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Calculus w/ Analytic Geometry vs. Calculus for Engineers

  1. Jan 26, 2014 #1
    Hello PF! After months of eye shopping, I couldn't help but join this awesome community myself. I am a high school senior entering college soon, who is very excited to take college-level physics! I've done some research of what classes I should take, and came upon a conflict of scheduling.

    Basically, the problem is this: if I am to take Calculus w/ Analytic Geometry III, which is what a physics major is expected to take, I'd have to take it from a professor who's reputation is very meager. But in exchange, the class will focus more on theories and proofs, which is what I need as a physics major. Also the required recitation classes will help me better understand the topics covered (although the reason why I came to this conflict was because of the requisite to attend the recitation classes).

    On the other hand, I could take Calculus for Engineers III. If I am to take this alternative route, I will be able to learn from a professor who is much more well-reputed than the aforementioned. However, the price to pay would be the lack of theory and proof-based education and recitation classes. And analytic geometry, if I'll ever need that.

    I am well aware that what you get from a class is what you put into it; that who teaches doesn't and shouldn't matter (and that ratings from ratemyprofessor.com shouldn't dictate the quality of an instructor). However, I also have been informed many times that who teaches you is very important in college. And although the first statement is true, I feel as if my academic accomplishment relied much upon the instructors during the past years.

    And I also feel as if no one else are more qualified than the many experts I've seen here, the Physics Forum. I'll be honored, and will greatly appreciate any advice I can get.

    Thank you for your time and consideration!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 26, 2014 #2


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    When you get to college you will have an advisor - they are the perfect person to ask since they know the particular university you are at and will have much more information than you or any of us has at this point. If you already know your major will be physics then it will be a physics professor, who will really know what you should take and why.

    I can tell that you are excited to start college, which is good! My advice is to keep up with your studies this last semester, and make sure you enjoy high school.

  4. Jan 26, 2014 #3
    It is hard for us to help you because the names of the classes alone does not tell much about what you will actually be covering. Maybe if you could post the topics being covered in each, then we could be of more assistance. I am assuming they are both essentially vector/multivariable calculus?

    Though I am still an undergrad, I will share my opinions based on my experiences. First, I think the quality of the professor is VERY important. A professor who can present things in a structured and appealing way will do wonders for your interest in the course.

    Second, do not be so quick to shrug off the engineering version of the course. As a physics major, I am yet to make use of any (rigorous) mathematical proofs in solving problems in my upper division courses. In fact, I think the most challenging part has been taking the often abstract mathematical ideas from my math courses and applying them to real physical problems. If you ever have the chance to take a physics course called "Mathematical Methods for Physics" or something similar, I would highly suggest it. You will see the difference in mathematical rigor that I am talking about. Often mathematicians see physicists as "sloppy" with their mathematics... Which is often true: You get much more hand-waving in physics and (often imprecise) physical descriptions for mathematical expressions that you might not take the time to analyze in detail in your math classes, an example being physical significance of curl and divergence.

    Additionally, physicists often use approximations which are "good enough" for analyzing a physical problem where as mathematicians scoff at this imprecision. You will often find yourself using a taylor expansion and keeping only the first term or two in your physics courses. Additionally, you will often hear the expression, "for small angle approximation"... but HOW small is sufficient?

    Anyways you can see how different the two worlds can be. This is really just a long-winded way of saying that maybe the engineering version might actually be useful if some physical intuition is introduced alongside the mathematics.
  5. Jan 26, 2014 #4


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    Do the official requirements for the physics degree require you to take Calculus w/ Analytic Geometry, or do they allow you to take Calculus for Engineers instead?
  6. Jan 26, 2014 #5
    @jasonRF: at times I just get so much eager to go to college, that I fantasize too deeply into it: what fine art classes should I take? What kind of friends should I aim to make? What should be my social life to physics ratio? And by the time I realize, I have an optimized first semester schedule, a shopping list for needed textbooks, and am reading reviews of schools and classes and teachers and stuff, that I probably wouldn't need for the next half of a year! Then (from your answer) I realize that there's no need for a rush, and everything is aligned for the coming days. As you said, I think the present is the most thing I should consider now. Thank you for your genuine answer.

    @jbrussel93: I see. What I was afraid was having less basic mathematical intuition by the time I get to upper level physics, but it looks like application is the harder and the more emphasized part when it comes down to it.

    Quite frankly, I've lasted of words to say to you. At time to time I asked questions at college confidential, and even then you've answered many of my questions with the exact "aspects" I was looking for (which were personal experiences), and here I see you, in a different forum, again with the answers I was looking for. Every decision I have made in regard to college so far your input always had great input on it, and I can't thank you enough for that.

    @jtbell: yes, you can take either calc w/ analytic geometry or calculus for engineers. Which is great, because it leaves the students with so many classes to choose from, especially in a very large state university.
  7. Jan 27, 2014 #6
    That is a valid concern. I would still consult your academic advisor and see what physics majors "typically" take. For me, the trouble was finding the physical intuition to back my mathematical intuition. For others, the reverse is true.

    Thank you for your kind words. It made my day :)
    I recall not too long ago being in the same shoes, asking many questions on the forums, so I like to help when I can. I too appreciated the personal experiences.

    You remind me of myself before I started college. With as much enthusiasm as you have, you will be just fine ;)

    (Also, PF>>CC)
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2014
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