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My Dream is to study Physics, but I have questions

  1. Dec 15, 2014 #1
    Ever since I was about 11 years old, my dream has been to pursue a career in any scientific field whatsoever (I practically enjoy learning about all of them!). I ended up being enchanted by the magic of physics at an early age as well, thanks to my childhood heroes such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, etc. As I grew up (17 now), my burning passion has slowly started to wither proportional to the realization of the grim reality of how difficult it truly is for me to become a physicist. My math skills aren't the greatest and when it comes to applying it in Physics I tend to fall behind. I guess it's easy to say you're hungry for understanding how the universe works before actually taking a glimpse of the intellectual obstacles that come as an appetizer. Needless to say, I still love Physics as I did when I was first baffled by its beauty amidst an innocent youth, but my consciousness is riddled with questions.

    In high school, I'm studying my first year in the IB program (Sophomore year) and included in my mandatory courses is basic Physics. I have long awaited the day I can study physics with a class rather than individual studying. As I'm writing this, I'm 1 month away from finishing my sophomore year and I plan on choosing Physics for the rest of my high school days. Will this help me get better at my math skills? I'm already struggling to be slightly above average in mathematics and I fear this weakness will jeopardize my grades in the future for Physics. If not, what can I do to improve my math skills?

    There are still so many questions I have and I'm glad there's a community here that can help me set my life straight. Will graduating from the IB program improve my chances of getting into a good university for physics? It's something I've been told but never been assured. I hope the fact that I'm finishing high school in South America doesn't affect my chances negatively. I've had my eyes on UCLA for quite a bit, seeing that a close relative of mine works in the medicine department there. Will that up my chances of being accepted?

    What should I do to improve my chances of getting into a good university, such as UCLA? There are very few to no extra-curricular programs to do here that will appeal to any college, so I'm stuck with school-only advantages. Does school president sound like it can give me an edge? I've been considered as a strong candidate for that.

    I don't know whether I'm being paranoid about my future too early on or if my worrying is completely appropriate. I would very much appreciate anyone chipping in on helping me out, and who are better at helping young scholars than the formidable and passionate physicists? Sorry for the long post, but I feel it is necessary.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2014 #2


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    You definitely have to be good in math to do physics. However, if you are determine to major in physics, there are ways that you can still do this.

    If your math skills are still shaky, then you may want to consider remedial college math courses. Schools sometime have placement tests to tell them what necessary math backgrounds that you may need, and this is something that you might want to pay attention to. You may have to hold back on taking your first college physics class for a semester or two just so you get more math classes before jumping into calculus.

    I don't know your chance of getting into UCLA, and no one here can tell you that since we don't have the exact info on your academic standing. Besides, admission criteria to any school is not something that can be determined clearly.

  4. Dec 16, 2014 #3


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    Hard work can overcome the lack of natural talent. Whenever I was in high school I got Just high enough grades in algebra1-2 and geometry to play sports. In college, I decided I had to buckle down and study more often and I have gotten the high in every math class I have taken so far. I haven't taken a lot but I have taken College Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus 1. This is competing with kids who got straight A's in high school and taken Calculus also. So don't worry, just spend more time studying efficiently.
  5. Dec 17, 2014 #4
    Do everything you can to make straight A's. Especially in math and physics. Take every AP science/math course you can and score 5's. Take other AP courses too to balance the load and score 5's on them. That will knock out some of your general electives and let you focus on physics in college. Study math/physics in your spare time on sites like coursera.org or youtube. If you ever have any question whatsoever, don't be afraid to ask your teacher.

    Yeah, undergrad schools like to see extracurriculars. School president will definitely give you an edge. They also like to see volunteering stuff, so you could do some volunteer hours. But make sure it's in some kind of "leadership" role.
  6. Dec 18, 2014 #5
    Thank you all for your help! This answers a lot of the questions I had in my mind.
  7. Dec 18, 2014 #6
    Sadly, there are no AP courses in South American. AP is a school program only available in USA and Canada. After doing much research, it seems to me that IB can be the better choice when it comes to writing skills (even though universities throw AP and IB students to the same admission pile). Also, how much of an edge do you think school president can give me? I don't know if I can achieve that but if it helps getting into a good college I will definitely try my best. In my country, community work is completely mandatory and if we don't clock a certain amount of accumulated hours of volunteer work (which is a lot), we're not allowed to graduate.
  8. Dec 18, 2014 #7
    Oh, sorry. Your English is really excellent in your first post, I actually just assumed you were from California. School president is probably one of the best positions you can get. But make sure to pursue other things too, like sports (if you're athletic, you don't have to be a superstar, just shows you take care of yourself). It's great that you already do volunteer work. Try to get into a "leadership position" or something that you can put on your application like organizing your own volunteer event. US universities are all about looking for "well-rounded" applicants that basically show they can jump through all kinds of different hoops in order to get into college. It's not my ideal system if you ask me, but it's how they work here.

