1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is Physics for Me?

  1. Aug 30, 2007 #1
    I thoroughly enjoy Physics. Everything about the subject entertains me to no possible end. However, I'm having some troubled thoughts about my future. I'm a freshman in college. I want a B.S. in Physics, but a lot of obstacles are in my way. First, I'm not even in the right math class to begin with. I'm in college algebra (don't look at me like I'm stupid!). Basically, I took a placement test, and the math department believes I should be in this class. However, I can go to the math department and see if I can be placed in a higher class. As much as I want to become a physicist, I'm sort of being drawn away from my adviser, as he says Physics is calculus based, and that you must know your calculus. He said most physics majors don't come into college taking college algebra. He also said those that do start with college algebra have too difficult a time when going up the ranks to Calculus 2 and 3. With this, my whole feeling about physics went down the drain. I took a Precal class is high school, but I don't think it matters here. My physics professors have also stated that the language of physics is calculus. Truth is, I've never been a math wiz, however, every math class I ever took I received in A or B. The only thing I ever did bad on was math placement tests and the math segment on the ACT. My question to you all is if I should try graduating with physics, even with a sour math background? I was going to major in physics with a minor in biology, but now I think I might reverse that. I might Major in Biology and possibly minor in Physics, or maybe major or minor in chemistry. I'm new to the forums, and I really love this place. I love physics, but maybe I don't have a future in it. It sucks when you want to be something really bad, but then God says "nope, you can't do this, your not smart enough."
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2007 #2
    Well I'm not going to lie, physics is pretty heavy in the math department even a lot of intro college physics classes are calculus based you really do know how to apply, manipulate and derive mathematical equations fairly well. But if you really want to do it I'd go for it if you're dedicated enough. So what if you're in college algebra -- you can always catch-up and then take the physics courses along side of calculus. Just curious, but what if the highest math class you've taken in highschool?
  4. Aug 30, 2007 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    The amount of math you know is not nearly as important as whether you enjoy math. Do you enjoy math when you take classes in it, even if it is challenging? If you do, and you are a hard worker, you should be able to make it in physics. If you HATE doing math problems, then physics probably won't be for you, since you wouldn't enjoy it. Good luck in you decisions!
  5. Aug 30, 2007 #4
    Just to let you know. I started in college algebra and worked my way through calculus and beyond. (Last semester I took a graduate level class in Partial Differential Equations and a class in Linear Algebra) It was long but doable. I did poorly on placement tests as well. I will be graduating in the spring with a bachelors in Physics and will be a few classes away from a bachelors in math.
    Not to sound to condescending, but alot of college advisers have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to physics/math degrees. If a person has sufficient drive and perseverance than anything is possible. Do not sell yourself short. Alot of people come out of high school unprepared for various reasons.
  6. Aug 30, 2007 #5
    I have to agree with GO1 here... as long as you enjoy math, go for it. Hell, it may be possible that you've just had terrible teachers in the past... in my own case, I went from making straight Cs in highschool math up until I got to take calculus and all of a sudden it was interesting and I was motivated.

    If you enjoy math and are motivated and willing to work hard, then GO FOR IT.

    Also, welcome to college! Notice that all of your professors have something called "office hours"? USE THEM!
  7. Aug 30, 2007 #6
    Physics is applied math, and depending on your choice of papers you'll find that almost everything you learn in mathematics has some kind of practical application. So yeah, it is really quite important that you enjoy math and have a good grasp of the concepts involved; not just in calculus but also linear and abstract algebra.
  8. Aug 30, 2007 #7
    how could you have taken precalc in high school yet be placed in algebra?
  9. Aug 30, 2007 #8
    trust yourself man u will be fine. I have few friends who started from algebra and are taking calculus III+Differential equation, also i have a friend in my calculus III who is 48 years old, broke with family and started studying at the age of 45. he spends most of his time in tutorial center doing math and is doing fine..Remember, math might be good choice for genius but is excellent for hard workers.
    even i am not too smart and bit slow understanding material, once i understand it, i understand more than other ;) and appear as a smartest guy in my class. Reality is that the person who study hard, will be successful. calm down buddy one day u will be excellent on math and physics..
    study what ever u feel is for u.
  10. Aug 30, 2007 #9
    You don't know what his highschool was like.

