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A few questions about majoring in physics

  1. Apr 16, 2008 #1
    Okay, so I have a few questions that I couldn't find searching the forums.

    1. As a future undergraduate studying physics, how much time should I expect to spend doing reading, homework for each week?? (I'd guess 40-60 hours myself, but people who have actually done it probably have a better idea...)

    2. How would a crappy Junior year affect chances for some sort of merit-based scholarship?

    By crappy I mean: I got 4.98 GPA freshman year, and a 5.0 GPA sophomore year, but during my Junior year I consistently got around a 4.7 GPA.

    I think I should explain the GPA, because as I understand it, most schools go by a 4.0 max GPA. My school goes by a weird 6.0 GPA scale. If you get a 100 in a regular class you get a 5.0, and if you get a 100 in a honors/AP class you get a 6.0. If you get a 90 you get a 4.0, or 5.0 if its a honors/AP class.

    3. Also, how realistic is it to have a part-time job while majoring in physics? Will I have enough time left over, or will I be fully absorbed in homework, reading, etc?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2008 #2
    1. This is up to you. No one can say you have to study X hours per week to get Y grade. You may want to read through the thread that has been relatively current around here about life as an engineering major. https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=222616
    There you will find some opposing views on the subjects you are question

    2. How can you deem a 4.7 in comparison to 4.98, I don't think you will have much issue there. (yes I realize its 6.0 scale, I still think you are fine) If you graduate with around a 5.0 gpa That seems to me like a perfectly good gpa.

    3. This depends on how you answer question 1. If you choose to study 60 hours a week. Then a part time job will not work out well unless you want to only sleep 5 hours a night which I highly do not recommend. A part time job can be great thing depending on the kind of job. You should look for an on campus job. See if any dept's need people to work in their offices. Usually what this entails is you sit at a desk and answer the phone periodically while you work on your homework on the side.
  4. Apr 17, 2008 #3
    1. Yes, it depends on you. If you find it easy (some people do) then you won't have to spend as much time as others. I find that it is relative. Some semesters I have other distractions and have less time to study, in which case I adjust by studying harder for shorter times. So you can really adapt to the time you have. My first two years I spent barely any time studying, really, and did just fine (that might not work for everyone though!) but then I had to work a LOT harder my last two years to catch up on things I hadn't learned well the first two. I probably spend ~60-70 hours a week studying, doing homework, research, labs, etc. in my senior semester. I think the last year was pretty rough.

    2. I actually had a bad junior year as well. I almost failed trig (I took it in high school) and ended up with a C or something... my math teacher even recommended that I quit anything having to do with math entirely. But all my other grades were good, I ended up acing the AP Calculus (go figure, I was okay at math after all) exam, and I had a good ACT score so I got a full ride at my university. I think so long as your ACT/SAT is good and your cumulative GPA is okay, you'll have a chance (at least, at a state university - not for Ivy League, but I think that's all overrated anyway)...

    3. I worked 3 jobs during my junior and senior year of physics/math in college. I don't recommend that. But my jobs were all on campus, one was grading for math/physics undergrad classes, one working at a student IT lab, and the third working for a professor on research. The research was great (more fun than work) - you can maybe get a job as an undergrad in someone's lab. Or seek on campus jobs. I liked the IT lab because I just did homework and swiped student ID cards. It would be significantly harder, I think, to have an off campus job. Just make sure your grades come first. You can make $$ later, but you really only get one shot at preserving your GPA... take the loans instead if they're going to help you keep your GPA up.

    You might consider looking for universities with emphasis on student research. I like that at my school, the emphasis on undergrad research means almost everyone I know in our physics department has a paid job working for some professor on campus - there's lots of funding for students to work, and it's really fantastic to work on some physics research and get paid for it (since it's probably something you'd be doing anyway). If you go to a U with less undergrad. research, you might find it harder to get such a job (less funding?).
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2008
  5. Apr 18, 2008 #4
    Thanks for the answers, they were very informative.

    I'm curious, how good were your ACT scores that you got a full scholarship? I haven't taken the ACT yet, but I got a 1950 on my SAT. (Without studying for it, so I'm going to take it again using some sort of preparatory/study book. I'm hoping to make a 2100 or so..)
  6. Apr 19, 2008 #5
    1. This is something that depends on your intelligence unfortunately. Someone bright could probably study 16 hours a week and learn everything spot on. Others will need around 40 hours. The 60 hours statement by someone is a bit of an overstatment. You'd have to include classes to get it that high. In general, 40 hours or more sounds reasonable. But if you take advanced math, I wouldn't be surpirsed if your at 60+ hours.

    2. I don't know about merit scholarships or your school.

    3. With physics I wouldn't reccommend working part time while doing a full course load. It can be done I suppose, but you would feel very muddy for not having a second to spare. You'd burn out.
  7. Apr 19, 2008 #6
    Yeah, I'm planning on finishing my physics degree at university part-time and working part-time.
  8. Apr 19, 2008 #7


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    That's what I did. Sometimes I'd work full-time, if the school work load wasn't too bad. A couple times I couldn't afford even one class, and I'd have to sit that quarter out.

    It's tough; your have to be determined to finish. Took me 9-1/2 years to get my BS.

    You can do it, though - hang in there!
  9. Apr 19, 2008 #8
    My ACT scores were good (could've been better, but I was too lazy to study) ~ 29, but two of the areas I got ~33 and the other two closer to 26, so it balanced into 29. Then again, I'm not at any Ivy League school - just a (very reputable) public state university. I had close to a 3.8 cumulative GPA graduating HS. At my university, they have an index thing used to determine what scholarship you qualify for (if any). It's kind of a matrix with rows as various GPA values and columns as ACT scores. If your two scores put you high enough in the matrix, you get either a full scholarship or half.

    Incidentally, I don't regret for a moment coming to my school, as opposed to somewhere with huge prestige and difficulty entering (like MIT). Our physics department has had a Rhodes scholar, about 5 Goldwaters and a Fulbright scholar just in the last 5-6 years! There's also a lot of money for undergrad research, and living costs are CHEAP where I'm at, so you can do quite well financially if you play the game right. It's not the end of the world if you don't get 36 on the ACT to get into Harvard. You can still get into a really good school. :cool:
  10. Apr 19, 2008 #9
    9 years to get a bachelor?

    Thats excessive. Or persistant, depending on the circumstances.
  11. Apr 19, 2008 #10
    Sounds persistent to me, if you read her post.
  12. Apr 20, 2008 #11


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    Definately persistent. Do the math -- if it takes 4 or 5 years to get a BS going full time, if you go half time, it takes about...9-1/2 years.
  13. Apr 20, 2008 #12
    That must have been very hard. I admire someone who can look ahead and decide to go on, even though the road is very long, hard, and unpredictable.
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