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Already an Engineer : quitting for school, need help

  1. Sep 1, 2009 #1
    Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Hello everyone! So here's my background and question:

    27 years old - no college degree
    Highest level math: HS Trig / College Algebra (both over 5 years ago)
    Highest science: HS Physical Science (not physics) over 10 years ago

    5 years in the Marine Corps working avionics (didn't use math/science... at all)
    2.5 years working as a field service engineer for Applied Materials, a semiconductor equipment manufacturing company. (have used very little to no math/science other than conceptual, no actual practical application)

    I'm quitting my job, because, well, I'm severely underpaid, the economy will not provide for a raise anytime soon, and I do not have a degree. I have the GI Bill, so I'm using that to go back to school. But I must attend a community college first, for tuition costs, until I can establish residency. I have about 27 credits towards business already. I will be pursuing a bachelor's in physics, minor in business, with the intention of applying for admission to my universities 4+1 MBA program (maybe.. not 100% on that yet). I love my work and do very well with trouleshooting, analytical problem solving, and real world application of the concepts for my particular machinery. I just don't have the degree to bump my pay up to what my ability is.

    Here's my actual question... With my low low low level of background math/science, but my already proven ability to perform excellently in a technically based field, is it unrealistic to strive for a physics degree? I mean, is that only for die hard science gurus, who blast through math with ease? Also, the comm college I'm going to only offers algebra based Physics I and II.

    So my second question is this... would it also be unrealistic to assume that algebra based Physics I and II would adequately prepare me for Physics III, or any other advanced physics course at a university?

    I'm trying to plan out my acedemic career so I can transition from the comm college to the university rather easily. But the highest math offered is pre-cal. I can knock out chem I, II and physics I, II. But I don't want to get to the university, without having taken Cal I, and try to tackle an advanced physics course, and be smacked on my a$$ because I don't have the math background to understand the advanced physics course! Would it be better to take algebra based Physics I at the comm college, and hold off on Physics II? Maybe take Physics II at the same time I take Cal I at the university?

    Any thoughts, skepticiscm, advice, or help would be really great. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2009 #2


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    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    There's no real way to know whether or not you're cut out for a physics degree until you do it. High school and university can be two vastly different animals. Having a background in technology will help you - especially in labs. There are lots of kids out there who are great with advanced mathematics, but can't read an oscilloscope to save their lives.

    As for algebra-based physics - it's not the best preparation for further study. It's ideal to take a calculus-based program, but then again, the world is seldom ideal. I know several people who started out with algebra-based courses and went on to do well in physics. While taking this course, you may want to pick up additional texts and challenge yourself to do more advanced problems. It's often the self-motivated study that seperates the most successful students from the rest of the pack.
  4. Sep 1, 2009 #3
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Generally I would recommend one to do Calc based, but if it will lengthen your degree (as you'll need to be done with Calc first) than Algebra based is fine too. Algebra based physics isn't much different than Calc based anyway. Read detail in this thread.

    I think you should get Physics I and II out of the way first. Meanwhile, bump up your Mathematics course as far as possible! Since you already did College Algebra (although 5 years ago) i'm assuming you can jump right to Calculus I, in that case, get into it...don't waste your time redoing College Algebra, instead if you must review it yourself.

    So, semester wise:

    Physics I - Calc I
    Physics II - Calc II
    Calc III in summer (i think this is prerequisites for Physics III so it is very important you get done with this)
    Physics III - Differential Equations and Applied Linear Algebra

    no more math required, yay ;)

