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Courses Amount of Classes Each Semester

  • Thread starter fishfriend
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Hi!

I'm unsure of what major to pick as an undergrad (physics vs. quantitative biology vs. mathematics), but I'm not too worried at the moment about the major at the moment - I'll do an evaluation at the end of this semester to determine where my strengths and interests are. What I'm more concerned about is finishing in four years. Is 3, perhaps sometimes 4, STEM classes in one semester normal/doable? I'll be finished with my gen eds so the only classes I would have would be the 3-4 STEM classes per. semester. And then eventually, hopefully, undergrad research.
 

symbolipoint

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Three or four in a semester are very doable. The one-semester time limit to decide on major field is unfair to yourself. You might need more terms than just one single semester. You may also need 5 or 6 years to graduate in whatever you pick. (Wisdom does not always come quickly, and you cannot let counselors decide your major field for you.)
 

Dr. Courtney

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I usually recommend the fewest courses each semester that allow the student to maintain full time status and graduate in 4 years. For students who start college without any college credits (earned through AP or dual enrollment or similar), that's usually 15-16 credit hours each semester. For students who start with some credits, that can be closer to 12 credit hours. The motive is to maintain a course load that allows research and enough time to maintain a good GPA.

Loading up on the STEM classes in one term can be harder in certain cases. More than 1 lab course can be a big time sink. Some combinations of math and physics courses can be a challenge, since one has fewer opportunities to "switch gears" during study times.
 

Choppy

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There's no one-size-fits-all answer for a question like this. A lot depends on how you study, what the typical course load is in your program, whether the courses tend to compliment each other, what your other commitments are (job, family obligations, volunteer work, etc.), and how much social and down time you need to function at your peak. That's not to mention the fact that as an undergrad, you should be exploring as much as you can.

For some students, reducing the course load (or STEM-specific course load) can backfire. If you try to minimize the courses you want to take in favour of those you think are going to be easy, you can end up in courses that are (i) more challenging that you thought, and (ii) are difficult to motivate yourself for because you didn't want to be there in the first place.

For me, I usually did best when I had four STEM courses and one non-STEM course in a semester. I did about 12 hours of volunteer work per week (about half of which I could study through), but otherwise didn't have any major commitments.

One way to look at this might be to figure out, in an ideal world, what courses you would take each semester. And then go and speak with your academic advisor to get his or her opinion on how manageable that particular course load would be given your circumstances.
 

DEvens

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Your school should have a class calendar. This is a book that describes all the classes offered, all the degree programs offered, what is required to get in and what is required to graduate. Read it carefully. You should also be talking to a guidance person or prof at your school. They will be able to tell you about what classes you need to take to reach your goals. Every school is different. What they think is a suitable workload and what classes they think are required for each kind of degree are different. Also, what they think is required to move onto the next level of activity or degree program etc. will be different.

It would be sad if you took 3 classes, for example, and came up one class short to graduate in 4 years. And it would also be sad if you missed taking a particular class that is required to take a later class that you really want to take.

Dr. Courtney is giving good advice. On the other hand, it might be your last chance to take many of the classes available. When I was in undergrad I treated it as an "all you can learn" buffet. I had 37 contact hours per week my first year, including labs and tutorials. That was too much. But I enjoyed it. In later years I cut that down by a lot. If I recall, in third year I had about 20 contact hours per week, including labs and tutorials.
 
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Most 4 year degree programs require you to take 10 x 1 semester courses per year for 4 years equalling 40 courses (regardless of how many 'credits' are assigned to each course). Requirements for your major can vary from school to school but the number of courses you take each year dedicated to your major will have a recommended progression and relies on you having the proper prerequisites from the previous year. I'm not sure what qualifies as "gen-eds" at your school but I'm going to assume that in your first 2 years you need to take some sort of introductory physics and math courses that provide the foundation for your courses in years 3 and 4. The more those initial 2 years allow a broad base of courses, the more concentrated in your major the last 2 years are going to need to be. I think it makes more sense to spread out gen-ed requirements across all 4 years instead of front loading them. This allows for a more balanced course load. On the other hand it also requires you to make a definitive decision regarding your major of choice by the end of your first year.

At the school my son attends the Honours B.Sc. in Physics generally requires 27-32 courses in the major (which includes the mandatory support courses in math and other sciences) out of the 40 courses which leaves 8-13 courses for exploration of other interests (they don't have mandatory gen-eds). The higher course count (32) is for students intending to pursue graduate studies and includes some additional recommended course specific electives. This basically works out to 3-4 STEM + 1-2 free elective courses per semester depending on whether a student intends to pursue graduate school or not.

