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Astrophysics major behind in classes, feeling depressed

  1. Sep 2, 2011 #1
    Hi everyone, I may be being a bit dramatic about this but I feel extremely cruddy right now. I am (technically) a junior in college at the moment. I say technically because my first year was at community college where I not only didn't take 12 hours each semester (full time) but some of those classes didn't transfer to my 4-year University I transferred to the next year and now still attend. I am now in my second year here, and have decided after a little back and forth last semester (spring) that I want to stick to my passion for Astronomy and remain an Astrophysics major as I had orginially intended. Which means I'm a very late declaring major. This semester, I enrolled in the 'Pre-calculus with Trigonometry' course that is a prerequisite to Calc I which is needed before Physics I can be taken (or they can be taken simultaneously). The problem is, I haven't taken any math course since fall semester of Junior year in high school. Count em' folks that's 1,2,3,4 years on the dot that I haven't had a lick of math hit the page of any of my notebooks. On top of that, I was not anywhere near a high performing student in my math classes in high school. In fact, I was always bordering the low C line.

    Naturally, jumping from my Algebra 2 class that I hardly payed attention to Junior year of High School to College Precal with Trigonometry a full 4 years later is quite the jump. In fact, I might as well have never taken any math in my life, because the amount I retained from my most recent encounter with it 4-years ago is null. The second week of Pre cal with Trig comes to a close today, and its just entirely too much for me. I am picking up these concepts from scratch, every single one of them. The first week we flew through a review of all of geometry and algebra, which means I had to learn all of that in one week from scratch. I've decided today that I think staying in this class is just asking for a major blow to my gpa which I can not afford. I have decided to drop this class, enroll in 'Fundamentals of Algebra' instead, study my butt off to get my math brain working again and then take another shot at Pre-Cal with Trig in the spring. I just feel embarrassed and depressed about the whole thing though, being that I can't even take my first physics course at least until I'm taking Cal I which would mean at best (considering I take fundmentals of algebra now, precal w/ trig in the spring) I would be taking Physics I in what would technically be the fall semester of my senior year...

    I'm embarrassed that anyone in my department would find out I'm so behind, and I'm embarrassed to tell my advisor who is a physics professor about my situation. I feel like I'm destroying my College life right now.

    EDIT: I suppose I should add this as well. I'm currently 20, will be 21 in about a month. So I suppose I'm not too old, I just feel extremely behind.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2011 #2
    Definitely have a serious talk with your advisor, be honest about your academic level and see what he suggests. Seriously consider hiring a private tutor(s) during the course and over vacations to whip you up into shape and lay a good foundation, your advisor or profs may even be able to recommend very good ones. I know mine did.

    FWIW, I spent 3-4 years without doing anything math or physics before taking university-level calculus, linear algebra & calculus-based physics all at once, among other courses. (I had already taken calculus in high-school, but that was a good 4 years beforehand). So it can be done, cheer up and get to work!
  4. Sep 2, 2011 #3


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    I agree that you should talk to your advisor. Attempting to take a physics (or astrophysics) degree when you have little ability in maths sounds like a very poor choice to me. Also, if you continue down this path, you say you will be taking your first physics class in your final year of college. When do you intend to take all the other intermediate and advanced physics courses?
  5. Sep 2, 2011 #4
    Thanks very much for the encouragement! I will set up a meeting with my advisor, as I know its for the best, he's just not much of a warm fuzzy, and can be a bit arrogant. I suppose I'm just a bit worried about him discussing it with other professors in the department. I'll also look into tutors, who I will very much need.

    I think it still may be best for me to drop the Precal with Trig for now and try again in the spring. Technically, Physics I is only offered in the fall at my school, so I'll have to wait until then either way.
  6. Sep 2, 2011 #5

    What do you mean exactly? I intended to stick to this degree, its what I love. I'm just going to have to put hard work in. I do have little understanding in math at the moment, but I believe I can do it. I just have to put the work in.

    Taking physics in the fall is not my choice, its the only time its offered. Considering I dont have Cal I under my belt or am currently taking it, I have to wait until I will be able to, which would be in the fall..as for my other intermediate and advanced courses, I'll just have to take as soon as I can (simultaneously if possible and during all summer sections) This will of courses mean I will probably be a 5th/6th year senior. Hence why I'm feeling depressed.
  7. Sep 2, 2011 #6
    I think by senior year he meant his 4th year in college, at his current rate. It goes without saying that he won't be graduating in 4-years if he has to take all those preliminaries.

    If you think your advisor is unhelpful, speak with a different one or a prof you trust.