    { does your college enforce prerequisites? I know mine sometime does not...and i knew someone who did calc I and calc based physics I together. He did well in class actually. And someone else did calc based physics I and physics II together during summer...she did good too.}

    your college might offer 4 week courses during summer. i know some do calc i and cal ii during 8 week summer (4 week calc i and 4 week calc ii). It's very fast course but if you got to do then you got to do.
  5. Sep 1, 2009 #4
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Algebra based Physics I and II will NOT prepare you at all for calculus-based physics (which is 'real physics' and 98% of what a physics B.S. will consist of). Based on your dewcription of your job, you wouldn't really have an advantage in a physics B.S. program, but it wouldn't hinder you either. If you really like physics and are willing to put in the hard time to study the math (calculus I, II, III, and beyond) and all the extra physics courses, go for it. If you just want to do a physics B.S. because it sounds like fun or you think that it'll be easy because of the job you held previously, I would heavily discourage you. It's not for die-hard science gurus but it is only for people who understand that it is difficult, but achievable and are willing to put in a lot of time and effort. In short: it is not a 'just for kicks and giggles' degree.
  6. Sep 1, 2009 #5


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    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Just a sidebar note on the GI Bill. There is a 10 year limit on the benefits from your time of separation. For example if you were discharged 5 years ago...you only have 5 years left before the benefits are not payable (even though the funds may be available).

  7. Sep 1, 2009 #6
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Is there any particular reason you have choosen this CC? I would shop around a bit and see if you can do better. Perhaps also look at smaller branches of a large university. Often times the tuition will be lower than the main campus (but not always!).

    Also see if the university you are planning on finishing your degree at will accept algebra based physics for the physics major. At my school, calc based physics is a prereq for second year physics.
  8. Sep 1, 2009 #7


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    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Some schools do have a "transition path" for students who start out with algebra-physics but then decide to continue into a physics major. But you will definitely need to have taken at least a couple of semesters of calculus already, in order to proceed to the second-year courses.
  9. Sep 2, 2009 #8
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Wow! Thank you all for all the advice and info!

    The GI Bill has been revamped, for 2009. It is now called the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Many things changed, including the dealine of degree completion. It is now extended to 15 years. I used to hate the way it is set up. Now, with many new changes, it is actually a much better working program.

    I have chosen this CC, and University due to proximity of my family. Another reason I am quitting my job is due to some family issues. All in all, family issues, getting my degree, and hopefully bettering myself through education is my goal with this whole transition.

    I will definately look into whether or not the University will accept algebra based physics. It would indeed suck to find out that the courses at the CC are not even applicable to the university program.

    I understand that a physics degree is not just for kicks. I am actually really interested in physics, have been forever. I just never followed up on my interest with anything other than internet research and reading books on my spare time. A friend once said to me that if you can understand physics and chemistry, you unlock the world. Maybe that's not entirely true, but it lit a bulb in my head when he said it. Made me want to unlock the world for myself, if you know what I mean.

    I'm willing, and understand, that I will be dedicating many hours to study and concentration on subjects that I may not be entirely inclined to by natural skill. But I hope that my desire to learn, and ability to focus will help me complete the program.

    Thanks again for everyone's input! I think I'll be using this forum quit a bit in the upcoming months as I start my studies. Glad I found a good forum with people interested in, and willing to, help others!
  10. Sep 2, 2009 #9
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Are you sure physics is the right path for you and not an engineering degree of some sorts (like mechanical or electrical). I only say this because a 4 year Bsc in physics is not really employable if you want to work in the physics field. Considering your age, family (wife & kids) it might just be a better idea to get a Bas in an engineering field because if you decide not to peruse a MBA you're left in a much better position to get a well paying job after university.

    Anyways that’s just my two cents, best of luck in your future endeavours.
  11. Sep 2, 2009 #10
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Calculus based Physics is important - especially for Physics II. Although most people take Calculus I/Physics I together, and Calculus II/Physics II together, it's only after I finished Calculus I/II/Multivariate/Differential Equations that I really understood my Physics I/II textbook (and having Linear Algebra doesn't hurt for Physics II circuit labs).

    Make sure your Algebra/Pre-Calculus is really solid before starting off in Calculus I. I passed Calculus I with a horrible Pre-Calculus background - which led to failing Calculus II. When I finally went back to school I started off in Pre-Calculus, and then took Calculus I over again (despite having credits).

    You might also consider Electrical Engineering if you're interested in avionics.
  12. Sep 3, 2009 #11
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Semper Fi! (11 years in the Marine Corps).

