I'm very sorry I'm getting into the discussion late because I have lots of opinions on this stuff, and I'm living through it right now. I just graduated in Dec 2010 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I'm using my day job to support my wife, who is in graduate school, and my healthy drum gear addiction. When she graduates I have plans to go back to school for my MS, possibly my PhD.
First off, pxavier, You need your BS to get an MS. They won't even let you in the program. Masters degrees, in science related fields, are designed primarily as a gateway to your PhD. They don't really help in run of the mill engineering. Sure you might
get paid more, but it won't help you with the actual work. Plus, some companies flat out won't hire you if you have a higher degree, because expect to be paid more. So it may hurt you. Anyway, there is a handful of research involved and the courses are harder and much more indepth. Don't be fooled by the two year duration.
After having been out of school for several years now, I should stress that there's a helluva lot more theory going on in the classroom than most engineers will ever use in actual practice.
This is a fine line that you're playing here Mike. Yes I agree, if you work for an corporation and especially aspire to a managerial position in engineering, you hardly ever grab your calculator and crunch numbers. There are nation wide and world wide engineering standards that essentially ave all the work done for you. Volume after volume of numbers and solutions that have already been calculated and solved.. you just have to look it up... That's how run of the mill engineering works and a testament to the brain drain and fall of education in this country.
Just like in drumming, the best, most creative/musical drummers got famous by trusting their technique and fundamentals and created grooves/licks/feelings that no one had yet. No one today is going to get famous by playing the book of Steve Gadd. All his stuff is priceless groove, but its all been done before. Stanton Moore is a prime example of someone who is really creative and has brought something new
to the table. Yes he has influences, but he really the only young guy that has brought second line and New Orleans style playing into the modern age, and its gotten him a lot of notoriety. Likewise, the great strides that take place in science and engineering come from people who know the theory, trust their fundamentals, and refuse to rely on the standards and status quo to "do there work for them". In my opinion, if you don't have that drive to bring something truly new
to the field, you don't want to be an engineer. You want to be a manager, a draftsmen, a designer, or something related.
So, sure you don't use all that theory in industry. So what, you should know all that theory, and if you want to be an engineer, you have to care about it and not blow it off as bull. Everything you will do as a engineer stems from that theory, even the standards everyone blindly follows. If you know the theory, you know how to apply the standards, and you will be a much better engineer.
Is it easy to go back? Yes. Technically, its just as easy as going in the first place. In reality its harder, only because most people don't have the gumption to actually do it. You get comfortable in your home with your hefty paycheck and no homework, and you just don't want to follow through. Its as simple as that. I'm even struggling with that now, haha.
"Let's go out of our ways to ruin people's GPA's because we are an engineering school..."
This is obviously not the motivation, at all. Engineering is a practice. Just like drumming, you have to PRACTICE. Practice and review fundamentals and theory. Otherwise things will cave in on you your junior and senior year. Trust me I know. This stuff has to be habitual. You should just know it, you don't have the luxury to remember. That's why there is so much busy work. The professors are trying to get you just know these things and not have to recall them. It needs to be like walking, or playing a paradiddle. You can't be thinking R-L-R-R-L-R-L-L.. you have to just do it naturally.
I only got to see one gear at school. And it was wonderful 20 second moment
It depends on the college you go to. I was fortunate enough to get some more hands on stuff than I expected. We welded, casted, ripped metal apart, brazed, soldered, machined parts, the whole nine. You have to take your college experience for what it is. If the hands on stuff is primarily what you are interested in, then maybe you should look into the other professions previously mentioned. I'll you one thing, starting salary for a plant operator is way more than that for an engineer. You're on your feet all day, or all night, depending on when you work, covered in grease, and sometimes coal dust, but you make a very pretty penny.
My advice to you is to stick it out and get a degree! Whatever it is. Maybe engineering is right for you. Frankly, it doesn't matter what you get your degree in most of the time, having a BS period is much much much more valuable than not having one. You can always pursue music. But going back to school is a difficult pill to swallow. Having a BS in your back pocket if times get rough pursuing music will literally be invaluable.