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Math major + physics minor for grad school

  1. May 21, 2015 #1
    I've thrown around this possibility before, but I've developed such a respect for this forum and the people interested in physics that I feel comfortable enough to listen to others input and experience. I'm attending a local University free of charge, but they only offer a minor in physics. I have yet to speak with an adviser, but I don't believe there are any programs that would allow me to seek a major in physics without a hefty hit to my pocket. So....I'm looking for a smarter approach.

    It's my understanding that mathematics is the language of physics, and that often students struggle with understanding the math, not the physics. My idea was to major in pure mathematics, take a minor in physics, and designate a few days out of my week solely to self-teaching physics from a multitude of college-level undergraduate physics material in order to prepare myself for the GRE. The reason I want to do this is because I desire to go on to a graduate school for physics, maybe somewhere prestigious like MIT.

    The problem, of course, is that my lack of a physics major could (and probably will) mean that I might be severely lacking in some areas for the test and subsequent graduate school if I had not covered advanced subjects at home or during the minor.

    Does anyone have first-hand experience? Maybe see a flaw in my plan? Any input is greatly appreciated. Don't hold back, I want honest opinions if my plan is ridiculous and I'm being too optimistic.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2015 #2

    Choppy

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    Well, the obvious flaw is that you're trying to get into graduate school in physics without doing a degree in physics.

    Usually physics programs will accept people from other fields, and under some circumstances a mathematics major with a physics minor might cut it. But there is some uncertainty there. Will your minor give you an adequate background in the senior physics courses that you will need to be successful in graduate school? It's hard to say. But if you're aiming for particularly competitive programs, remember that the pool of applicants will include people who certainly have taken and aced in their senior undergraduate physics courses, and from and admissions point of view, that will often make them a safer bet.

    Don't make the mistake of assuming the GRE is a surrogate for these courses. The main point of the GRE is to serve as a common exam to help counter issues such as grade-inflation. It is not a comprehensive examination.

    Finally, designating a few days to self-teach out of the week is fine, but (a) will require a lot of discipline and (b) won't leave you with much to show for it that will count towards graduate school applications.

    I understand it can be hard to give up a free ride. Have you thought about perhaps doing as much as you can where you are and then transferring for a final year to graduate with a double-major?
     
  4. May 21, 2015 #3
    I really appreciate the advice you are giving me, and it has certainly forced me to rethink my position. In regards to your question, could you elaborate on the double major? If I transfer to another school from a math major into a physics major, I would've thought that I would only be getting credit for the physics major.

    But, yes. I have considered transferring to another college after the first 2 years in order to pursue a physics major elsewhere. It's just really hard to turn down free money, and I'm afraid of my credits not transferring towards a physics major.
     
  5. May 21, 2015 #4

    e.bar.goum

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    I know a few people who have done mathematics or chemistry undergraduate degrees who are know doing PhDs in physics. So doing so is certainly not out of the question, although their PhD work has tended to have a bit of a mathematical (or chemical) emphasis.

    But as Choppy rightly points out, it does make it all a bit harder.
     
  6. May 21, 2015 #5
    Do you know how successful their graduate studies have been without the physics major?
     
  7. May 22, 2015 #6

    e.bar.goum

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    One of the chemists moved from a pure physics PhD to a much more applied one, the mathematicians are doing fine.

    The caveat is that in my country, (Australia) we don't do graduate coursework. I think they would have struggled more if they had to do grad coursework, I imagine.
     
  8. May 22, 2015 #7

    QuantumCurt

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    Such a plan would have to be researched very carefully. A lot of schools have policies making these types of things possible. I'm transferring into UIUC this fall and completing dual degrees in physics and math. I need to complete at least 60 hours of coursework on the UIUC campus, and the second degree in math requires an additional 30 credits beyond the requirements for the physics degree. It would likely be very difficult to successfully transfer and finish a double major in the last year.
     
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