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Getting into a class without strictly meeting prereqs

  1. Jul 14, 2009 #1
    I graduated from school two years ago and I am planning on taking a course on electrodynamics this coming semester for personal interest. However, I am having problems registering for the class. I haven't strictly met the course's prerequisites. I meet the math side of things, but the course requires I take a general mechanics class first.

    The problem is, I don't want to waste my time.

    I have studied physics independently for years, and my knowledge of mechanics is as solid as I need for the electrodynamics class. I know all about force, momentum, energy, work, springs, rotation, and oscillations. It's not what I'm interested in, and it would all be tedious review.

    But since my studies have all been outside of school, I have no way of proving my ability to study the material. I talked to the department head today, and they told me there was no other way than to go through the school's track and no possibility of a placing out or getting an override from a professor.

    Luckily for me, the reason I have any ability at all in physics is because I'm stubborn, and refuse to admit defeat. I'm trying to come up with alternative ways to get into the class. My first thought was that I might talk to the professor anyway, but from the look of it, the department head IS the professor, so that is questionable. I also had the idea of writing out a formal letter, fully explaining the depth of my studies, which I could not convey over the phone.

    The reason I'm posting here today is because I'd like input from people who have been in this situation before. What can I do to convince the department head to allow me to enroll?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 14, 2009 #2
    Well, ya, in my own experience (as a person who had to override a number of prereq's in their undergrad) I'd say just go to the professor on the first day of class with an override form and they'll sign it without hardly looking at it. However, based on your description, this prof seems to have it in for you. I'm, frankly, quite surprised by this stance since I feel the standard philosophy is that it's your academic record to lose. Have you tried asking if you can audit the class?
  4. Jul 14, 2009 #3


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    I had a similar situation years ago. The head of the Philosophy department had written a book on Meta-ethics and he established a once-weekly class for 3 hours every Friday so that grad students and invited seniors could critique the book, chapter by chapter. I heard about the class from a lady who was dating a Philosophy grad student and I wanted in badly. I was a Sophomore who had never taken a Ph course, but had done a LOT of relevant self-study. I approached the department head in person, and asked if he could give me a bit of time so I could plead my case. He told me to come back at lunch time and he'd give me 15 minutes. We started discussing ethics, morality, internal vs external motivations, etc, and 3 hours later he had to excuse himself to teach a class. We became very close, and I never had to complete any Ph 10x, 20x courses to enroll in advanced courses after that.

    This may not work with your prof, but if you are polite and can do a credible job demonstrating your capabilities, you might have a chance. Doesn't hurt to try.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2009
  5. Jul 14, 2009 #4


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    Those darned prerequisits. They get in the way of everything.

    The problem with self-study is that there's no formal evaluation of how well you know the material. You claim to have read it all on your own, but there are a lot of people who think they know something and then really struggle with the details when they're challenged.

    In general, I do agree that really, if you get into a class that's over your head by skipping a prerequisit, then it's your own fault. The reason that faculty frown on this is because they want their students to succeed and they have a responsibilty to provide the education in the best manner possible. Letting a horde of first year students attend a graduate level class would result in a large number of students who are unable to keep up, who bog the class down with questions that those who have the prerequisist material alreay know the answer to, who fail, and who make the department look bad for hosting an 'impossible' course.

    If you're just taking the course out of personal interest (ie. you have no real intention of completing an undergraduate degree), one option would be to audit the course in either an official or unofficial context. This is also less expensive.
  6. Jul 14, 2009 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me see if I get this straight. The department head and professor reviewed your qualifications and says you're not ready for this class. You, who have not yet taken this class, and thus don't really know what background is required, disagree.

    If this is the case, how do you know you're right?
  7. Jul 14, 2009 #6
    I don't think the department head "had it in" for me. She was very polite on the phone, and came off sounding like she was looking out for my interests. I am just annoyed because of minor earlier difficulties with the admissions department and her unwillingness to let me appeal to my independent study. I'd be more than happy to sit and talk with her in person, and take last year's mechanics final to demonstrate my aptitude.

    I'm not pursuing this for any academic goal in mind. It's purely a matter of interest, and a way for me to keep doors open in the future. With the huge turnover rate in colleges, I can understand the the department's concern over my success. But I am measuring my success in a completely different way than a full time, post-highschool student.

    Of course, Vanadium is right that ignorance is ignorant of itself. There are certainly holes in my understanding. It's simply a question of whether there is enough understanding between holes to learn the material.

    Going off of my mathematical background (which is quite strong on paper, and even stronger informally), I can make an approximation to how well I'd do in the course. The students in electrodynamics will be concurrently enrolled in multivariate calculus (... they won't even have taken linear algebra, for heaven's sake!) Meanwhile, I'll be making doodles in my notebook, thinking about lie groups.

    I can't believe that a 200-level course at a community college could present any mathematical notion I'm incapable of digesting. I understand the material from a conceptual level from my high school physics course and 6 years playing with it as a hobby. I imagine that I might need help translating a few problems from physics-speak into math-speak, but nothing more. (And actually, that last idea is one of my major motivations for taking the class).

    I am going to try auditing the class. The department head said that auditing wasn't an option due to space constraints. I am planning on going the first day anyway and talking to her about it in person.
  8. Jul 14, 2009 #7


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    Is this the second semester of a calculus-based general physics course, or is it something more advanced? What textbook does it use?
  9. Jul 14, 2009 #8
    woah. this is for a 2nd year community college course?
  10. Jul 14, 2009 #9
    Yes. This is what it is. It's the second to last class at the college (the last is an intro to quantum mechanics). It looks like it would be taken your second or third semester of classes, possibly after taking a year of gen eds and math.

    I'm not sure on the textbook, but I will find out.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2009
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