS program, I'd be hard-pressed to see the downside of this. Coming out with a masters degree should give a 30% premium on your starting salary. Not bad at all! Having a good salary is particularly important when getting your first job. Your subsequent raises and salary offers when switching companies will usually relate to one another, so starting higher greatly helps. I wish Virginia Tech offered an accelerated program when I was still an undergrad.
If you've already graduated and are thinking about returning to grad school, but not sure what direction to head, I'd certainly recommend an MBA. It's a good compliment to most undergrad degrees (particularly technical ones), prepares you for all types of work, and gives very good earning potential. As far as graduate degrees go, an MBA (or possibly a JD?) is the best bang for your buck. There are also many part-time MBA programs that let you continue working while furthering your education. If you work it right, you might even get your employer to pay for it. (Helping you avoid those crippling student loans.)
What About A PhD?
If you want to continue on from there and get a PhD, being a college professor is currently rated as the second best job in the US. As far as PhD degrees go, Bryan Caplan thinks economics is the sweetest deal going. Looks like I'm on a good track so far!
Am I Destined to be a CEO?
According to this comprehensive report on Fortune 500 CEOs (PDF), it looks like 20% of the CEOs studied engineering as an undergrad. The second most popular degree was business administration (15%) followed by economics (11%). Hmm... I got my undergrad in engineering, my masters of business administration, and am now working on my PhD in economics. Does that mean I'm getting closer or farther away from being a one-day CEO?
See my previous post on "Whither the Engineers?"