    But don't let these activities take you away from your studies. Make sure to get as good grades as possible, and then use the rest of your time doing the other stuff. I don't know much about the IB diploma, but I have met a few people that did it and they seemed like they were pretty smart.
  9. Dec 19, 2014 #8
    Thanks, I used to live in Florida for 13 years so my english might seem pretty american. Interesting you should mention, I play soccer in school but I don't take any classes or anything apart from what I have to do for it. Should I? I feel like it might take up a big portion of my day which I spend studying and doing research.

    I'll try my best to become school president. I feel like it's something I could reach. My only doubt was that if it's really worth the time invested so I could have a pretty college application. Thanks for your tips, it has really helped clear my mind.
  10. Dec 20, 2014 #9


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    As others have said, you do certainly need to be good at math to do physics. Not only that, but you have to actually like math to a certain degree. Not being the greatest in math is an obstacle, but it's one that can certainly be overcome with time and practice. You mention having trouble using mathematics to solve physics problems, and this is far from uncommon. One of the first things that develops in physics is a problem solving intuition. It's easy to get intimidated and caught up in the lists of formulas and equations, but in time you develop more of in intuition and ability so separate the math from the actual physics. You're not going to get away from either one, but when viewed somewhat separately it can get a bit easier sometimes.

    You're having the same realization that many other students have. Plenty of us grew up with Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. That was my inspiration for studying physics, but I quickly realized that physics wasn't all about the multiverse and black holes. I've come to have a much more profound appreciation for just how beautiful physics is by learning it from the ground up. There will be challenges for sure, but with hard work, it can certainly be done.
  11. Dec 21, 2014 #10
    Just to let you know, math is mostly about memorizing formulas and interpreting questions into formulas to form answers. You don't really need to be a genius to understand it. Hard work and just practice problems will solve your math problem. Physics is mostly about the Math excluding the theoretical point of it. Just practice doing problems and you will do fine.
  12. Dec 21, 2014 #11


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    That very much depends on the type of math one is doing. A lot of math is very formulaic, but it eventually reaches a point where simply memorizing a formula isn't necessarily going to get the job done. Although a lot of the theoretical aspects of mathematics aren't necessarily directly relevant to using math to solve physics problems, it's still important to understand conceptually what the mathematics means within the context of the problem.

    Once you get past the introductory algebra and calculus classes, math starts to become a lot less formula driven and a lot more theoretical. Many physics majors don't ever take any math beyond introductory calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra. But studying math beyond this point is going to be incredibly beneficial for just about anyone studying physics.
  13. Dec 22, 2014 #12
    This is the wrong way to do math. Unfortunately, it's how most math education graduates have been taught how to teach in college and they go out into the primary and secondary schools teaching students this method, and it's a self-perpetuating cycle. Math is NOT about "memorizing formulas."
  14. Dec 22, 2014 #13
    Is it possible to take Calculus in High School? I'm not too sure if there is a Calculus class in my school. Another thing: should I prepare for my SAT by taking courses? There's a place in my city where they give you SAT/ACT preparatory classes and I was wondering if I should take them. A bunch of their old students are now studying at universities such as Harvard, Caltech, MIT, etc., and I think that gives them a lot of credibility.
  15. Dec 22, 2014 #14
    Some schools have it and others don't. Only way to know is to ask your school. If it's not an option, try looking at local community colleges and ask if you can enroll to take calculus 1 for a semester, and calc 2 as well if you can. Getting those out of the way is a big deal for prospective physics majors looking to take an honors intro course at a good university.

    As for the SATs, I self studied and did well, but if you feel the need to have a structure built for you to study from, taking a class won't hurt. Just remember that the SATs are only one factor that's considered.
  16. Dec 22, 2014 #15
    I have friends who took university calculus and physics courses while they were still in high school. I would see if your school has any dual enrollment type programs.
  17. Dec 22, 2014 #16


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    As the others have said, it really depends on the high school. Many high schools offer calculus I and calculus II, or at least the equivalents of. They may go under slightly different names. Doing dual enrollment at a local community college is always an option too.
  18. Dec 22, 2014 #17
    I can be in High School and take College courses at the same time?
  19. Dec 22, 2014 #18
    Well, here in America you can. I noticed you're in South America. I don't know what your situation is, but here there are lots of programs for motivated high school students to take college level work at a local community college or state college. You'll have to see, but it may be an option for you to take.
  20. Dec 22, 2014 #19


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    It's going to vary in different countries, but in the US it's not too uncommon. A lot of motivated high school students take more advanced classes at a local community college while they're still in high school. Some students are able to complete calc I and calc II, and go right into calc III when they get to college, some of them are able to complete some introductory college physics or chemistry etc. It involves a lot of extra work, but it can be well worth it for many students.
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