Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Courses Advanced Math a advantage or disadvantage in college physics

  1. Aug 12, 2018 #1
    Hi, so I recently switched my major from Math to Physics. I will be taking my first calculus based physics course in the fall.

    I am curious if people think the typical route of taking calc 1-3, DEQ's, LA concurrently while going through the physics courses is beneficial? Versus someone like myself who has already taken all of those math courses as well as some more advanced courses before I started the first physics course.

    Most of my classmates will only have calc 1 under their belt when they go into physics one. I am honestly not sure if my being ahead in math is a advantage or not.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2018 #2


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    The more Mathematics, the better. MORE means longer opportunity for some conditioning in using or applying. One flaw in this thinking is that if you have not yet applied your skills to Engineering or Physics, then this is something to learn to do.
  4. Aug 12, 2018 #3
    That's the only rule to follow in life.

    What you should do is to apply the math you learned in Physics problems.
  5. Aug 12, 2018 #4
    Yes, obviously more math is better. I started out as a math major and then started physics my sophomore year and decided to double-major. However, pretty quickly the two diverged from each other, e.g. number theory and real-analysis, etc., were less applicable to what I was learning in physics.
  6. Aug 12, 2018 #5
    Sure, my first thoughts is that it would be a advantage. But I have a feeling that there will be a lot of situations where I will be reaching for one of the more advanced tools in the math tool shed to answer questions. For example, balancing chemical equations is often taught in the beginning using guess and check, when you could easily solve the same question with reduction of a matrix.

    That might not be a great example, but that is why I am posting to see if others have had the same experience and noticed if it was a benefit or not having more math.
  7. Aug 12, 2018 #6
    Knowing this is great! There were so many times when I was teaching physics where I wish I could have said "well, just write your equations in the form of a matrix and solve it, etc.." Even though this sometimes takes longer, I like the methodology...there are less ways to go wrong.

    So don't be afraid to open the math tool shed, but also try to recognize when you're using a jack-hammer to hang a picture frame (I think I lost track of my metaphors).
  8. Aug 12, 2018 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I was in multivariable calculus (calculus III) while I took for my first calculus based physics. Having more didn't feel too advantageous. It's not irrelevant and it wouldn't hurt to know more, but the class wasn't a breeze. I was really struggling to understand the story in each problem and bookkeeping on the units.


    It was definitely super helpful in the following physics modules such as electromagnetism.
  9. Aug 13, 2018 #8
    Here's the thing: Physics is very much not math, at least at this level. Knowing probably wont hurt but if you're sufficiently sophisticated the way physicists do things will really annoy you (probably not relevant to you tbh).

    I had a awful time in physics because I don't like physical reasoning. Have an advanced math background wasn't really helpful, to some extent it made it worse.

    <Moderator's note: post edited for language>
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2018
  10. Aug 13, 2018 #9
    My son also has 5 semesters of college math when he got to his first college physics courses, not because of a change of major, but because he took a lot of dual enrollment math courses in high school, He likes math and is good at it, and it also provided opportunities to tutor, first at his dual enrollment institution while in high school, now in the athlete tutoring center at his undergraduate university.

    All the math courses are a moderate advantage in the physics on several fronts:
    1. The student is mature in his problem solving abilities with a variety of structured problem approaches at his disposal.
    2. The student is confident and not intimidated by the needed math.
    3. The student has mastered all the required math skills for the physics courses.

    Now, most of the math in those courses is not used in first year college physics, which uses a lot of high school math (algebra and trig) and a little college math (relatively simple differentiation and integrals). So he is really only using a small subset of the topics he has seen in college math. But it often happens that students do not really master the math of earlier courses until later courses, and the maturity imparted by the later courses matters more than their topical coverage.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted