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How to start getting on track?

  1. Apr 8, 2012 #1
    So I have been a "sheep" for most of my adult life, working whatever jobs were available straight out of high school. I never had any interest in the sciences or most anything else because I didn't think it was a practical goal to achieve. I always thought that to be a Physicist, you had to be a genius like Albert Einstein or something, but lately after reading some posts forwarded to me by someone on this forum, I am suddenly beginning to think that it's not too late for this to be out of my reach.

    One thing of note is that what sparked my interest in the first place was at the hospital, where I encountered a childhood bully of mine. Let me tell you, this kid was a bad apple. I remember him mugging kids and threatening (including myself) by brandishing knives, etc. After a short conversation with him, I found out he is apparently in a residency program to become an ENT surgeon. When I confronted him about the past, he told me to stop being childish and wasting his time and we both went our separate ways. I'm not a particularly aggressive type of person, so I backed down but this prompted me to consider that maybe I might be able to have a better future than just being a customer service rep or telemarketer.

    I know this probably doesn't sound like a very good reason to begin getting into Physics, which is why I sort of doubt my capability of going into this field.

    In any case, to start out, should I just go to a community college and enroll as a Physics major? Are there any particular steps I have to take in order to get admitted into graduate school for my Ph.D or to prepare for it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2012 #2
    Enrolling at a community college is a great first step. If you have plenty of time before the next enrollment date, self study some highschool algebra at websites like khanacademy or pick up an old algebra book and lean intermediate algebra at the least. I decided to go back to school later in life and did not prepare for the placement test and ended up spending 3 semesters in boring remedial mathematics that I could have learned on my own in a few weeks.
  4. Apr 8, 2012 #3
    (Longish reply.)

    I'll second Quark's answer. I attended an "alternative" high school where students were essentially funneled away from academics and towards trades... plumbing, construction, welding, etc. The highest math class was Algebra (which I got a C in), there was almost no information available at the school about college and I didn't know that I could get enough financial aid through FAFSA to go to school.

    After a series of rather unfortunate turns in my life I enrolled in a CC, 4 years after graduating High School. I tested into Math 025 (Beginning Algebra), and went through 2 semesters of remedial math before taking College Algebra/Trig. I'm in Trig now, teaching myself Calculus and Linear Algebra. I'm taking Calc I this summer, and Calc II/Linear Algebra/Physics/Gen Chem II this fall.

    That's all there is to it. You simply have to decide what you want and reach for it. If you're short on funds you can fill out FAFSA. The priority deadline for a lot of scholarships has likely already passed (at least on my campus) but the deadline for the Fall semester isn't until June or July. You still have time. Send in an application to a local community college. Study up on your math and take a placement test.

    Don't worry about declaring a major so soon. You say you've never had any serious interest in the sciences so you can't even be sure Physics is for you. Hell, I can't be sure it's for me. More than anything I love learning about how and why things work (I'm not particularly concerned with MAKING them work, or I'd consider Engineering), but I've never taken a calc-based Physics course. I'm guessing you haven't either. Don't feel the need to jump into the proverbial deep end of "I'm getting my PhD!" before you've even dipped your toes into the lake.

    FAFSA. Application. Placement. Register for whatever math class they assign you and take some entry-level science courses. Which ones will depend on your interest(s), but be sure not to overload yourself. I took General Chemistry I without taking the suggested prereq of Intro Chemistry. I passed but my grade suffered because of it, and there's little chance I could've passed if I hadn't already taken two semesters of remedial math. You will need math skills. Before you even take your first Physics course you'll have enroll in Calculus, which means getting through (or placing out of) remedial math, college algebra and trig.

    If you want it badly enough, it'll happen. Study hard, do NOT procrastinate, and try not to let the success of other people get you down. I mean it. It can be downright depressing reading some of the freshman schedules posted on this site. xD Entering a prestigious university right out of high school and going into Calc III and assorted physics courses vs not taking Calc I until the summer of your second year. It's not as bad as it sounds though; if all goes well I'll finish up 4 years of math in 3 years (meaning I'd have spent only 1 extra year at CC), by taking Calc I in the summer and ODE concurrently with Calc III.

    If all goes well. <Sigh.> "What one fool can do..."
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