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First year (unusual situation)

  1. Jun 22, 2015 #1
    I am a non-traditional student currently enrolled in a large research-centric university planning on majoring in physics.
    Graduated H.S. in 2009.
    Spent 5 years in the military working in a field wholly unrelated to any of my studies(current or planned)

    The situation:
    I see a lot of people on these forums and others coming out of HS jumping into Calc-2 or even 3. My number one concern is that i've fallen behind in math (it's the first thing to leak out on a 5 year sabbatical from the classroom). I took calc in HS, but have been placed into pre-calc based on the placement test I took just after admission, which is split into two semesters(probably a scam to charge for the extra credits). I started college in the spring where i took part-1 and am taking part-2 over the summer. Luckily my school allows for me to take my introductory courses concurrently with calc-1.

    The questions:
    1. Will this be a serious detriment to my eventual application to pursue an advanced degree? Assuming I catch up completely, but my transcript still reflects those typically "remedial-style" classes.
    2. Many of the summer research opportunities that are available are listed for "rising" sophomores/juniors/seniors. Because I started in the spring this label will never really apply to me as I will "rise" at the end of every fall semester rather than after every spring. I'm 100% certain that this is not going to restrict my access to these opportunities, but am not sure about how to go about circumventing this. Do i just apply anyway? Contact the faculty member responsible for the program?
    3. Is anyone else here a non-traditional student that can share their undergraduate experience pursuing traditionally "difficult" majors?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2015 #2


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    1. You will not be penalized for taking something that might be perceived to be a remedial course. Admissions committees for graduate school are concerned with the state that you're at when you apply for graduate school. If you had to take an extra course to properly prepare yourself to get to where you wanted to be - that's fine. They will look at your performance in the class though, at least in terms of your overall GPA. But really the emphasis is usually on the upper level undergraduate courses that you've had.

    2. There may be cases where a specific state of an undergraduate's education is required for funding purposes, but generally speaking the rules for these things are fairly flexible in my experience. If you're not sure whether you qualify for something - just ask.
  4. Jun 22, 2015 #3
    You've probably fallen behind on kids just coming from high school quite a bit. But there's something you have that they don't: maturity and discipline. This is very important, and many people fail college on their first try for not having the maturity to work for their results. A mediocre performance is usually next.

    Now, don't worry about taking remedial classes. You will not be penalized for coming from a weak background, quite the contrary, you know your weaknesses and work to fix them. It would look way worse to go into calculus right away and getting a bad grade.
  5. Jun 22, 2015 #4
    Thanks guys. It's a relief to know that as long as I can manage to make up the ground I lost in math it won't hurt me in the long run. Now if I could just get this prof to stop assigning 3 hours of homework every night I'd be jumping for joy.
  6. Jun 22, 2015 #5


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    Sorry, but that is what Summer courses are usually like: read pages 100-527 for tomorrow. And if you are in class, drop your pencil/pen, after picking it up the prof. will be 30 pages ahead.
  7. Jun 22, 2015 #6


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    Courses in a summer session are done at the same number of instruction hours in far fewer weeks. If Mathematics is not EASY for you, then you cannot learn in 6 weeks time what you can learn in 18 weeks time. You need all eight-teen weeks; some students need more than that!!
  8. Jun 23, 2015 #7
    Problem solving is the basis for really learning the subject. Suck it up and work the problems be thankful that he requires it.
  9. Jun 23, 2015 #8


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    Not necessarily. The Finns do well by assigning less HW, only that the exercises tend to be more thoughtful and thought-provoking. There is little to be learnt by doing busy work.
  10. Jun 23, 2015 #9
    Problem solving, yes. Doing the exact same problem with numbers switched 30 times benefits no one.
  11. Jun 23, 2015 #10
    That's pretty much what im looking at. He usually assigns somewhere between 30-50 problems, but its almost always one of those a) b) c) d) types where it tells you the operation and then gives you 3-4 different numbers or gives the numbers and 3-4 different operations. Rinse and repeat X 10, then onto 10 more that are slightly different.
  12. Jun 23, 2015 #11
    Agreed. Variety in problems is essential. Once one tool is sharp enough you move on to the next.
  13. Jun 23, 2015 #12


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    I started college at 25 and I'm completing dual degrees in physics and mathematics. I started in the equivalent of high school Algebra I, then I placed out of Algebra II and Geometry and went into College Algebra my second semester. As of now, I've completed the full calculus sequence, linear algebra, and differential equations. I just finished my third year, but for all practical purposes I consider it to have been my sophomore year. I'm now going into my junior year.

    There's no reason it will be a detriment. Grad schools and future employers aren't going to care that you started in remedial classes. The only coursework that is really relevant in these situations is upper level coursework. If you started in remedial algebra, and eventually pass calculus III, differential equations, linear algebra, etc. with good grades, then they aren't even going to pay attention to the remedial course.

    Regarding the semantics on 'rising junior' and such, I wouldn't worry too much about that. Those are rough guidelines and aren't really set in stone policies.

    I basically addressed your third question already, but I am indeed a non-traditional student, and I've encountered far fewer barriers than I expected. The number of barriers that have been in front of me as a non-traditional student might as well be zero. I dropped out of high school, got my GED at 18, spent several years working, and then started college at 25 knowing that I wanted to major in physics. Then I found out that I wanted a second major in mathematics. I started at a community college, which is where I've been for the last three years. I'm spending this summer in an internship at Fermilab working on a couple of neutrino experiments, and I'm transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall to complete dual degrees in physics and mathematics. A lot of people see a barrier within the idea of starting school later in life. However, I've seen a huge advantage. I have more life-experience, I'm more responsible, and in many instances I'm far more motivated than the typical student.
  14. Jun 23, 2015 #13
    I can definitely see what you mean about being more motivated. I put up with a lot of bull^&#$ to pay for this degree haha no way im gonna let those years go to waste.
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