    Also, some people just don't do really well on high pressure tests.
  11. Aug 31, 2007 #10


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Brandinho, if your counseling assessment indicated that you need PreCalculus then this means that you retained enough concepts and skills to be placed in PreCalculus...instead of Introductory Algebra. You should feel good, very good about yourself. Some people go through four years of college prep math in high school and when they enter college, they have lost more than half of what they knew.

    You can enroll in very important courses before your first physics course while you bring up your mathematical knowledge. You could study one or two computer science courses, which you will find extremely useful for other science courses, even maybe useful in a math course.

    One of the purposes of PreCalculus is to gain increased skill and understanding of Algebra; since you might be repeating some of what you will study, you should be able to learn some topics and skills much better than when you were in high school. Now, the Physics courses can wait one or two semesters until you have studied some Calculus. Once you start, you will be applying mostly Algebra and Trigonometry. In the second course (probably Electricity & Magnetism Fundamentals), you will use significant amounts of Calculus, too.

    At worst, you are hardly delayed at all; maybe by only one or two semesters.
  12. Aug 31, 2007 #11


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Go for it. You seem to really be enthusiastic about physics so it seems clear that that is what you should be majoring in.

    Don't let your advisor get you down. Make it clear to him that physics is the way you want to go. Go to the math department and see if you can be placed in a higher class... if not, just stick with it... it may seem hard now, but looking back you'll feel good about the whole thing.

    Hard work is far more important than innate talent... If you work hard, you'll be fine.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2007
  13. Aug 31, 2007 #12
    Thanks all. Your replies have really put a profound effect on me. I will going to the math department today and see if I can get into the PreCal course. If worse comes to worse, I'll do some summer school, which if fine by mean. Again, thanks for the help.
  14. Aug 31, 2007 #13
    I didnt mean to sound harsh. I just thought that maybe his college misplaced him in that he should at least be in precalc
  15. Aug 31, 2007 #14
    Fair enough.

    I guess it would help if we knew more about his situation.
  16. Aug 31, 2007 #15
    Yeah, I was in the same boat man, well still kind of there. I go to a community college and I'm cheating the system a little bit. I've taken on massive courseloads at a community college (24 units+) and maintained a 4.0, but I placed in Algebra mathematics wise. I have a year left before I transfer to Berkeley, and sadly I'm in trig right now. I take Pre-calc over the winter intersession and a combined Calc 1 and 2 course in the spring. Unfortunately for me it is not until you complete Calculus 1 that you can take a Calculus based physics course at my college. So referring back to cheating the system, I did the lower division requirements as an anthropology major. Berkeley has a summer transfer session before you actually start and I can knock out Multivariable Calculus and one of the first intro physics courses(out of 3) Then Linear Algebra in the Fall with the 2nd physics course and then taking the 3rd physics course in the spring(and then finally I can declare a major as physics) Although this will set me back a semester I beleive it will be well worth it. Ultimately I think it will benifit me more to take those physics courses at Berkeley instead of a community college. The moral of the story is, if you really decide that Physics is what you want to do, your college can't stop you from doing it(unless it is impacted.) So I wish you the best of luck

    P.S. There are shortcuts to everything as well ;)
  17. Aug 31, 2007 #16


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Ask to take the placement exam again.

    - Warren
  18. Aug 31, 2007 #17
    Most schools make you wait a year before you can take it again. I tried doing that too. :frown:

    Well, I guess you could say that you were sick that day you took the test.....
  19. Aug 31, 2007 #18
    I startd in intermediate (which I found to be the best thing ever) and I am now in Calc III and Engineering Physics I and I amdoing great. It doesnt matter where you start or anything you should do hat you love and if physics is it do it. A counselor shouldnt try to steer you away from something you want to do just because you scored low on a placement test.

    Also on the retake I was able to do it. What I did was sign up for the class and I went down met the teacher and she didnt have no problem allowing me to do this. Usually it just takes a teacher permission to get it done. (This was for english for me but it holds true all ways I just wanted the refreshers in math they really helped a lot. It seemed like I was more prepared than the people straight out of high school to calc I)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook