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Courses More Maths or Physics Courses as an Physics undergrad?

  1. Jul 10, 2012 #1

    I'm looking for some advice on course selection and their potential impact on graduate school applications.

    I'm going into my third year and I'm primarily interested in Physics.
    I was originally thinking of doing a double major in Maths & Physics, but unfortunately they conflict with some other senior/graduate level Physics courses such as quantum optics, condensed matter and statistical mechanics and I'm really interested in all of them.

    However, if I take those Physics courses instead, I will have to drop my Honors complex and real analysis and PDEs. (to the normal versions of them)

    I'm under the impression that doing more Maths is highly advantageous for grad school, both admission-wise and the fact that many abstract mathematical tools become useful in grad level physics and it'd be helpful if I get used to them soon.

    Which of them (taking honors maths or grad/senior level physics) would be more advantageous for graduate school purposes or beneficial to a Physics students education in the long run?

    Any input is highly appreciated!
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2012 #2
    I'd pick the physics courses, no question.
  4. Jul 11, 2012 #3


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    I suppose it really depends on where your interests lie an what kind of physics you're hoping to do once you get to graduate school.

    To me it would seem that your primary goal should be exposure to the various physics sub-fields and so from that respect I would say go with the physics courses. But maybe you're already pretty sure that you want to go into the mathematical/theoretical side of physics, in which case the math courses might be the better decision for you.

    When a graduate committee assesses your coursework they're looking primarily to see that you have covered enough material that you'll be successful in the graduate program. Will the candidate be able to pass the qualifying exam without remedial work? One or two specific courses that may be important for a particular field/project can always be picked up during graduate school.
  5. Jul 11, 2012 #4
    I think those physics courses will fill in gaps of things people might expect you to understand.

    If you downgrade from honors to normal versions of the math courses, I think that you will still get the information that you can use. I think its obvious to take the non honors versions of those math courses and concentrate on developing a strong base in physics.

    The fact that you're doing a second major in math is enough to show graduate schools that you are capable, since many physics students don't do double majors.
  6. Jul 11, 2012 #5
    Thanks for all the input (and apologies for breaking the rule twice)
    Unfortunately if I decide to do more Physics course instead and take the normal version maths courses, I'll lose my Maths major. (though I'll still be taking quite a few maths course)
    Does the "maths major" title itself add any value ?
    Thanks again. :smile:
  7. Jul 12, 2012 #6
    Someone correct me if im wrong, but I don't think physics grad programs care much about extra math. They just want to know how good at physics you are.

    Take the physics courses. You want to be a physicist right? Sure math is great and useful, but not as useful as physics courses.
  8. Jul 12, 2012 #7
    Your advice seems to be conflicting: "take the non honors versions" implies not doing the double major but taking extra physics courses; "the fact that you're doing a second major in math is enough" implies he should do the double major, i.e. not take the extra physics courses. I presumes you misread the situation?

    @ xiebrop: or go totally gangbusters and do both the double major and some extra physics courses :) you say something's holding you back, but you don't specify. Is it either simply too much coursework, or just overlapping schedules? If the latter and not the former, you might entertain the idea to self-study some courses if you can't go to the lectures? I'm not saying you should certainly do this, you shouldn't overwork yourself, just throwing it in as a suggestion, and wondering what you think about it.
  9. Jul 12, 2012 #8
    I was thinking that it might just be another a causation/correlation fallacy :smile:
    Maybe the double major students were better students to start with so they could do more work and naturally are more likely accepted to better schools.
    I'd like to know whether taking more maths is actually helpful ( not that I'm not interested in Maths, but just a lot less compared to Physics), or is it just another correlation thing. And if that's the case I might just as well do what I like most.
    I'm just worrying that dropping it will become a barrier toward more advanced studies.

    Actually, both. They have overlapping schedules and plus it's gonna be a lot of work to take 6 courses for one semester. (that's probably 30 problem sets and almost 10 midterms, plus Honor Maths tends to be very brutal)
    I'm a bit worried that I'd get overwhelmed and end up doing worse than just doing either one of them, but that's a very good point, I've been debating with myself whether I should just do both.

    Thanks again everyone.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2012
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