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How To Get Ahead In Highschool

  1. Jul 8, 2012 #1
    I am a sophmoore in highschool, and I have a strong interest in physics. I am mostly interested in the extremes of physics, quantum/particle and cosmological, and really want to learn about them. The problem is that my highschool doesn't offer many courses or extracurriculars that can help me get ahead in either of those areas.

    I have read dozens of books and watched a couple lectures, but without the proper guidance and knowledge it is difficult to learn at a fast pace. Being only a sophmoore I don't have a very advanced mathematical background; however, I do catch on very quickly. I have taken algebra 1&2, geometry, and trigonometry, and I have a 3.8 GPA.

    I joined this forum in hope of finding some help as to how I can get a advanced education in the areas I stated previousl without having to wait till my school allows me to take them. I am willing to do a lot of after school activities such as tutoring or extra classes in order to get the knowledge I desire. Also if there are any opportunities or qualities that colleges specifically look for in students I would love to know about them.

    I would really appreciate any help I can get on the matter, since I am very desperate for any guidance what so ever. Please feel free to post any links or ideas that you think would be helpful.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2012 #2
    I think the most important thing right now is to do study math. Without mathematics, you won't get far in physics.

    I would start by learning calculus. You already know the prerequisites of calculus, I see, so you might want to jump in a calculus book right now. I like "a first course in calculus" by Lang. Work through that book, and then you can do physics.

    For physics, a book like Halliday and Resnick is probably fine to begin with. But you'll need calculus first.
  4. Jul 9, 2012 #3


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    Actually, it's quite possible to learn physics without learning calculus first. In some high schools in the US, you only need Algebra II as a co-requisite.

    To take it further into the extreme, there is a "Physics First" movement where high school students take physics as their first high school science course. The traditional sequence for Grades 9, 10, and 11 is Biology -> Chemistry -> Physics, but in a "Physics First" curriculum the sequence would be Physics -> Chemistry -> Biology. Of course, the concepts of physics are stressed over the math, since many of these students would only have Algebra I under their belts or they would be taking Algebra I at the same time.

    Just because I am mentioning this does not necessarily mean that I advocate a "Physics First" curriculum in high school. Whether a student learns physics this way, or in a "traditional" curriculum where Physics is taken Grade 11, physics is being learned before calculus. Whether this is effective or not is a question I won't bother attempting to answer.

    I feel that there is information that the OP did not include. It would be helpful to know what math and science courses he/she has taken so far in high school. Also, assuming that the OP is from the US, are there AP or IB courses available?
  5. Jul 9, 2012 #4
    I completely agree with micromass, mathematics is the key. Once you get to more advanced physics you will find that, in many ways, it appears like simply another branch of mathematics with a few extras added.

    Yes, it may be possible to learn some physics before learning calculus, etc., but I would imagine it is rather basic, traditional physics. You are still in high school and it's great that you love the subject so much, but because you are a sophomore, you have probably (although I may be wrong, correct me if I am) not been exposed to "proper" physics through your classes. What you do in high school bears little resemblance with physics, usually just a few special cases, very simplified, and you do lots of calculations that were prescribed in advance. When you get to university, you will find that physics is simply different. An immense dedication and interest in analytical, mathematical work is required, and for that the background is necessary. So the best thing you can do now to prepare for advanced physics is study advanced mathematics. Trust me, compared to fellow students at university many aspects of physics will appear like a piece of cake if you have the right mathematics background.