As an example my son's program requires:
1st year - 2 x Physics/2 x Chemistry/2 x Calculus/1 x Linear Algebra/1 x approved science/2 x free electives
2nd year - 6 x Physics/1 x Calculus/1 x Intro to Differential Equations/2 x free electives
3rd year - 4 x Physics/2 x Mathematical Physics/2 x program electives/2 x free electives
4th year - 3 x Physics/7 x electives (5 of which are recommended program electives if students intend to pursue grad school)
 
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ZapperZ

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Hi!

I'm unsure of what major to pick as an undergrad (physics vs. quantitative biology vs. mathematics), but I'm not too worried at the moment about the major at the moment - I'll do an evaluation at the end of this semester to determine where my strengths and interests are. What I'm more concerned about is finishing in four years. Is 3, perhaps sometimes 4, STEM classes in one semester normal/doable? I'll be finished with my gen eds so the only classes I would have would be the 3-4 STEM classes per. semester. And then eventually, hopefully, undergrad research.
Have you asked your academic advisor about this?

We can't tell you any one answer, because what if you are not as bright as we think you are, and you are struggling with the courses you currently have? How about if the school is full of brilliant students and you won't get A's unless you are in the 90 percentile range for the course?

There are a lot of variables that we don't know, and many of these things may not be something you wish to share with strangers on an internet forum. So why not either ask your advisor, or even a professor that you think is friendly enough to give you a friendly advice? He/she will know not only more about you, but also know the standards and level of classes that you are about to take, and also know what previous students have done and gone through. These are not something that we here are privy to.

Zz.
 
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We can't tell you any one answer, because what if you are not as bright as we think you are, and you are struggling with the courses you currently have? How about if the school is full of brilliant students and you won't get A's unless you are in the 90 percentile range for the course?
The OP didn't mention any requirements to get 'A's', just to finish in 4 years.
 
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The OP didn't mention any requirements to get 'A's', just to finish in 4 years.
Finishing in 4 years implies passing those courses, not necessarily getting 'A's in them. I think that was @ZapperZ's main concern.
 
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@ZapperZ wrote
How about if the school is full of brilliant students and you won't get A's unless you are in the 90 percentile range for the course?
I don't see how that is relevant. There's a big difference between passing a course and getting 90's.
 

ZapperZ

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@ZapperZ wrote I don't see how that is relevant. There's a big difference between passing a course and getting 90's.
Wow! You took two separate posts and quoting almost the same thing that I wrote twice, and ignored what Mark44 tried to explain.

I have never seen a student who aimed to just pass, doing well in school. Worse still, if this is your major area, and you get a "C" in intro classes, how well do you think you'll do in later courses that require the knowledge from those classes? And besides, if this is the area that you have chosen, who here do not want to aim for an "A" in such a class? Since when do we strive for mediocrity?

So yes, it IS relevant!

Zz.
 
Thank you all for the replies! Apologies for not getting back to you all sooner, it's been a busy week!

To clarify, I was just asking for what other people have done/seen. I know other people's experiences will never match-up with my own, however I was really curious about how other people have done with x or y amount of STEM classes per semester. Apologies if this wasn't immediately clear in my post.
 
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@ZapperZ
I have never seen a student who aimed to just pass, doing well in school. Worse still, if this is your major area, and you get a "C" in intro classes, how well do you think you'll do in later courses that require the knowledge from those classes? And besides, if this is the area that you have chosen, who here do not want to aim for an "A" in such a class? Since when do we strive for mediocrity?

So yes, it IS relevant!
Are you seriously saying that the only students who graduate are A students, that unless you get 90's in introductory courses you should just drop out of college? Lots of students are mediocre and guess what? They graduate. I still maintain that whether or not you get 90's in your first year courses is not a relevant indicator as to whether or not you should major in that area. It may take more work and struggle on your part but not everything comes easy in life and you don't have to be brilliant to major in Physics.
 

ZapperZ

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@ZapperZ

Are you seriously saying that the only students who graduate are A students, that unless you get 90's in introductory courses you should just drop out of college? Lots of students are mediocre and guess what? They graduate. I still maintain that whether or not you get 90's in your first year courses is not a relevant indicator as to whether or not you should major in that area. It may take more work and struggle on your part but not everything comes easy in life and you don't have to be brilliant to major in Physics.
Read what I wrote.

I said "AIMED", not graduate or getting.

If physics is your major, do you seriously take a physics class and AIM to just pass? It means that you barely understood some of the material that you learned, and then you hope to use that meager understanding for more advanced physics classes?

If I grade my course and curve it according to students performance, those who aim to "just pass" often will not in a class where there brilliant students.

You cannot go into a class and aim to just pass. It leaves no room for error, and if you crash in the final exam, you crash the whole course! I've seen that happened way too many times where students just aim for a "C" in a physics course so that they can get on to apply for med. school. This often did not end where they thought.

This has NOTHING to do with students ending up graduating as A students or not.

Zz.
 

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