    My recommendation: don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today. Take your precal with trig now, this is a good opportunity to work hard with a private tutor and master the subject. You apparently won't gain anything by postponing it you might as well start busting your *** today and start increasing your "pain threshold".
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2011
  8. Sep 2, 2011 #7


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    As I was reading your post, I was thinking, "Oh this person should drop down to a math class that's more appropriate!" So I was glad to see that that was exactly what you did. Kudos for recognizing you were over your head, and having the courage to do what you needed to do.

    You shouldn't feel embarrassed at all. I skipped a lot of my high school years...actually a lot of middle school too. Then when I was 19 or so I decided I really should go to college. I had to start with "Intro to Algebra" - probably what a typical 7th or 8th grader studies. It took a while, but I ended up with a BS in physics.

    Just focus on what you're studying at the moment - don't think too much about the classes you still have to take or how long it will take. It can be done, just keep at it.
  9. Sep 2, 2011 #8


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    You don't get kicked out after 4 years. You either keep going until you complete all the requirements for a degree and graduate, or you drop out. The college doesn't care (typically).
  10. Sep 2, 2011 #9

    Due to the structure of courses offered at my school, there's really no point in remaining in Precal with Trig. Let me try illustrate it a little better.

    To get into Physics I, I have to either have taken Cal I or be taking it simultaneously. Physics I (for students in the physical sciences) is only offered in the fall from my understanding. Fundamentals of Algebra is not a prereq for Precal with Trig. So then here are my options:

    '11 Fall | '12 Spring | '12 Fall

    1. Precal with Trig | Cal I | Physics I

    2. Fundamentals of Algebra | Precal With Trig | Cal I & Physics I

    3. Nothing | Precal With Trig | Cal I & Physics I

    I hope that kind of clears things up. So really, the only advantage in staying in Precal with Trig (1.) is not having to take Physics I and Cal I simultaneously. But that carries the risk of failing, hurting my gpa, and just putting me right back on the '12 Spring section of options 2 or 3. I'm opting for option 2 at this point, as I feel it would be the best for me.
  11. Sep 2, 2011 #10
    Lisab is right (as usual): kudos to you for dropping to college algebra. You probably wouldn't have been able to handle precalc.

    But study hard now and in the future, and you will get there! It's a matter of time and persistence.

    Also, maybe you can take college algebra now, and perhaps take algebra-based physics next semester?? That way you can have an introduction to physics soon??
  12. Sep 2, 2011 #11

    Thank you, and I will definitely be studying very hard to catch up. Also, as for your bold, it seems I'm in a difficult situation and will only be able to take a physics course in the summer at the soonest. All of the courses offered in the spring are second semester courses meaning I would need to take the first semester class which is offered in the fall (now). :frown:

    Edit: And by all, I mean the strict Physics I courses for students in physical sciences as well as all the General Physics classes. Everything in the spring is the II section of those classes.
  13. Sep 2, 2011 #12
    First of all, relax. I guarantee you you'll be fine. Why do I know that? Because you're posting here - that shows you genuinely want to do well in what you do. This cannot be said about many people.

    Here is what you need to do:
    - Get rid of a distraction in your life and spend that time studying instead. Maybe it's wasting an hour per day on some website or whatever, or watching extra TV. But just get rid of something.

    - Now you hopefully have some time left in your day for studying. I will tell you right now that you can absolutely completely finish pre-calc and almost all of calculus in 2 or 3 months with not too much studying. Precalc is almost like an advanced version of algebra. You should be able to learn Algebra just by trying to learn precalc, especially now that you are in an algebra class. So I wouldn't worry about not having algebra experience. I'm sure you'll pick it up along the way.

    The first thing you should do is start watching the Precalculus video set on Khan Academy, which you can find here: http://www.khanacademy.org/#precalculus .

    That's all of precalculus, right there. He gets through the entire Precalculus course in about 10 hours and does it very well. With that, though, you need to find some practice problems. I recommend searching for some online. You don't need to do too many, maybe spend like 10-20 minutes a day on them. If you watch 4 of those videos a day and do 15 minutes of practice problems a day, you can get done with it in 11 days. And you will understand it well.

    Now that that's done, apply a similar methodology with the Calculus video set on Khan Academy. For practice problems for a supplement to this playlist, I recommend "Paul's online notes" (search google). For example, if you are on the chain rule for derivatives, search google for "pauls online notes chain rule" and what you want will come up.

    Seriously, that's it. When you're done with calculus, you can do the same thing for linear algebra or differential equations or whatever. I actually enjoy watching the videos on Khan Academy, they are excellent. When I went through the playlist, I was always thinking, "Is this really calculus? I didn't know it was this easy." The truth is, it is calculus (that is covered very thoroughly), and the guy just teaches it really well.

