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Looking for some double major advice

  1. Dec 7, 2011 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I am looking to see what some of you would do in my place. Let me explain the situation, because its a little complicated. Financial aid is cut off at 188 attempted credit hours, and I am dependent upon financial aid to pay for school. Right now, I am just returning to school as a physics and math major after a break of a few years (messed my life up, had to take a break to straighten things out etc), and have 56 attempted credits. I have no classes towards either major completed at this time.

    I would like to pursue graduate school after this, and would like to know whether pursuing the double major would prepare me better for graduate school in physics, or would it be wiser to not do some of the upper division math and instead take more than the required amount of physics. I don't have very many credit hours to work with, and have little room for error or just taking a class for the heck of it. Doing the double major and taking more than the required amount of physics is not really an option, as it would push me over the 188 limit.

    Thank you so much for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2011 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think you answered your question. You can't do both so do one. Pick the one that you enjoy more and the one that you'll do better at. With a goal of going to grad school, you need to have the best grades possible and you need to prep for the GRE. Check your planned grad schools now and see what GRE subject tests they require that can add focus to your choice of courses.

    For grad physics, most schools require only the GRE but for grad math some schools require the GRE Math subject test as well. The standard GRE has math upto about 1st year college but the Math subject test covers a lot more. If you do decide on Math then check the Math GRE to see how much of the topics you've covered already.

    Base GRE: http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/content/

    Math Subject GRE: http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about/content/mathematics

    Physics Subject GRE: http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about/content/physics

    If you plan to major in Physics then get your undergrad in Physics and continue your math studies later when you get into grad school. Conversely if you plan to major in math.

    In my case, I got thru undergrad as a Physics major with a minor in Math. I liked both but felt more comfortable doing Physics and taking math courses as needed to understand more Physics (as in taking an indepent study in Tensor Analysis in order to later take a GenRel independent study).

    Once I got out of school, I became a programmer (go figure) where my math and physics helped me deal with complex programming assignments (that really weren't that complex if you had the math).
  4. Dec 7, 2011 #3
    which math classes were these? or was it that mathematical type of problem solving in general that did the trick? or was it the type of sharp analytics one develops after so many analysis courses? thanks
  5. Dec 7, 2011 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    It was mostly linear algebra and vectors for graphics based programming. The fact that linear algebra and tensor algebra work very similar to data tables in fortran and c helped a lot. Many programmers of the time were very uncomfortable with using indexed tables and would get lost in the details but with my training it was child's play. I used the vector translation and rotation to do a floor planning program on a calcomp plotter. Having the math and physics makes it easy to do many technical programming assignments.

    If you're planning to be a CS major then it's important to have a solid minor in science, engineering or business because your programming customers won't tolerate someone who doesn't speak their lingo.
  6. Dec 7, 2011 #5
    The only reason I am doing the math major is to bolster the physics for getting into a grad physics program. If the math major is not going to accomplish that, then it is not worth it. I guess the question I'm asking, in a more general sense, is whether it is better to double major in physics/math or to take more physics, beyond the requirements for the B.S. The time I spend doing my undergrad is not a concern (the number of semesters it takes), but I would like to spend my time/credits/money the best way I can.
  7. Dec 7, 2011 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Okay you probably need to speak to a physics prof for best strategy. If you want to be an experimentalist then obviously more physics. For theoretical physics it's trickier because it's so competitive, your needs would vary based on whether you want to do cosmology, string theory, particle physics, condensed matter... I can't answer for these.

    My interests were in computational physics where an understanding on OO programming and differential equations is key. Other related maths were stat and vector analysis for setting up the simulation.
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