Thanks for the advice! ^_^ I think my advisor is just nuts.
What's more important to you: learning physics for physics sake or getting a perfect GPA without making a mistake or quitting just because you didn't get an A?
Science is hard. Science coursework is hard. Research is even harder. I guarantee when you do research you will be banging your head against a brick wall many a time.
If you want to improve your marks, analyze what you did wrong (or more correctly omitted to do) and be conscious of that next time. If you're afraid to fail, then I'm afraid you have picked the wrong profession. Behind many discoveries there are tonnes of failures and unfortunately most people see the success and not the failure that goes with it.
So ask yourself: what are the real reasons you're doing physics?
What country are you in, and what school? Can you tell us the books used for these courses? Are you on quarters, or semesters? This doesn't look anything like the courses that a US undergraduate would take as a freshman. Without some more information, it will be very hard for us to tell the level of difficulty of the courses you've been taking -- and doing quite well in!
You also haven't told us what kind of career you have in mind. There are many, many different things you can do with an undergrad or graduate degree in physics.
And finally, are you enjoying what you're studying, or not?
Holy god, I want to punch you.
But no, seriously, VERY VERY few people maintain a 4.0 during college. College is nothing like high school. You're going crazy over nothing. Just do better. Do better, learn some useful skills, get to know some professors, and you should be in a good position to get an REU.
And ditch the idea of a top 20 school right now. Ranking physics graduate schools is a meaningless exercise since the best grad school for you will not depend on the school name, but who the school employs and what they do.
Thanks for the replies.
First point: I am doing physics because it is a science that i love. I don't know what field I want to specialize in but I want to go to a top 20 graduate school, i.e. UChicago.
The reason I made this post is because my close friends here at my University have maintained a 4.0 GPA through their freshman year in Physics and they look awesome on application. I try to study try to study as hard as I can but in general I am a bad test taker.. I know its something I have to work on. Some subjects are easier to understand than others.. Theres many factors... I know my grades are decent to the general public but I am comparing myself to my close circle of friends, and things my advisor have told me.
2nd point: I am at UIUC.
Bare in mind that I am not a perfectionist who wants purely a 4.0
I want to look good on an application.
My advisor has told me that you need 3.8-4.0 and 90 percentile on PGRE to get into a "top" university along with graduate courses as an undergrad.
This is very scary to me.
OK, so you're at a large state school in the US which is on a semester system. I took a look at the college catalog, and you appear to have taken physics 211, 212, 213, 214, and 225 all in one year. That's two and a half years worth of lower- and upper-division physics in one year. In addition you've packed two years of math into one year. Why in the world are you doing this???? You refer to your academic adviser. Didn't s/he tell you not to do this? Of course you have less than a 4.0. It's a miracle that you passed all this coursework and are still alive and breathing. This is nuts.
How did you take all these courses while satisfying the prerequisites? Calc III is apparently vector calculus, which has Calc II as a prereq, and Calc II in turn has Calc I as a prereq. That means it should not be possible to take all three of those in a year. Since you list 9 physics courses, and the first 2 are prereqs for the last 7, does that mean you took 7 math and physics courses your second semester? That seems impossible. Am I misunderstanding something?
I think its a good idea to have a little flexibility. If you don't make it into a "top 20 school" but still get into a graduate program with a field that you will do well in, I think you should consider that as an achievement in its own right.
Don't think that because you didn't get a 4.0 (or near 4.0) GPA that everything is over. Getting a PhD in physics is a very big deal despite where you got it from: how many people in the states get one? (Is it something like 2000 people annually? I'm not sure).
From your posts I get that you are no doubt an ambitious and driven young adult that is serious about what you are doing (and I definitely know I wasn't like that when I was your age), but try and realize that your goal of getting into a top 20 is very narrow and sometimes it can literally be a lottery even to the many people who are "qualified".
Don't set yourself up mentally for a crash and burn.
