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Going back to school

  1. Sep 29, 2008 #1
    I graduated two years ago. Major in computer science, minor in math. Since then, I've been programming full time. It's dull work, and I'm interested in going back to school. However, I'm not sure where to start.

    It's said that once a person graduates, the chance that they'll ever go back to school is almost nothing. I want to beat those odds.

    Ideally, I'd want to go back and study physics. Why physics? Computer science is all right, but there are areas which have no appeal to me (complexity theory, for example) and it's so mixed up with business. (Nothing is more dull to me than anything having to do with business!). I considered doing math as well, but raw math can be so esoteric at times! Physics seems interesting because it gives you physical access to mathematical theory. (And it's farther from computer science than is engineering).

    My intentions for going back to school wouldn't really have anything to do with finding a career or making more money. I make enough at my current job to live my life, and I could probably even get by with less. I'm not looking for a job in particle physics. I'm not necessarily looking to make a living doing physics at all. I want to pursue it because it's just so interesting. After I'm done, I'd probably be more than happy to go back to what I'm doing now.... though I'd probably have a few other opportunities open as well.

    But since going back to school is such a rare occurrence, I'm not sure how to even get in! I have my bachelor's degree of science. Would I apply to a master's program? Is it possible to apply as an undergrad even with a previous degree? Though I wouldn't think it would be appropriate for me, what about a PhD route? What options are there for people in my situation?

    One consideration that I'd probably have to face is my dark past. I'm stubborn as hell, and my grades in undergraduate school suffered. I'm a straight B student with a GPA of 3.0 with an accuracy of several decimal places. My major classes netted me about 3.2 and I think I had 3.5 in math. I've heard that grades have a good amount of influence over who schools accept.

    Outside of grades, what else goes into the admissions process? I wanted to keep my options open when I graduated, so I do have two letters of recommendation from past professors. I've heard that work experience is factored in there. What else can people do to increase their chances of getting in? I've wondered if perhaps auditing a class with a department head might do the trick too :cool:

    Any advice would be much appreciated. Anyone suggesting that it's not possible will be ignored to the extent permissible by law.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2008 #2


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    Probably wouldn't get in to a Phd program in physics on a CS degree. ( unless they needed a programmer!)
    You are probably looking at an ugrad physics degree, you might get to skip some of the first year depending on what maths classes you have. You don't want to do intro calculus 101 again!

    Have you considered an online/distance learning course? In the UK there is the open university - I'm not sure what the reputable US equivalents are. The advantage if you don't need the degree you can just study the parts that you are interested in.
  4. Sep 29, 2008 #3
    Thanks for the advice!

    What are your thoughts on a master's degree? I've heard PhD programs described as "training for research" which isn't at all what I'm looking for. But what would an analogous statement be for a masters?

    My only concern about taking an undergraduate program would be general education classes. I'm already generally educated enough, and from what I remember at my school, they made up somewhere between one half to three quarters of my classload. Such a waste of time! I'm wondering if a returning student would be able to bypass those requirements, even if it were at a different school. And if not, what would the possibilities be for apply to undergraduate school, take a year or so, and then reapplying to a master's program?

    I'm not really interested in getting an online degree of any sort. As much as I want to learn the material, it's a secondary goal to spend time around other people interested in the same things. Working a 9-5 job for the rest of your life is a terrible way to make friends! Plus, there'd be no opportunity to make money to sustain my education, whereas at an actual institution, I could easily get a job TA'ing or tutoring students in math, physics, or computer science.

    Oh, and for the record, I'm from the states. But hell, if it sounds like there's any opportunities elsewhere, I'd go for it.
  5. Sep 29, 2008 #4


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    Masters are generally either Phd lite, a one year research project and dissertation or taught MScs specialising in one particular area.

    Skipping pre-requisites would depend on the school's rules.

    Even if you are in the (former) colonies take a look at the OU http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_University it seems to fit what you want. They used to teach practical labs in intensive 1 week sessions once a term so people could take them as holiday, I don't know if that's still true.
  6. Sep 29, 2008 #5
    I have a CS background, and I'm currently in the middle of my MS in physics.

    The university I'm attending has an Open University program... that is, write a check, and they'll let you take any random course that has vacancies in it. I took most of the upper division undergrad courses that way, so by the time I was ready to apply, I had a sufficient background that I was admitted. (I understand that they admit students conditionally in that you have to pass some specified undergrad courses before you are officially in the program.)

    So anyway, it's possible to get an MS in physics with a CS background.
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