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Calc 1, Chem 1, Physics 1 in one semester

  1. May 28, 2014 #1
    So I am attending Northeastern University as a Physics major and this fall will be my first semester. This year in high school I took AP Calculus AB, AP Chem, and physics honors. Unfortunately a month and a half before the AP exams I had a family issue that required me to miss A LOT of class, basically a month straight. As a result I was a month behind in ap work and did not take the exams this year. Im trying to figure out if taking Calc 1, Chem 1, and Physics 1 all in my first semester will be too difficult or hurt my gpa. I think I have a fairly good understanding of calculus from senior year, as for chemistry I kind of floated through the class and don't really have a good grasp on chem. Any input?
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  3. May 28, 2014 #2
    If you are comfortable with limits, integration, differentiation, L'Hospital's rule, and a few other simple things, then you don't need to worry about calculus.

    But chemistry and physics together on your first semester? That sounds suicidal. The workload is heavy, and the content will be deeper than most AP courses.

    Edit: The main thing is that I wouldn't recommend such a load for your first semester, or even your second. After that you probably won't have much trouble adapting to heavy loads.

    If you are really confident, though, it may not be so bad.
  4. May 28, 2014 #3


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    I would save physics for later, take calc 1 and chem, and if you have any social science/humanities classes you need to knock out take one of those in place of physics.
  5. May 28, 2014 #4


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    Many undergrad engineering programs have students taking Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics in the first semester right out of the gate. And the chemistry and physics courses make you do labs as well! The nerve of some people!

    Look, if you want to get your undergraduate degree before you are 25, you will have some semesters which have a tougher course load than others. The first semester work in the intro calc, chem, and phys courses can be covered to a large extent by HS honors classes.

    Your HS classes in these subjects probably were year-long, and while missing a month toward the end of the year is unfortunate, you should be able to catch up in your college work. Imagine if you had not taken any calculus at all in HS and were trying to learn it for the first time at college! I have known people in that situation, and while their first semester was incredibly tough, they managed to survive.

    If you have a tough time with the intro courses in these subjects, it could be a signal of things to come. The more advanced courses in your major will be much more difficult.
  6. May 28, 2014 #5
    What you say is true, SteamKing, but I tend to think that the first semester is especially hard due to the huge change of habits it demands right away. Having to deal with the adjustment and having a packed semester sounds very difficult.

    I'm one of the ones who started with no experience in calculus, although I at least had a rough idea about limits. The newness of the material made Calc. I my most difficult math class (differential equations seemed like a breeze compared to it since I at least knew the core ideas), but I still came out of it pretty well despite having a busy semester.

    But, I think that if I suddenly forgot everything from that semester and had to redo it, it would be much easier now because I know how to study and work more effectively than I did then.
  7. May 28, 2014 #6

    George Jones

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    Isn't it standard for a physics majors to take physics, chemistry, and calculus in the first semester? Wouldn't a delay in taking first-year physics cause problems in second-year, i.e., don't second-year physics courses have phys I and II as prerequisites?

    Maybe things are different in Canada (where I am) than in the U.S.

    Way, way back, I had to take physics, chemistry, calculus, and computer programming in the first semester,
  8. May 28, 2014 #7
    I don't know about Physics majors... but is is it really necessary to knock out chemistry right away?

    My first semester as an engineering major was orientation, programming, chemistry, calculus, and English. It was just as necessary for me to knock out English in the first year as chemistry (which, for my major, has no direct follow-up courses).

    Edit: However, the calculus-physics-chemistry trifecta is four credits each here.

    Edit 2: I suppose I could also be magnifying the difficulty a bit. I came out of that first semester with an A, and the fear that dogged me was that of getting a B in my first semester, not of failing. I suppose that is a bit irrational. Putting that into perspective, it really wasn't so bad, but the stress was very real.
    Last edited: May 29, 2014
  9. May 29, 2014 #8


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    Why do you want to do all three in the first semester? The NU physics department's sample curriculum for both the 4-year and 5-year physics BS degrees have you taking the following courses in the fall semester of the first year:

    • Phys 1000 Intro to College
    • Phys 1161/2/3 Physics 1 (Lab/Rec)
    • Math 1341 Calculus 1
    • Engl 1111 College Writing
    • plus one "NU Core" course (which I assume is general education)
    with chemistry starting in the fall semester of the second year.