    Two fields that contain most mathematics you should delve into: Analysis and Linear Algebra. For Analysis, start with calculus, maybe as micromass suggested, there are so many good books out there. If you don't have a teacher, don't worry, do it in your own time. You will have to do this at some point anyway. At university you will often be thrown into the cold water and expected to swim, read the stuff in your own time, and the earlier you learn to study all these things on your own, the better. Again, do as much mathematics in these two fields as you can, it will pay off, particularly calculus. It is indispensable in physics.
  6. Jul 9, 2012 #5
    First I just want to say thanks for the help with this, this is all very useful information. Second, I understand the importance of mathematics in physics, from watching a few lectures from Stanford university I can tell that it will help to have a good undos tanking of calculus. I will most likely take micromass' advice, and buy one of the calculus books in order to get ahead in that. One of the other things I was concerned about was getting into a good college. MIT is my dream college, but I try to not be to optimistic. Does anybody know of any thing I could do that would look good on a college application?
  7. Jul 9, 2012 #6
    I'm in a similar situation, but felt like my background in math was lacking, so I'm going through a Basic Mathematics book before delving into Calculus. MicroMass' suggestions are sound, and what I've been looking into, in order to 'get ahead' (in regards to college applications) are summer internships. There are very, very few that are paid, and for most you would have to pay to go, due to room and board and whatnot, but the experience picked up by actually participating in research at a university level would be invaluable, and I have no doubt that colleges would love to see that on an application.

    When you say that you are a sophomore, do you mean that you have just finished your sophomore year and will be a junior this upcoming year, or have you just finished your freshman year and will be a sophomore next year? I guess there's also the possibility that your school goes year-round, as well. This is relevant mainly because most of the internships require you to apply during the middle or end of your junior year, so that you can attend (if you're lucky enough to get accepted) during the summer. They don't tend to accept beforehand, due to students being ill-prepared for research.

    Anyways, good luck! My highschool (even though it really isn't that good of a school) actually offers two Astronomy courses, one of which covers our solar system, and the proceeding one covers the universe as a whole. Hopefully you're able to find something to satiate your knowledge for cosmology and/or quantam/particle physics, since I highly doubt most high schools provide the material to adequately learn about those topics.
  8. Jul 9, 2012 #7
    I was a freshman and will be a sophmoore in september. Sadly there aren't to many serious opportunities for teenagers my age; however, I would be more than happy finding an internship regardless of pay. When you said that there are research opportunities, could you be a little more specific as to what kind of research you mean? Also my highschool does offer an astronomy class, but it is a very basic class and I have already learned from books almost everything the class covers.
  9. Jul 9, 2012 #8
    A thing you can do is go to a community college close to you and take a course there (perhaps over the summer). This is a great way to get ahead, and you can use the credits later in university. I'm pretty sure it'll look good on your record as well.
  10. Jul 9, 2012 #9


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    What micromass said. I would be careful about spending time on algebra-based physics courses for two reasons. First, if you want to learn "real physics" you will have to cover the same ground again, but calculus based. And second, you may find it actually turns you off the subject, because it all seems a bit trivial and over-simplified (which it is, without calculus).
  11. Jul 9, 2012 #10
    Ok so that deffinitely sound like something I could and want to do over the summer next year; but, there is one small problem. The only community college near me is relatively small, and there is a good chance that they won't offer any open campus physics courses. In that event, does anyone know of anything I could do at home, online, or elsewhere that would be recognized by colleges and look good on an application?

    Also I have heard that participating in a science fair can look very prestigious on an application, but I don't know if it would be worth my time when there are other things I could be doing. Does anyone have some advice/input on that?
  12. Jul 10, 2012 #11
    Does your school have a science club? I would recommend joining that. Just being in the science club at my school opens up several opportunities to participate in science fairs and competitions.
  13. Jul 11, 2012 #12
    I dont think my school has any science club, but it is possible. If not, any other ideas?
  14. Jul 11, 2012 #13
    There's always the possibility of trying to start one. I'm sure discussing it with a science teacher who you find is passionate about their job could be beneficial.

    Besides that, I'm not sure of anything else. Self-studying math/physics, possibly taking classes at a CC, looking into internships (most are more of a research 'camp' that you pay to go to, but beneficial none the less), and trying to get a science club going seem to be your most viable options right now.
  15. Jul 11, 2012 #14
    ok well thanks a lot for all the help, I certaintly have a much more of a clear idea of what the next 2 years will hold for me.
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