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How many upper level math/physics courses per semester are typical?

  1. Jun 15, 2013 #1


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    Hey everyone, I've been wondering about this lately. I'm double majoring in physics and math, and I'm looking ahead to the upper level major courses that I'm going to need. How many upper level math/physics courses would be typical/manageable within one semester/quarter? Looking ahead, it looks like I'd have some semesters where I would potentially be taking 3 physics courses and 2 math courses at the same time, or vice versa. Is this a manageable course load? I'm the type of person that spends a lot of time studying, and working ahead of the class so I can get a better handle on the material.

    Would this be too difficult of a course load to take on? Anyone have any input? I apologize if this has been posted before.
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  3. Jun 15, 2013 #2
    It depends on your ability and time. The superstar of my class got both a math and a physics degree in three years. He took lots of classes every term and aced them all. For your general physics major I think 3 or 4 technical classes a semester is normal. There are not many non-technical classes needed once you get into your final two years.
  4. Jun 15, 2013 #3


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    It depends, most places one takes (at least) three to five courses per term. It is difficult to finish a double major on time if you do not. I think you will find it difficult and not worthwhile to stay ahead in all classes at all times. That can help at times, but if your are ahead you are learning alone, the point of a class is to learn from your class mates and teachers. Unless you work ahead and the class catches up, that indicated inefficient study that is unsustainable. As far as non-technical classes, some people take at least one every term, but often that does not work out. You cannot count on non-technical classes to take less time. Researching,writing, and rewriting 5-10k words can take longer than solving a few problems especially if it is not ones strength.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2013
  5. Jun 15, 2013 #4
    You should manage your work load based on class difficulty. Multivariable calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and one or two physics courses can be taken feasibly. Later on, don't expect to take real analysis, topology, and other upper level physics and math courses with the same ease.
  6. Jun 15, 2013 #5


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    After I transfer, basically all of my classes will be math and physics classes. I will have all of my geneds completed before transferring, so aside from one or two upper level geneds that I'll have to complete at UIUC, I'll only be working on classes within my major. So, it will definitely help that I won't have any other classes to write research papers in and such.

    I will likely end up spending 3 more years as an undergrad after transferring, rather than the usual two. I'd like to try and avoid it, but I'd also like to get some extra graduate level classes in as well. My first year of college was spent in some "catch up" classes, because I wanted to retake college algebra and trig. It's been a while since high school, so I wanted a refresher. The bright side to taking that extra year to get some remedial math done though is that I was also able to get some more geneds completed, and I'm actually getting more of my upper level geneds done before transferring than I would be otherwise. UIUC has a 2 year language requirement, and I'll have it completed before transferring, which will help a lot.

    When I say "work ahead," I really just mean reading through the section(s) a night or two before the lecture, and working through a few exercises to get a rough idea of what's coming up. I've found this to be quite helpful, because it allows me to identify potential trouble areas sooner, and allows me to ask more relevant questions during the lecture. But, if I'm taking that many upper level math/physics courses, this may not be as easy to do. A lot of my classes currently are geneds, so it's a little easier to work ahead in my math/science classes.

    That's potentially what I would be looking at. From the rough outline I've laid out, I'd end up taking classes E&M, QM and a classes like abstract algebra, and real analysis at the same time. It seems like it would be almost unavoidable though. Unless I spent 5 years at UIUC after transferring(which isn't even an option) it seems like the only way that would be possible.

    A big part of this though is that I want to try and take several graduate level classes during my undergrad, such as general relativity, advanced QM, quantum field theory, and several graduate level math classes like PDE, and some advanced analysis. I think the only way I could even possibly graduate in two years after transferring would be to not take any electives, which really doesn't appeal to me.

    I suppose this is something that would be best posed to an adviser though when that time comes. But, I'm the type of person that likes to think ahead where academia is concerned(if only I had that much foresight in every other aspect of my life...lol).
  7. Jun 15, 2013 #6


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    Where I did my undergrad, five courses per semester was standard. What I found worked best for me was four major-related (physics or math) courses and one elective that allowed me to change gears.

    I can't help, but wonder why you want to do graduate courses while you're still in undergrad. When you get into graduate school you're usually supported by some kind of research assistanceship or stipend. Why would you want to pay to take these courses, potentially jumping in prematurely, when you could be paid to take them? I could understand tackling one - to test the waters and demonstrate you're capable of handling the more advanced stuff - but beyond that, it seems that there's at least some potential for unwanted grief.
  8. Jun 15, 2013 #7


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    Because I want to take every physics and math class under the sun...lol

    Doctoral programs typically limit you to only 5-6 elective courses from what I've seen, and there are realistically more like 10-12 graduate level elective courses that I would likely want to take. If I can get 3-5 of the grad level elective courses out of the way while I'm still an undergrad, it will free me up in grad school to take more of the elective courses I'd want. It still remains to be seen though if that will end up actually being the case.

    It's reassuring to hear that a few of you were taking fairly similar course loads though.

    Thanks for the replies. :)
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