Those courses were done in the summer before college, and this summer. So it was done in 4 semesters. I did not do it in 2 semesters but it was all considered as my "freshman year"
Thanks for the advice.. a PhD is an PhD to me.. If it was all up to me, I wouldn't care what school I go to, aslong as I am getting quality education. But my advisor has told me that if you end up at a non Top school, the professor's research at those universities will be poor and go nowhere which means my career will go nowhere.
This advisor has told me many scary stories, and this is really stressing right now.
OK, that's somewhat less insane, but still insane. You're at a school that's on semesters, so summer courses are accelerated, right? You can't take a full course load during an accelerated summer session. That's just impossible.
I'm in awe of your intellect if you were able to do all this in two summer sessions plus two regular semesters. But what I am definitely not in awe of is your judgment. You made incredibly bad choices about how many math and physics classes to pack into a short period. It's marvelous that you survived, passed them all, and even came out with what most people would consider an excellent GPA. Now you've learned your lesson. Don't try it again.
I was advised that I need to finish these intro courses quickly so I have room my 3rd-4th year to take graduate classes which supposedly up my chances at a top univ. It's not uncommon for a freshman to come into Differential equations and intermediate mechanics their freshman year here, so I felt a little behind. I have worked really hard and I agree it was a mistake.
Whoever gave you this advice is giving you bad advice. Stop listening to that person. It is not necessary to take graduate courses as an undergraduate in order to get into a good grad school in physics. I never took any graduate courses while I was an undergrad in physics (at Berkeley), and I got into Yale for grad school, which apparently US News ranks as #11 in the US (not that that means anything). At Yale, I don't recall ever meeting another physics grad student who had taken graduate-level physics courses as an undergrad. E.g., we all took the same standard two-semester E&M course (using the text by Jackson) starting our first year. Nobody skipped it.
Let's also keep this all in perspective. Where you go to grad school in physics makes very little difference in your career prospects. (I'm assuming from your maniacal level of drive that you want to have a career doing physics research?) What's really going to matter is the quality of the research you do, and that's basically uncorrelated with the kind of paper qualifications that you're so focused on obtaining right now.
You should ask yourself exactly what your realistic career plans are. Do you see yourself being a "top-tier" physicist doing highly technical research for an institution such as NASA or the Max Planck Institute? Or do you more realistically see yourself utilizing your strong analytical skills (gained via a science degree) in a more general and common problem-solving environment such as engineering?
I think, as science students genuinely interested in bettering the prospects of man-kind, we enter into college disillusioned that we will each become the next rock-star physicist after graduating. As much as we would like to spend our career working on theoretical problems with humongous implications, the reality is that those positions only go to star pupils and the general industry demand is for "problem solvers". That is not to say that a student with less-than-stellar marks cannot fill these positions, just that it is not the general trend.
If you re-evaluate your desired career path and determine that you can settle for being "common", then you should continue on in your studies to achieve a Physics degree. However, if you determine that you can settle for nothing less than being the next Stephen Hawking, then you should either continue your studies and do frickin' awesome in them or switch to an easier major in which you will achieve god-like marks.
In short, if you can settle for being average then you should follow through. If not, bail.
You've given the OP a lot of good advice, but I would put a somewhat different spin on this. The OP is far, far above average in physics. IMO a better way to decide whether to stick with physics is to base the decision on whether or not s/he is enjoying the process of it.
It's essentially impossible to predict whether a particular person will be a rock-star physicist who will unlock the secrets of quantum gravity. That requires creativity, originality, and independence of thought, and there's no way of knowing how much you have of those qualities until you get to the point in grad school where you're ready to do real research.
I agree. The real world is interested in results, not grades. Many individuals who go on to make great discoveries had the necessary creativity long before they stepped foot on a college campus. An education only serves to channel a person's abilities, not determine them.
You're doing fine. Remember that often-times ingenuity is more important than qualifications.
I have thought about these topics and I decided a long time ago that I can live my life being the average physicist. Of course I will aspire to be very creative in my field, whatever it may be. I love the subject and its curious nature. I like studying it and thats all I care about.
Great! That's what's important!
I think you'll do pretty well for yourself.
On the positive side, now that you have many of your more difficult classes out of the way, you can enjoy the rest of your education!
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