  10. May 29, 2014 #9
    I more curious if this is common and not extremely difficult thing to do. Plus from all the sample curriculum's on Northeastern's Physics website have you taking ENGL 1111 which I am exempt from. So I would need to take Physics 1, Calc 1, my humanities course, and a useless elective course. I was just contemplating switching the elective for chem. Plus on the sample programs they have you taking Calc 3 in the summer, which I dont think I can do. Which would push calc 3 onto first semester of sophomore year along with then chem and electronics.
  11. May 29, 2014 #10


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    At my CC (and the university I'm transferring to this fall), calculus is a prerequisite for physics. I can't be for sure that they would let him take the two concurrently since he has no official credit for his AP calculus course.
    EDIT: Of course, I don't know if that's the case at his school.

    Also, where I'm at it's typical for students to take physics the second year. I took it my first year because I had dual credit calculus in high school.
  12. May 29, 2014 #11
    If calculus is a prerequisite, then he should be taking calculus first, so I agree.
    But if it's just algebra-based physics, then he can and should take it together with calculus.
  13. May 29, 2014 #12
    I agree with that. Since he's a physics major, though, I'd be surprised if he or she were allowed to take algebra-based physics.
  14. May 29, 2014 #13


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    I didn't see this. So it appears calculus is not a prerequisite at this school since they expect students to take physics and calc at the same time.

    On further inspection of the course description, it states that it physics may be taken concurrently with calculus. Although it is still technically a prerequisite. So I was wrong.

  15. May 29, 2014 #14


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    Some schools make calculus a pre-requisite for calculus-based intro physics. Some schools make it a co-requisite, that is, you can take calculus either before or alongside the physics course.

    Northeastern falls into the second group, as indicated by their sample curriculum and by the course description which I looked up. Physics 1161 is calculus-based, and Math 1341 may be taken concurrently.

    (Now I see that esuna was looking at the course description at the same time that I was!)
  16. May 29, 2014 #15
    OK, so we've cleared up that calculus is a co-requisite, so you don't really need to know it beforehand. In that case, I certainly recommend you to take both calculus and physics the first semester.

    I would not recommend taking chemistry as well, since you don't know how much you can handle yet. Maybe do calculus and physics and then some other (light) science course? Or maybe some gen eds?
  17. May 29, 2014 #16


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    Physics, calc, orientation, and a humanities should be enough to put you at full time, right? I would stick with that.
  18. May 29, 2014 #17


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    At most colleges on the semester system, four courses per semester is usually "full time" as far as eligibility for financial aid is concerned, but it's not enough for finishing a degree in four years unless you take some courses in summer school or as overloads later on.

    At the college where I work, students need 122 semester hours in order to graduate: 8 semesters times 5 courses per semester times 3 hours per typical course, plus 2 hours of phys ed. If you have a lot of lab courses (an extra hour each), you can cut out a couple of 3-hour courses and still reach the minimum.
  19. May 29, 2014 #18


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    I know everyone has different demands on their time... part-time jobs, family commitments, athletics... but we're talking about three first-year science classes here. If you're serious about pursuing physics (or really any of the physical sciences), taking calculus, physics and chemistry all at once should not present a major obstacle to you. And if it does, it's a lot better to find that out in first year than to find out later on when you'll come up against far greater challenges.
  20. May 30, 2014 #19
    I don't know how it goes in the US, but here in Europe first year students of Physics will learn just about zero Physics in first year, but rather have two semesters full of mathematics. (This is the same for Engineers)
  21. May 30, 2014 #20
    That is not my experience as a European.
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