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Community College Physics vs University Physics

  1. Dec 23, 2015 #1
    I apologize if this is the wrong place to put this in advance.

    Hello. Well, recently I completed the Calculus based Physics(General Physics I and II) at my community college. In both classes, my grade was a B. My dilemma is that I am wondering whether I whether getting a B here means that I am not on the same level as students who went to university. I read somewhere online that getting a C at community college physics is like getting an F in University Physics. Is there any truth to this?

    Also, I really don't understand how community college physics is lower than University Physics. At our state college( University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) I have heard of huge grading curves(Some people who get 60/100 on a test end up with a 100). Here at my community college we have no such curve. If the highest grade in the class is a 60/100, that person is getting a 60 on the test. No curve. The only thing is a difference in grade distribution(A-89,B-75,C-62, D-50)

    So, basically, is community college physics always less than University Physics?

    Note: The book we used in our class was Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 9th Edition, by Serway and Jewett, if that means anything.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 23, 2015 #2
    You are using the same book at your CC than I did at my university for Physics I, if that tells you anything. Other than that, it depends much more on the individual professors I would say, I've had some professors at CC that are much more brutal than most university professors, and some university professors that teach at a high school level.
  4. Dec 23, 2015 #3
    When I taught at a community college, the courses were taught at a good level of academic rigor because we needed to prepare students to transfer to state universities through a university partnership program. The profs and departments at the universities were watchful, and there would have been negative feedback had we been sending them poorly prepared students.

    In contrast, when I taught at a state university, the administrators pressured faculty to pass students who were nowhere near meeting the learning objectives of the physics courses, because they were overly concerned with students dropping the courses and dropping out and losing state funding dollars which depended on enrollment. A lot of faculty passed poorly performing students, but I resigned, because I could not stomach the thought of awarding grades that had not been earned.

    At the same time, I feel that my university Physics courses at LSU were taught with an appropriate level of rigor, yet I still wasn't really ready for graduate level physics courses at MIT. Fortunately, MIT gave a lot of leeway and room for grad students to retake undergrad physics courses before enrolling in graduate level courses, which is what I spent my first year of grad school doing. I didn't take a single real graduate physics course until my second year of grad school.

    Since there can be a lot of variability, I would recommend you show a few exams and/or your final exam to a relevant prof who teaches the courses (or the next course) at the state university and get their opinion. I know there are a lot of community colleges whose physics courses leave students much more poorly prepared for subsequent courses than ours did. There was one community college near the one I taught at whose students who had taken their 1st semester course never earned better than a D in our 2nd semester course, so they were woefully unprepared.
  5. Dec 23, 2015 #4
    The simple answer is it depends. Both on your CC and the school you transfer too. My Physics 2 at my CC was a joke. A complete joke. Easiest A I've ever gotten and all in six weeks. My Calc 2 and Physics 1 were similarly easy. There are many people in my CC who transferred to a four year school for engineering, and they all universally say it's brutal. Even the most difficult CC professors were not as hard as the treatment they got at Pitt or Penn State. So there is definitely some truth to what you suggest. B's at a CC are often not comparable to B's at a four year school. However, I cannot say for sure. For all I know you had a professor who was comparable. But there's a good chance you're right, as literally everyone I know who moved on from our school had that experience. Follow Dr. Courtney's advice and see for yourself by trying some of your dream school's exams out.
  6. Dec 24, 2015 #5


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    A B in your community college "physics for scientists and engineers" course track probably means you're underprepared to work through upper division physics courses. When you transfer, you'll probably start working through Griffiths and Taylor for EM/CM, which is quite a leap from Serway. Most universities offer physics majors a separate course track than the one for general scientists/engineers.

    I also went to CC, and the best advice I have, now that you have some physics under your belt, is to work through K&K and Purcell on your own while finishing up transfer requirements. Reading Feynman's lectures might also be a good idea while working through the other two. By working through them, I mean solving problem sets and reading with pencil and paper in hand.

    What were the last topics you covered in Serway for CM? Typically most courses at that level skip Thermo all together, which is a bad idea in my opinion. If you skipped Thermo, go back in Serway and read up on those sections/work problems. That should at least get you up to where you can do Carter. Did you make it though Fluids/SHM? Was any relativity covered at all? What topic did you stop at for EM?

    If you're friendly with your professor, you can see if they could at least look over your self study work for you, to clear up any misconceptions or wrong ideas. Let them know you want to major in physics and they may be willing to help you out.
  7. Dec 24, 2015 #6
    Does the fact that there is a guaranteed course transfer for General Physics 1 and 2 at my CC to the University mean anything? I mean, then what is the point of having the credit transfer agreement if I am definitely unprepared for future courses at my State U?

    I also should have mentioned that I am going down the engineering route. Specifically, Electrical Engineering.
  8. Dec 24, 2015 #7


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    Then you're fine, I thought you were looking to major in physics.

    Ignore my post above, you likely went through the same level of rigor as engineering students at your planned transfer university.
  9. Dec 24, 2015 #8
    Not really. In many states, the legislatures have pressured (forced) public universities to accept transfer credit from the community colleges so they don't have to pay for students to take the courses again at the universities. Remember, in-state tuition really only covers about 30% of the costs of college coursework, the legislature funds the rest.

    Acceptance of transfer course credit is more meaningful in cases where the university can refuse to transfer credits from institutions that lack academic rigor, and where faculty and departments are paying careful enough attention to exercise that power properly.
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