    You might check with the universities you're considering for your BS to find out if they have a transfer agreement with local community colleges. My son is currently in such a program. He will complete his associates and then transfer 100% of his credits to the University of Houston where he will finish his bachelor's. It's certainly less expensive than doing all 4 years at a university.

    In any event, best of luck to you.
  13. Sep 3, 2009 #12
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    Thanks again everyone! I appreciate all the help. Semper Fi to you as well!

    I contacted the university. Head of the physics department told me that algebra based physics I and II at the CC would be sufficient to satisfy only physics I at the university. I was a little upset to hear that news, but understand it I guess.

    My new plan, is to take pre-cal, and physics I at the CC. Both are not requirements for the degree program abviously. But I agree that it is more important to make sure I have a good grasp of the material. I will hold off on taking physics II at the CC. I would rather use my time to fulfill GenEd courses, and maybe some business courses. But taking algebra based physics I at the CC should hopefully give me an understanding of the concepts, even if the math will be different. Precal should help me prepare for cal I, so I'm hoping I will be on the right path when I'm ready to transfer.

    The university has several degree options - general physics, physics/microelectronics, and a 3-2 program with 3 other universities. The 3-2 program is particularly intersting. Upon completeion, I would recieve a BS in physics from the first university, and the 2 years at the second university would provide an "appropriate" engineering degree. I'm still not sure what "appropriate" means, if it is a designation of AS or BS (maybe masters? but I doubt it), or if it is a designation of concentration mech, EE, comp sci, etc. I will find that out as well.

    But to be honest... I think I would rather go for a BS physics with mocroelectronics, and then pursue the 4+1 MBA program. The MBA program is deisgned for non business majors who minor in business, such as myself hopefully! I enjoy the semiconductor business, although I think it may be in a steady decline. Applied Materials is also very invested in solar, so possibly once I finish my schooling I will try to re-enter Applied Materials solar group. Hopefully in a few more years, the economy will improve some and there will be more investment and purcahsing in the area of solar development and manufacturing. At any rate, schooling is first!
  14. Sep 4, 2009 #13
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    so you want to start university from Physics II and Calc I? That's going to hurt you 2 semester. You can't get into Physics II w/o having completed Calc I and Calc II. So for first two semester, you won't be doing any Physics...which means you'll most likely forget Physics I stuff by the time you do Physics II.

    If you want to do good in Physics, you need to be well ahead in Maths. If the requirement is Calc II, you should be done with Calc III...and yes Calc III helps for Physics II.

    i personally don't see point in repeating precalc. I never took precalc but from what i heard Calc I is easier than precalc. You'll need to put extra effort on it but heak it will be worth it.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2009
  15. Sep 5, 2009 #14
    Re: Already an "Engineer": quitting for school, need help!!

    No. Due to location, I only have one CC, and one university I can attend. I know I "could" find others to go to, but for my situation, these are what I have to work with, so I will make them work for what I want to get out of them.

    The highest level math offered at the CC is precalc. I have never taken precalc, just college algebra several years ago. Taking a math, that is not required, so I can brush up on basic skills, and prepare for cal I, is the way I'm going to go I guess. If I don't take precalc, then I will be jumping right into calculus after many years of not practicing math at all. Not a smart idea in my head.

    I will be taking algebra based physics I at the CC, but only physics I. I think that even though the math will be different from calculus based, the same fundamental concepts should be covered. When I go to the university, I will re-take physics I, but calculus based.

    So when I go the the university, I will be starting out with physics I and cal I.

    Basically, I will be taking two classes at CC that will not do me any good, credit-wise. Neither precalc or algebra based physics I will provide me credits towards the degree program at the university. I am taking them though, because they are the best choices for preparation I can choose, at the CC I will be attending.

    I will be filling my other credits with chem I/II, GenEd cousres, and if I still have space, some more business courses. I already have english I/II, ancient world history, spanish, and 4 business courses.
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