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Choosing between Economics and Physics

  1. Jul 8, 2012 #1
    I'm a new forum member and a rising college freshman. I'm currently planning on studying Economics in college (and getting a BA, not a BS) but, honestly, I like Physics a lot more. I've been interested in physics, mostly astrophysics and quantum mechanics, since I was a little child, and even now I read about physics in my free time.
    But I'm not the best at math. I'm not awful, but it doesn't come really easily to me. I took CP math during high school, because geometry hit me like a ton of bricks (but I'm really good at algebra and mental calculations, like 2 or even 3 digit x 3 digit multiplication/division). I took Stat AP last year, not Calculus AP for instance. But, I decided to self-study Calculus this summer, using Schaum's Fifth Edition Calculus and the MIT OpenCourseWare Calculus I class.

    Since I have a load of AP credits, I have the option of skipping a year's worth of classes at my future college, meaning I could graduate in three years instead of four. Additionally, the college I'm going to, USC, has this program for certain majors (like Economics) that, if you do well, you can get a Masters degree in only one extra year--so I could get a BA and MA in Economics in four years. But in Physics, I couldn't get a Masters in the same fashion.

    Lastly, what's probably most skewing my choice of major is that I want to go to professional graduate school, right now law school. I heard that admissions to top law schools are based mostly on the LSAT and college GPA, which I then need to protect like some treasure chest. And I'm worried that in Physics (despite getting an A in Physics C AP last year and a 5 on the AP) that I couldn't be up to snuff, and that my GPA could fall below 3.5 (or even worse). I'm not as worried about my GPA concerning Economics, as the BA version focuses more on qualitative economics and theory rather than math.

    Now, if you managed to not get bored by my long speech, the reason I'm dwelling over this right now, before I even step into college, is the math I'm taking next semester. Economics only requires basic calculus, called Math 118, while Physics requires Math 125 (and higher). Right now I'm poised to take Math 118, but if I do, Physics is pretty much out as a major (one of my reasons for self-studying Calculus is so I could possibly succeed at Math 125).

    My question is would it be worth it to major in Physics (BA or BS) if I'm probably not going to Physics graduate school? I like classical mechanics to an extent, and electromagnetism too, but what really captivates me is quantum and astrophysics--stuff that is mostly in the realm of graduate study. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2012 #2
    USC will have undergraduate courses in classical mech, E&M, quantum, and probably some type of astrophysics. In college, there is something called auditing. This means that you pay the university a reduced fee for a class and they let you sit in on the lectures, but you don't generally have to do homework or take exams, and you do not get a grade on your transcript and nothing counts toward the GPA. At some universities you have to get permission from the instructor to audit. If anything does show on the transcript, it would likely just be a small note. If you have time, you might want to consider getting yourself up to speed on differential equations and then auditing a course or two over the next couple of years.
  4. Jul 9, 2012 #3
    Or, you could just get a BA/BS in physics, do it well and then go to law school. When you've finished calculus, try out a book like the one by Kittel, Kleppner & Kolenkow or A.P French. I have the first and I intend on studying from it once I consolidate my knowledge of calculus.

    Another interesting thing is that one doesn't need an economics degree to do a PhD in it. From what I've read on grad school websites, one is generally expected to have at least intermediate micro, macro and metrics, along with the required math. It also seems that doing more math helps, like analysis.

    Alternatively, you could just get the BA in economics but take the more advanced calculus and linear algebra sequence. Once you've done that, get a book like Boas and study physics over the summer. You don't want to go to grad school for physics and you're concerned about it dropping your GPA, so just do it for fun on your own. You don't need college for that.
  5. Jul 9, 2012 #4
    Mepris, the problem with physics that I'm worried about is that math. I'm actually pretty good at conceptual physics; it's just the math that scares me. Also, is it really possible to learn all of physics yourself? I don't think I could do that. I'm not planning on getting a PhD in Econ either, just a Masters degree.

    At orientation I asked about auditing but was told we can only do a limited number of audits, as classes audited still count for course credits to a degree. Since I'm trying the 4 + 1 Masters squeezed into a 3 + 1, I don't think I can fiddle around with credits much if I choose to do Econ over Physics.
  6. Jul 9, 2012 #5
    I think that there's enough material around so that one could essentially get the equivalent of an undergrad degree without enrolling in a university.

    The other cool thing is you could learn lots of stuff with the physics majors at USC.
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