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Finishing major in 3 years

  1. Nov 14, 2007 #1
    Hello, everyone.

    From what I understand at universities there are three terms in one year and students are required to take 5 subjects per term for 2 of these terms (ie. 10 subjects per year).

    So, if a student wanted to go to school for all three terms that would be 15 courses per year which would be 45 after 3 years. Since a major only requires 40, couldn't you graduate in 3 years?

    Also, if you took 15 courses per year for 4 years you can get 60 courses which could probably be 2 majors (and many minors if you choose the courses carefully). If you apply for a major but then fullfill the requirements for another major can you get 2 majors like that? Or do you need to sign up for a double degree in the beginning?

    Thank you for reading this thread. Please tell me if all of this is right and if so, why don't more people graduate in 3 years or get 2 degrees in 4 years?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2007 #2
    Sometimes they go in semesters, sometimes quarters, so it depends on the university. My uni goes in quarters, so I have 3 quarters per year + summer quarter.

    Depends on the university and the classes. At my university 15 credits per quarter is "normal". However one quarter I was taking 3 physics classes and an astronomy class. Only counted 12 credits. Hah! I did so much work in those classes it's a joke to say it's only 12 credits. But that's how it goes.

    Yup. If you are willing to go to school during the summer AND the classes you need to take are offered in the summer. Not all classes are offered, so that could throw a wrench in your works.

    Some classes you can only take when you declared your major. The way I think it works here is you "apply" for your major degree after you've taken your classes, so even though physics is an open major and I can take any classes I want, I still have to apply and show them which classes I've taken and then they can give me the degree. Would work the same with other major's I'd imagine.

    It's a lot of work. They live elsewhere. They need to save up money during summer to go to school in the year (I don't think my financial aid covers summer quarter). Also it can just burn you out instead of letting you enjoy college.
  4. Nov 14, 2007 #3
    Some universities have three terms (+ Summer), some have two terms (+ Summer). The former are on a "quarter schedule" while the latter are on a "semester schedule." There is usually a conversion factor exacted when transferring between the two.

    Some of your figures look a little dodgy. In the United States, at least, the specification is "at least 12 credit hours per term" if you want to receive financial aid. Individual courses generally range from 1 to 5 credits, with most physics courses landing around 3 or 4 (credit hours are largely equivalent to the amount of time you spend in a classroom per week). Major programs aren't defined in terms of a number of courses, only a series of requirements, and the college offering the major will have further requirements, with a 4-year degree usually coming out around 180+ credits. Five full physics classes (i.e. not seminars etc) per term would probably cause most majors to burn out after a year or two!

    It's possible to complete a double major (distinct from a double degree, the difference is usually that the double degree requires yet more credits) in 4 years if you plan well, and while you need to declare at some point before you graduate, you don't need to when you start.

    Even if you *can* graduate in three years, this means cutting material from your program of study. This is not always a good idea. Many physics majors plan on going to graduate school afterwards, and the extra time and preparation in the undergraduate program is usually desirable. If you're going on financial aid, the government will pay for up to 5 years of study - why do a rush job in 3, when you can do better in 4-5 (and still be sane when you finish)?
  5. Nov 14, 2007 #4
    This is exactly why I think the credit system sucks...but hey, the modern form of our education system hasn't been around long (and has enough trouble turning out qualified graduates already) so it has an excuse for a few kinks. For now. I expect better in a few hundred years or I'm flunking the lot of you. Bwahahaha!

    Summer course offerings are greatly abbreviated. But course offerings vary by term during the "normal" year anyway, so you should always pay close attention to what's offered in what quarters when you do your planning.

    Some majors are outright open to all comers, others have prerequisites but are then open, others require you to apply and be accepted. Physics is usually one of the first two. (Here we're assuming you want to major in physics given the forum, but you didn't say, and we do get a lot of tangential majors...)
  6. Nov 14, 2007 #5
    Thank you both for the great replies!

    I did not know there was a difference between a major and a degree.
    Can you get a job that requires a certain degree with a major?
    Can you get into grad school for a subject you have a major in, or do you need a degree? Does a CS degree with a math major get less math knowledge than a math degree?

    Is it even possible to get a double degree in 4 years, or do you have to take 5 years?

    Thanks for all the info. It is hard to interpret this stuff from the university websites.
  7. Nov 14, 2007 #6
    Major is just a path towards your degree. It's the same thing once you actually have the degree in your hands.

    Sorry if it confused you.

    A double degree is possible in 4 years. People do it in my school in Astronomy and Physics all the time because they overlap so much. So it really depends on the two majors you are going for.
  8. Nov 14, 2007 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Most colleges and universities in the United States require their students to take a certain number of "general education" courses in other areas outside of their major. These might include English, foreign language, history, social science, etc. The college where I teach requires students to take 122 semester-hours (credits) worth of courses in order to earn a degree. About 45-50 of those are general education courses. The number varies depending on the student's background, for example how much foreign language he's learned in high school. Courses for a major field can range from about 35 to 60 semester-hours (including required courses in other fields, for example physics majors have to take a lot of math). The remaining semester-hours can be used for a minor field, or a second major, or simply as general elective courses.

    We do require more general education courses than many other schools because we're a "liberal arts" college and one of our goals is to provide all students (whatever their major field) with a broad general education. Nevertheless, it's fairly common for good students to have a double major. Physics and math is an obvious combination (I did it when I was a student many years ago).
  9. Nov 14, 2007 #8
    Oh, I see, I think I understand it now. Thanks.

    Would a person with a double degree in math and computer science have as much math knowledge as someone with a math degree and as much cs knowledge as someone with a cs degree. Or will the person doing one degree get to take more electives related to their field and have more knowledge in it?

    Also, a person with a double degree can choose either field for grad school, right?

  10. Nov 14, 2007 #9
    Yes, noting that the dual major program sometimes involves cutting corners you wouldn't with only one major.

    Your grad school program doesn't even have to be what you majored in for your undergraduate degree. It helps, and it's more common, but it's not required.
  11. Nov 14, 2007 #10
    jtbell : Thanks for your post. Added confirmation that it's feasable to do a double degree in 4 years.

    Oh, I see. So it does involve some cutting corners. I figured that.

    Really? Cool.

    Thank you everyone for all the responses.
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