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It may sound crazy, but triple major?

  1. Mar 22, 2008 #1
    Hey all,

    I could definitely use some good advice right about now. I'm an undergrad in my second year of college, currently declared as a Merged Physics/Mathematics major with a minor in Astronomy. After taking math courses through diff eq, linear algebra, and foundations of mathematics (proof-writing, set theory, etc) I've come to realize that I really, really, really like math a lot. I also really love physics... and although I haven't had too much of a background in astronomy yet, I've had this desire to be an astrophysicist for quite a while (though some other areas of physics also sound quite appealing... I'm not too sure just yet.)

    The quandary? I want to major in all three: Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy. Not just for the titles, or anything like that, but simply because I'm in love with all three subjects and want to get as much of each in as possible as an undergraduate before I head off to grad school. Also, as a physics major, obtaining the astronomy major means I only have to take five astronomy courses (one of which I've already completed.) So, dual majoring in physics and astronomy isn't quite as taxing as two completely separate majors, and as such, is an often-pursued goal among many of the physics majors in our department. Now the math, however... That'll take longer.

    Completing all three majors means that instead of graduating in May 2010, like I normally would, I'll probably take one more semester and graduate in December of 2010. One of my questions is, how will that look to potential graduate schools? Do they place a lot of emphasis on graduating on time? I've obtained all A's and B's in my courses so far, and definitely plan to in future courses.

    My second question is, given the next five semesters...

    Fall'08 (16 credits): Observational astronomy and lab, intro to analysis, complex variables, mechanics I, mathematical methods of physics

    Spring'09 (15 credits): Electricity and magnetism I, advanced lab, discrete math, mechanics II, intro to topology, nuclear physics

    Fall'09 (15 credits): Intro to math statistics, quantum mechanics, partial differential equations, intro to abstract algebra, some Honors liberal studies course

    Spring'10 (15 credits): Astrophysics: galaxies, history and philosophy of math, thermal and statistical physics, electricity and magnetism II, some Honors liberal studies course

    Fall'10 (wrapping it all up, 15): Astrophysics: stars, physics senior seminar, intro to computer science, discrete math, some Honors liberal studies course

    ... will I "die"? Is this an unreal amount of coursework, given the difficulty of the courses I'll be taking? I want to keep high grades in my courses, but I don't how realistic of an expectation this is. I could push back graduation even further, maybe, to slow things up... but there are also all the other factors of undergrad research, preparation for the GRE, etc...

    Thanks for taking the time to read through all this! Any and all advice would be immensely appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2008 #2
    Personally I'd stick with 2 majors and stretch out credits so that you can do research relatively comfortably. That's what I did and it turned out great. To be honest: Why do you want 3 undergraduate degrees? Just because you have an interest in a subject doesn't mean you need a degree to prove to everyone else you are interested in it. At most, you just need a degree so that you can apply reasonably to a related field in grad school.
  4. Mar 22, 2008 #3
    Stick with two take the third one up as an independant learning hobby.
  5. Mar 22, 2008 #4
    Thanks for your prompt responses!

    Well, I'm certain that I want to pursue the degrees in both math and physics, especially because right now the fields of theoretical physics and particle physics sound really appealing...

    But say that after time, I find that astrophysics is really want I want to go into - but I don't get the major or minor in astronomy. Will I still be able to study astrophysics in graduate school with only having a very minimal astronomy background in my undergrad career?
  6. Mar 22, 2008 #5
    Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think physics research experience would be as good if not better for astronomy grad school, than taking a third major with no research
  7. Mar 23, 2008 #6
    im a triple major, its doable. Your social life, however, will almost disapear. If you see a future in particle physics, then its a no brainer to seek research experience in physics.
  8. Mar 23, 2008 #7


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    Homework Helper

    Wow that's insane. I didn't know colleges offered triple major programmes. So at the end of your education, would you have 1 degree or three?
  9. Mar 23, 2008 #8


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    Yes, absolutely. It's your maths and physics skills that are important; you can pick up other knowledge whilst in grad school.
  10. Mar 23, 2008 #9
    I did a triple major in Physics, Mathematics, and Philosophy, which meant graduating in 5 years instead of 4, and got accepted by some top 30 physics graduate programs. Just like you, the main reason I did it was for personal interest.

    I don''t think the triple major hurt, and in fact I think it may have helped my admissions even though it meant I took an extra year to grad.

    If I had to go back and do it again, I would have triple majored from the very beginning! I recommend doing it for sure.

    I will also mention that a great astronomy professor I took classes from got his undergraduate in pure math, and went to grad school for astrophysics (but this was nearly 50 years ago).
  11. Mar 24, 2008 #10


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    To the OP:

    I'm sure the triple major would be doable, but you are going to have to make sure you aren't missing out on other important parts of your education. Like you pointed out, research experience is important, especially if you want to go to grad school in any field.

    So, if you want to go to grad school, remember not to push research aside because you have lots of classes to take. If you think you can handle the triple major and get in good research experience, then you should be fine. But if you don't think you can, then I suggest putting you time into research experience rather than the triple major.
  12. Jun 2, 2008 #11
    I'm considering a triple major too. I'm so deeply interested in philosophy, biology, physics, and astronomy that I wouldn't want to miss any chance to learn more about each of them. Having said that, of course I'd want to major in Math along side of Physics if I want to go to graduate school for physics or astronomy, and that wouldn't leave any room for biology and philosophy, which I feel are equally important. I'm at this sort of stand-still. I would ideally like to triple major in biology, philosophy, and physics, and then in graduate school get more into each of them and astronomy, but I wouldn't have the math major I would need for physics/astronomy in grad school. So much to know, not enough time. :(
  13. Jun 2, 2008 #12
    First make sure that this is even doable at your school. Also make sure that there are no hours requirements for a second/third major. You say you'd only need to take 5 classes for the Astronomy major, which is probably true, but I know at my school you need a minimum of 36 extra credit hours (about the equivalent of 12 classes) to get a second major, no matter how few extra classes would be required (otherwise it would be stupidly easy to major in both Physics and Applied Physics for example).

    I won't comment on whether or not its a good idea to do it because everyone else seems to have that covered.
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