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Double Major or Major/Minor?

  1. Aug 10, 2009 #1
    I'm going to be a freshman this fall and am currently planning to major in physics (grad school emphasis) and minor in either pure or applied mathematics. However, I'll already be taking about 22 credits worth of mathematics and 37 are needed for a major. Seeing this, my questions are as follows: Is it worth it to take the extra 15 credits (5 courses) and double major? And what are some benefits to double majoring? Lastly, which mathematics, pure or applied, would be more applicable to my major?

    Thanks in advance for your replies!

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2009 #2
    Heres my feeling on this:

    I was originally intending to be a Pure Math major and minor in Physics with intentions on doing grad school in Physics. Then I realized that I could not fit all the physics courses I wanted/needed to take into the physics minor. I would need to take more, which would leave me a course or two shy of a physics major, so I might as well just double major.

    In your case, the math courses that will probably want to take to supplement your physics major would be 1 year of linear algebra, 1 year or more of analysis, 1 year or so of Diff EQ (Ordinary and Partial) and probably a course or two in numerical methods. That just about fills up the 7 or so courses you need for your minor.

    Now an applied math major (with an emphasis on science/physics) usually requires a few less math courses in lieu of a few upper division science classes (in your case physics) which youd already be taking as a physics major anyway. So doing applied math/physics as a double major probably wouldnt require many more courses above a physics-math minor. So if your looking to maximize degree value and minimize classes, a double in physics and applied math is prob the way to go.

    To go the Pure math route probably would require a few more math courses. Although courses like abstract math, more advanced analysis and the like certainly have their use in physics, you'll probably have to find the applications to physics yourself as those classes will be taught from the perspective of math for math's sake.

    My advice then would be to do a double major, then as you begin to take your upper division math classes you will begin to see whether or not math is interesting to you. If you find math to be your thing then theres no reason to not do physics/pure math (ie. if you feel it is worthwhile to take those extra pure math classes).
  4. Aug 10, 2009 #3
    Also remember that you might need to take additional humanities/ss credits as well.
  5. Aug 10, 2009 #4
    Will taking a double major lead to a better physics graduate school place than gaining a higher grade in single major physics?
  6. Aug 10, 2009 #5
    Hitmeoff: thanks a lot for your response, it's exactly the help i needed. The physics/applied math is what i was most likely going to do if I double major, pure math is 2 or 3 more courses but like you said I could always switch into a pure math major later if wanted/needed.

    Also, I never thought about what Feldoh said about the additional gen ed classes, i'll talk to my advisor about that, but our online school site is currently down to upgrade/repair.

    Lastly, I guess I am looking for an answer to what mal4mac said. I'm kind of wondering what the equivalence is, if a double major with slighty lower grades looks better than a single major with higher grades. Thanks!
  7. Aug 10, 2009 #6
    OP, I've been asking the same question mal4mac asked for a while. The consensus I've found on this forum is that a second math major doesn't really help you get into grad school, but the damage to your gpa could definitely hurt you.

    So, do the second major only if you want to.

    I know I'm def. gonna get a math minor, but I'm reconsidering the major. Maybe after I take a topology class I'll reconsider, but perhaps math is something I'm better off doing in my spare time.
  8. Aug 10, 2009 #7


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    Not necessarily. I think graduate schools would much rather have you use up that "extra time" into take graduate physics courses and/or using it for (physics) research.
  9. Aug 10, 2009 #8
    Here's my experience (as a physics/math double major).

    Majoring in math doesn't help you get into grad school in physics. It also doesn't help you out all that much once you're in grad school. The only advantage I had was that I didn't have to take the mathematical methods class that most physics grad students take in the first year. At the undergrad level, majoring in math does help with employability. When I was searching for jobs (that was my backup in case I didn't get into grad school), I found that a lot more employers were looking for math majors than physics majors. If you're not sure about physics grad school, it doesn't hurt to major in math to open up more options. Then again, if all you want is a fallback, you're better off doing a second major in engineering instead of math.

    My recommendation is to major in math if you enjoy it, with the understanding that it won't help your physics career. College is one of your last chances to study whatever you want, so it doesn't hurt to get the most out of your experience. But it won't help you become a physicist.
  10. Aug 10, 2009 #9
    Then as a follow-up question, will the mathematics you learn in the higher level classes (assuming I choose the double major route and considering the classes that I wouldn't take if I did the math minor) help later on in high level/grad school physics? Or will I eventually have to take these classes anyways?
  11. Aug 10, 2009 #10
    Although I lack experience, I do believe that all of the higher level math (groups, etc.) that you need in high level physics is taught inline with the material of those courses; mathematics classes generally tend to teach mathematics in a rigorous way from the ground up.
  12. Aug 10, 2009 #11
    Okay thank you, and thanks to everyone else, any additional input/advice/suggestions would be great!
  13. Aug 11, 2009 #12
    Why would you want to damage your gpa? If there is nothing positive a double major will give you why on earth would you do it?
  14. Aug 11, 2009 #13
    Well, nothing positive for getting into grad school :tongue:
    but I'm probably going to take enough math courses out of curiosity to get an AB degree, might as well spring for the BS.
    Also, it impresses the engineering chicks :biggrin: ok not really but I have heard a "woah you guys exist" used on my major choice once. Never underestimate the ego! And I was raised to overload constantly, pretty much. Its a hard habit to shrug off. "Oooh, math physics double major sounds harder than everyone else's, lets do it."

    But yeah, I actually am seriously considering dropping my math major. I guess it'll come down to how well my ODE and Real Analysis courses are taught. If they're as dull and difficult as Lin. Alg. and Multivariable/Vector, I'm out of here. And yes, my math department managed to make two relatively easy courses both dull and difficult.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2009
  15. Aug 11, 2009 #14
    The only advantage is if you can do mathematics better and subsequently do better at physics.

    Of course you can always study "off the books" so that there is no record.

    But if you don't study hard then you won't learn the material -- i.e. if you're working as hard as you need to learn the subject you should earn an easy B or A so why not study for credit?

    Personally I found my math minor to be extremely useful, partially because I could solve more complicated problems than my peers. Also, my minor actually raised my GPA because I do better at Mathematics than writing Engineering lab reports.
  16. Aug 11, 2009 #15
    good point, if you're going to study it to learn you might as well take the class. i think i'll do the double major, especially since the extra classes sound pretty interesting.
  17. Aug 11, 2009 #16
    It depends on your interests. You might do fine with a minor. In addition to my standard Engineering math (Calc I II III + ODEs) I took PDEs, Group Theory, Linear Algebra, graduate level Statistics, and graduate level Engineering Analysis I. The only class that I didn't take, but should have, was Complex Variables.

    With this foundation you can tackle any set of physics problems given to you.

    I don't know your program, but this might qualify as a minor. If you have "technical electives" in your program this might be used as those.
  18. Aug 11, 2009 #17
    If you plan on going to grad school, a B is almost always going to hurt your gpa (because if you have under a 3.0 you're probably not going to grad school anyways).

    Sucks, but such is life.
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