    I really hope you at least try my advice because I think you will be all caught up in math easily. But again, the first thing you need to worry about before physics is math. Once you are ahead in math relative to where you are in physics, physics becomes much easier and more fun.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2011
  14. Sep 3, 2011 #13


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    That's a really bizarre system. In fact, having someone in university registered on a physics degree without having taken a single maths class for the past 4 years is even more bizarre. In the UK that just wouldn't happen.

    But, regardless, I'm still not sure that 'passion' for a subject is enough to succeed. And how is this passion evidenced in this case? The OP has not taken any maths classes, and therefore presumably hasn't taken any physics classes, for the past 4 years. How is this being passionate about the subject?

    I'm not trying to be discouraging, but I don't like to see people wasting their time. Maths is the language of physics: if you can't grasp maths then you will not be able to study physics. The OP needs to ask himself why he was a borderline low C grade student in maths at high school, and what has happened that will change this in the future.
  15. Sep 3, 2011 #14


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    Almost all private colleges in the US require you graduate in 4 years. Public schools will let you go longer, but at private schools, it's not an option. To make sure people can do this, you have to meet with an academic adviser several times a year to make sure you're on track to graduate on time, and they won't let you pick up a new major within two years of graduation.
  16. Sep 3, 2011 #15
    Just typed a very lengthy response, and the system logged me out. Very frustrated about that and can't remember everything I said so this will be a short and blunt response.

    It's discouraging to see you opting to advise a young student to not even try as opposed to encouraging them to work hard and giving advice relevant to their question as everyone else did.

    Luckily I'm not as young as I used to be (although I'm still very young), or I might have actually entertained advice such as yours and convinced myself that my love for the subject, self confidence, and willingness to work as hard as I can still aren't good enough to succeed. I hope in the future you won't be as discouraging to others who share the same passion as I assume all on this board do; astronomy and physics.

    I strongly recommend you re-read the thread, to find the answers to the questions you've asked here in this post. It doesn't seem you've really read much of anything.

    I haven't been on the physics degree for the past 4 years, I explained that in the OP, look at it. This will also reveal why I haven't taken math in the past four years.

    Also, I have taken 3 astronomy courses while in college thus far, getting high A's in each one, so haven't been sitting around on my butt. I've been taking classes relevant to the field, enjoying them, and getting high marks in each. The rest of my time has been spent on core work, which has subsequently allowed me to basically be finished with that now. Unfortunately I haven't been taking math courses which has disallowed me to take the strict physics courses.
  17. Sep 3, 2011 #16
    Community colleges do students a great disservice by making their classes so easy. I spent a year at community college before transferring to a 4 year university, and the transition was extremely difficult. The calculus courses at CC went in nowhere near as much depth as those at the 4-year, and my classmates were also far smarter at the 4-year school, which made for harder curves etc.

    It would be interesting to see the data on how CC transfers do at 4-year schools, because in my situation, CC did not remotely prepare me for schoolwork at University.
  18. Sep 3, 2011 #17
    I could not agree more with this. My transition has been difficult as well. CC seemed to basically be a second year being a high school senior.
  19. Sep 3, 2011 #18
    I think cristo has a point here. If I were in your shoes I wouldn't be embarrassed that I started so late and accept that I am behind in math. I would start with confidence while still being cautious of my ability and read books in the library on algebra to prepare for a challenging road ahead. You haven't done much to fix your math problem and that makes me suspicious. I recommend you take the easier math course and somehow gather more drive to study math on your own time even if it might be dry and hard. The physics majors in my college all work hard to push themselves and you should too.
  20. Sep 3, 2011 #19
    This is such a sweeping generalization and I'm not completely buying it. Some of the classes in our CC are harder than your typical universities. I think a lot of it depends on the professor.

    I was helping my friend with her pre-calculus take-home tests in the summer and I could do them with no hands. To mention, she was from a university.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2011
  21. Sep 3, 2011 #20


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    Would you rather that I told you that if you do some work you can succeed, or would you rather I gave my advice, from experience. You've posted this on a forum, so I'm presuming that you actually want some advice, and that you don't just want to be told what you want to hear. If the former, then why did you bother posting in the first place?

    You said that you went to a community college, and that the classes did no transfer. You then said that you had a little back and forth and decided to remain as an astrophysics major. This doesn't explain why you haven't taken any maths courses: mathematics is fundamental to physics and astrophysics.

    This doesn't make any sense. How have you been taking courses 'relevant to the field', and been focusing on 'core work'? What does the latter even mean? You cannot become competent in astrophysics without learning mathematics, and it seems that you have tried to shirk maths as much as possible.

    Anyway, I'm done with this. You clearly don't want advice, and you just want someone to tell you to continue doing what you're doing. Maybe, after having done so, you will learn to actually listen to advice in future.
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