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Do grad schools care if you triple/quadruple up on classes?

  1. Apr 10, 2012 #1
    So I'm finished with all my core requirements, and I want to major in math or physics.
    I was wondering if grad schools would have a problem with perhaps the following

    Analysis II (Rudin)
    Modern Algebra
    Elementary Topology
    Differential Geometry (Spivak)

    My question is, would a grad school believe that you didn't properly learn all the subjects if you took them at the same time? Or would grades still be the prevalent component?

    Snarky comments about taking 4 math classes not appreciated unless question is also answered ;)

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2012 #2
    I don't think anyone cares.

    No snark, but the main thing that you have to worry about is getting through the semester. If you take four really hard classes, and it kills your grades, then this would be a bad thing.

    One issue here is that no one would consider it negatively, but it wouldn't be considered a positive either, which brings up the question of what you want to do it. The other issue is that I'm not sure how this is going to work if you want to major in physics.
  4. Apr 12, 2012 #3
    Nobody cares as long as your grades are good. If you're not sure whether you will maintain good grades on all 4 classes, then you might want to consider a lighter load.
  5. Apr 12, 2012 #4


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    This is a strange question to me. It almost makes me wonder if you are at a school where grades are not given responsibly. In the old old days when grades were sometimes lower than A, anyone would just look at your performance in these course, and at your professor's letter, to see whether you learned the material. Your question makes me pause and think however, is it really likely that anyone can learn all those subjects at once, and thoroughly? For most people probably not, but then I recall the atmosphere in first semester grad school. It was at least as intense as that. Of course I didn't learn it well then either and they don't do things that way anymore most places.

    Basic advice: just learn as much and as well as you can, and don't be so concerned about appearances. I.e. make your decision on what to take based on how much you can actually handle and learn, not on how it looks to someone else. Believe me, it will only take an interviewer a few minutes to find out whether you know the stuff or not.
  6. Apr 12, 2012 #5
    Thanks for all the feedback. Well currently I am taking electromagnetism, mechanics, and Quantum Mechanics (and a math class), and I can say that it certainly is an enormous amount of information to try to digest in one semester.

    The thing is that I want to take as much as I can because I'm extremely passionate about math and physics, but I don't want grad schools to wonder how why I did all math (or physics) classes in a semester.

    As for how the grades are given, here at UW Madison the math department is fairly strict on not curving classes, with the exceptional case. I plan to work on all these classes throughout the summer to get a firm working knowledge before the school year of the concepts I need to know.
  7. Apr 12, 2012 #6
    I'm honestly kind of surprised that this is even a question. The engineers at my school routinely do 5 or even occasionally 6 engineering courses in one semester (engineering courses, not non-science options). It's not impossible, and as someone who's doing a physics minor and who has taken some honours math courses just to get a little extra rigour, I can guarantee that the engineering courses at my school are definitely not easier on average than the physics/math courses. I can't imagine 4 math courses being too much to absorb if you're dedicated. For the same reason, I really doubt a grad school would assume that you didn't learn the material well just because you took 4 math courses in one semester.

    (This is all assuming that you're in school full-time and don't have some major commitment outside of school. If you're working 30 hours a week or something, that would change things, but again, it would make little sense for grad schools to just assume that that's the case.)
  8. Apr 12, 2012 #7
    That may be a reason *not* to do only math. One thing that you have to learn to do is to focus and control your passion. I like eating pizza, which makes it important not to eat only pizza.

    Something to remember is that when you are in college, you have a chance to learn different things and do new stuff. It becomes a lot harder to do that later in life.
  9. Apr 12, 2012 #8


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    I am so happy twofish threw that comment in. You have a chance in undergrad to take art and music and you never do again. It is a big plus when decorating your home, or "wooing women".
  10. Apr 14, 2012 #9
    Here is my feedback: if you are talking of pure mathematics graduate programs, the bottom line is that a good number of classes helps, but at a certain point (taking absurd numbers of classes) I don't think it buys you much in terms of getting into graduate school or career success. It is ultimately the case that a lot of special topics build in various ways around the fundamentals, so once you've taken the fundamentals and shown yourself very competent, plus taken a few special topics that show you're really making progress towards specializing, I think things like starting to research in a certain direction and developing rapport with faculty in that direction will help you more (and a lot of success in this direction is only necessary if you want to make the very most competitive programs).

    I think your schedule is doable with lots and lots of work, but my concern is all those are pretty fundamental courses, and you might just be better off spending time on some of them individually for your *own* good. Graduate programs should be OK if you get A's or close in all of them.
  11. Apr 14, 2012 #10
    I think this becomes more true after you're pretty comfortable with the basics: analysis, algebra, topology. If it is truly your first time seeing any serious mathematics at all, I think that schedule is hard. Whereas if you've mastered those and are taking algebraic topology, differential topology, a class in Galois theory, and say, a class in functional analysis -- for some reason that strikes me as not too bad, because you effectively know what to look for.

    Although that may just be my style. I find it harder to absorb the fundamentals at first, but once comfortable with all that, it's not so bad.
  12. Apr 14, 2012 #11
    Well this semester I'm taking 3 physics classes and I can attest to the fact that it is extremely painful (even though physics is my life;now it literally is). My only concern would be with the differentiable manifolds class with Spivak. I read that one has to have a good grasp of differential topology, general topology, and determinants/symmetric groups.
  13. Apr 14, 2012 #12


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    Let's make it more concrete. At Harvard in the 60's Spivak's calculus book was the content of a one or two semester course (I once taught it in an 8 week summer course), and Loomis and Sternberg was another two semesters. Lang's Algebra was another semester or two and Spanier's Algebraic topology was another two semester course. How many of those could you handle?

    To be blunt, I think 2 real math courses is quite a lot, but standards may have diminished these days.
  14. Apr 15, 2012 #13
    The only unreasonable thing about your schedule seems to be putting Differential Geometry with General Topology. The latter should be pretty clearly down before the former, at least a working knowledge so you can fill in gaps as you go. If you don't know basic topology, learn that and then take a few courses in various areas of topology.
  15. Apr 15, 2012 #14
    Lang's Algebra in a semester sounds impossible, unless you're doing nothing else. Just covering groups, rings and fields and modules sounds possible, but that book has a pretty substantial amount of stuff.
  16. Apr 15, 2012 #15
    Would you describe the method you used to teach Spivak in 8 weeks?
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