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Courses 5 math courses; doing well thus far yet considering dropping to 4 ?

  1. Feb 9, 2013 #1
    Hi all, been lurking on this forum for a while, soaking up tons of great information; now I've got a personal decision that I'd like to get an opinion on.
    I apologize in advance for posting a thread like this, as I know there have been similar ones and nobody can possibly know what's too much or handle-able for one particular individual but I just wanted to throw this out there anyway.

    I'm taking 5 math courses this semester; I transferred from a different program so I no longer need any electives. (Last semester I took 4 math and ended with three A/A+ and one B+, which I was okay with). Now, it's been going relatively well thus far - one month into the semester, approximately 2 assignments per class and I'm currently sitting at 90+ in each of them. Here's the courses:

    Intro to Stats (first stats course; standard material)
    Real Analysis (first course in analysis; standard material)
    Mathematical Logic (proof methods ie. tableaux, natural deduction, completeness & compactness)
    Ring Theory (second course in abstract algebra; rings, polynomials, fields)
    Applied Probability (second course in probability; poisson process, markov chains, renewal theory)

    Now, I'm thinking of dropping one for several reasons:
    -I've done well so far, but I find that I don't have much time to do extra problems or carefully studying theorems outside of completing assignments. (Analysis & Ring Theory in particular take up most of my mental energy.) I think that once midterms start rolling around, it's going to bite me in the *** and I'll be spreading myself out too thin.
    -My grades will be better by some non-zero amount with 4 courses and I'll be less stressed (and irregardless of grades, I'll learn more of each course).
    -I like math and I think it's neat-o; but I don't live and breathe it. I have other hobbies that demand some amount of my finite time and energy that I'm not willing to give up entirely for the sake of academics. I don't want to burn out!
    -It wouldn't delay graduation; the opportunity cost is essentially $600 to take an extra course in the summer.

    But reasons I'm being indecisive and don't want to drop are:
    -I'm not actually doing poorly (yet) in any class. In fact, I'm confident that I can do "okay-ish" with 5. Usually people drop courses because they're failing or in danger of failing...?
    -Whatever course I drop I'll retake anyway, and I feel like I've "wasted" effort.
    -I feel like I'd be taking the easy way out; like being a sissy for not attempting the challenge.

    If I did drop a course, it would be one of the latter three on the list, as the first two are prerequisites for future courses... any advice to help sway my indecisiveness?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2013 #2


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    Re: 5 math courses; doing well thus far yet considering dropping to 4.

    So what you're basically asking is if you should drop down to a sub-typical course load (assuming that your school goes by a system where five courses per semester is the norm) because you *might* do poorly, despite the fact that you seem to be doing just fine?

    It's your decision. I don't know what other factors are at play in your life.

    One thing I know about myself is that if I tend to work to the demand. If were to have only four courses I'm not sure I'd do any better by having "extra" time to devote to those four. I understand in principle I could do that. In practice, that just isn't the way things play out for me. But of course, I'm not you.

    You may also want to consider stepping back to look at what you're goals are with school. If graduate school is a significant probabilty for you, the news is that things aren't going to get easier as you go on. If you need to drop a course now at introductory level how do you expect things to play out later on at the graduate level?

    Finally I don't know how other professors view a reduced workload, but I certainly notice it when I review candidates for admission to our program. I can't say that it looks horrible. A 3.9 GPA is a 3.9 GPA. But if it's obvious the candidate hasn't really challenged him or herself in earning that GPA, that pops up a little flag for me.
  4. Feb 9, 2013 #3
    Re: 5 math courses; doing well thus far yet considering dropping to 4.

    I do not know many American universities where those five courses would be considered a typical load. It's definitely more on the heavy side.
  5. Feb 9, 2013 #4
    Re: 5 math courses; doing well thus far yet considering dropping to 4.

    Yes, 5 courses is a normal full-time load at my university; however 5 math courses is -not-. Normally, math majors would take 3 or 4 math courses and fill the rest with electives; but in my case of switching programs, I only need math courses now.

    In any case, thank you for the replies! The point of whether "extra" time is really that is a good one.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  6. Feb 10, 2013 #5
    Re: 5 math courses; doing well thus far yet considering dropping to 4.

    The important thing is to do that which would enhance your learning. Last semester I took a courseload of: Real Analysis, Topology, Graduate QM, Graduate Math Methods and an independent study. I was also the grader for a class. I ended up doing pretty well grade-wise but I wouldn't recommend such a courseload just because you think you'll probably do okay as far as grades go.

    One thing you can do is set a number of hours you're willing to devote to math each week and estimate and add up the amount of time you'll be spending on each class. If the number fits or doesn't exceed it by very much, go for it. In my case the number was above 60 hours, OUTSIDE of class, and that amount of mental effort simply isn't sustainable over the course of a semester. At the very least your courseload should leave you time to eat well, get your sleep and exercise regularly.

    Choppy makes a good point about the "extra time" though. The semester before that I took a relatively "light" load (i.e 4 instead of 5 math/physics classes) and told myself exactly what you said, i.e that I would spend extra time learning everything really well. I did learn the stuff pretty well, but that was because of the lower stress level as opposed to the extra time, during which I was just goofing off.

    Also, in contrast to what Choppy said, I can't imagine grad schools saying: "Oh this guy took just Real Analysis, Ring Theory, Probability and Stats? He must be a slacker..." You're right that most people, even those serious about grad school usually take 3-4 classes in their subject and fill the remaining slot with an "easy" class. I don't see the problem if you chose not to take the easy class and just took the 4 math classes.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
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