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A bit of direction is needed, if possible

  1. Mar 5, 2004 #1
    As the subject indicates, I'm looking for a little direction. Its not actually homework help, but this seemed as though it would be the appropriate place to post this question. I am considering a major in physics, because believe it is something i would enjoy, because of certain things I have read. The problem is, however, that I have been out of school for four years now, and I have only opened a text book sparingly since that time. My last class in high school was Calculus I, Honors, but I seem to have forgotten quite a bit of that. In fact, the only things I seem to remember from mathematics is as high as Algebra II. As i understand it, physics is centered around math, as well as certain sciences (i am unclear on that point, however). I do enjoy mathematics, quite a bit, which doesn't reflect what I've done with the last four years of my life, without school. But, that is besides the point. I'm trying to better my life, and after a couple of months of considering a major, Physics seems to be something that attracts me very much. My question is this:
    Should i begin to immediately take physics classes and declare my major as soon as I enter, or should I take a few math classes (and science?) before doing so? If so, which ones would be suggested?
    Actually, I have one other question:
    Majoring in Physics seems to be just the start, and I know there are quite a few "sub-divisions" (for lack of a better word) thereof. What are some of the possible areas I could continue into? Obviously a detailed answer to this is beyond the scope of this forum, but a general answer perhaps?
    And if anyone could possibly direct me to a person or website where i could find more of the information I am looking for, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thank you for taking your time in reading and potentially responding to this post.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2004 #2

    The school I attend (also where I did my undergrad) has a heavy non-traditional student body, mostly returning education people. What I have found teaching and attending classes is that it really depends on the person and how the class is structured. The classes you are going to take for your major are going to be more math based (basically you start with calc based physics if you are a major.) Now, most school will make you have a semester or two of calculus before taking your first intro physics class. But, there are lower level classes that require much less math. At my school, there are classes where everything is multiple choice and just based on concepts, to classes that you will need a good handle on algebra for, all the way up to intro classes that you need second semester calculus for. Usually you can take all the classes in the sequence, but only certain ones will count for your major. Therefore, nothing is stopping you from starting with the purely conceptual classes. So really it all depends on where you are going and how their program is set up. Also, just because you declare a major, doesn't mean you have to start taking classes for your major. I have taught a lot of returning students... many of which were very concerned with their ability to remember and use their math abilities. If you are not comfortable with the math that is a prerequisite for a physics class I would suggest not taking the class until you are. But I have seen students who were not comfortable with calculus at the start of a class, even ones who haven't had it for many years, do very well. Once again I think it all depends on the person. You should have a talk with the advisor for the school you are at, and the physics major advisor before you make a decision though. They will know the most about what is going on. Also, do not hesitate to contact the instructor of the class and get their take on the situation.
    I know I just laid a lot out there for you, but I tried to give you as much information as I could. Remember that this is based only on the universities I am familiar with (only a few), so it may not be valid for the place you are looking to attend.
    Good Luck,
  4. Mar 6, 2004 #3


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    If you are just starting college, it's probably not a good idea to declare a major your first year. Most colleges do not require that you declare a major until the end of your second year but you probably don't need to (and shouldn't) wait that long. You certainly should take courses in that direction- if you find physics interesting, you probably will wind up in a science anyway. I would recommend that you start with Calculus I or even "Precalculus" if it has been several years since you took a calculus course in high school. Secondary school calculus courses tend to be very watered-down compared with college courses.-
  5. Mar 6, 2004 #4
    Thank you both very much for the information that you've provided to me. It will certainly help me with my decision.
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