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Need Advice

  • Thread starter Gear300
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Currently I'm living in a relatively cheap apartment. I live off a minimum wage job making about $12 000 a year, which isn't much, but it is apparently a bit more than enough for how I live. I haven't gone through my undergraduate years in college (right now I'm gathering money). I want to do physics. I'm already in the middle of learning material through books and internet; after I come back from work, I mostly spend my time reading material. I've already finished up with the material in classical physics and special relativity. I'm in the middle of reading on quantum mechanics (and various other material on a more conceptual basis). For the math, through realizing that the level changes at some point, I've gone through the basic linear algebra and am in the middle of reading up on modern algebra (group theory and so forth) before heading into more rigorous analysis; on the side, I'm also covering differential equations. My plan is to live in a state with a college that has a good physics program that I can pay for. That way, I would be able to pay less as a state resident while using financial aid.

The problem I'm having here is how do I pay for college while in college (it cuts from my work time). I'm planning to enter graduate school, but the job market for a degree in physics looks bleak. Any advice as to how I would be able to carry things out?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Wax
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Seems like most people on these forums say that you need some type of programming language in order to get work with a degree in physics. You should probably learn one of them.
 
  • #3
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Seems like most people on these forums say that you need some type of programming language in order to get work with a degree in physics. You should probably learn one of them.
Thanks for the advice. Also, do you know any universities with good physics programs (that I could afford)?
 
  • #4
lisab
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Hi Gear - I worked my way through a physics degree, too. I won't sugar-coat it...it's tough. You can count on very little time for socializing or dating.

But as far as finances go...yeah, that's tough too. Here's what helped me: working at places that offer tuition reimbursement as a benefit. Lots of companies do this (usually large companies, UPS comes to mind but there are lots of others). Taking one or two classes a quarter makes for a long slog but it's doable.

Don't let today's job market influence your decision...by the time you graduate, it's going to be a totally different landscape (it took me 9-1/2 years!).

Good luck!
 
  • #5
lisab
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Thanks for the advice. Also, do you know any universities with good physics programs (that I could afford)?
I did a year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (took mostly chemistry there). I later graduated from the University of Washington, but the education I had at UAF was excellent.

I don't know about now, but back then it was very affordable. Plus, once you're a resident, you get http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Permanent_Fund" [Broken] simply for living there.

When I was there I couldn't find an employer who offered tuition reimbursement...it's a small town. But it was still affordable, thanks to cheap tuition and money from the state.
 
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  • #6
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Hi Gear - I worked my way through a physics degree, too. I won't sugar-coat it...it's tough. You can count on very little time for socializing or dating.

But as far as finances go...yeah, that's tough too. Here's what helped me: working at places that offer tuition reimbursement as a benefit. Lots of companies do this (usually large companies, UPS comes to mind but there are lots of others). Taking one or two classes a quarter makes for a long slog but it's doable.

Don't let today's job market influence your decision...by the time you graduate, it's going to be a totally different landscape (it took me 9-1/2 years!).

Good luck!
I did a year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (took mostly chemistry there). I later graduated from the University of Washington, but the education I had at UAF was excellent.

I don't know about now, but back then it was very affordable. Plus, once you're a resident, you get http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Permanent_Fund" [Broken] simply for living there.

When I was there I couldn't find an employer who offered tuition reimbursement...it's a small town. But it was still affordable, thanks to cheap tuition and money from the state.
Thanks for the motivation and ideas (I'll be looking into the tuition reimbursement). At first I was thinking that I would cover my undergraduate years in a California public university (some of them looked good to me some time ago)...though I heard the budget crisis there is pretty bad, so I'm not sure about the support the state provides. How good of an idea is California?
 
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  • #7
Choppy
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Some ideas on how to help pay for it all...

1. Start saving now. It sounds like you're doing this, but I'm always surprised at the number of people who don't do this. You obviously don't have to have the entire cost in your bank account, but every penny counts.

2. Look into scholarships. There are a lot of them floating around and many are very specific. Universities don't 'automatically' qualify you for everything that's available. You have to go to the office of busaries and scholarships and apply specifically.

3. Part-time jobs. If you can, see if you can get something that will either advance your career (ie a research assistant position) or something that will give you time to study while you're being paid, or that maximize the payout (minimum wage should be a last resort).

4. Military service isn't for everyone, but it does offer some considerable advantages with respect to paying for an education.

5. If possible, consider purchasing a home rather than renting and then renting out the rooms to other students.

6. Do a little reading on financial health. There are a lot of books on the subject. Most people have the capacity to understand money (especially anyone in physics), but if you look at the number of people who carry significant credit card debt, it's obvious that not everyone does.

Finally, before subscribing to ideas such as a weak employment outlook for physics graduates, make sure that you're basing that on evidence rather than anecdotes or rumours.
 
  • #8
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Lots of good advice so far. Be very prompt about filling out financial aid paperwork because many grants and scholarships are given out on a first come basis. A job with tuition reimbursement or military service are both excellent ways to go about paying for college.

I can give you some examples of jobs that are good for the former. I worked for a while in college as a telephone operator at a hospital. I worked second shift, so after 5 PM or so the volume of phone calls dropped off. I was able to spend several hours a night reading while being paid. I went to school during the day. Second shift work often carries a shift premium as well. Later, I worked directly for the university. There are very often useful jobs for your future, such as teaching assistant or lab assistant that can be found. One very popular job amongst the physics students was tutor at the university homework help center. This was another job that resulted in one getting paid for doing your own homework or reading.

I like your plan to go to a state college. You can get by a lot cheaper that way, and really it doesn't matter where you go for undergrad, but it matters a lot what you learn and how diligent you are. I myself went to a state university on scholarship, and I now work with people from all types of colleges on an equal footing. I have a friend who went to Cornell and I like to tease him that my education cost a tenth of his. >=)

As for California, my advice is to stay away. I have a number of cousins in school there now, and reports are bleak. Things are going to be very tight at the universities there for a while. There are lots of great schools there, but it will be more work to get aid and more uncertain what the result will be, plus the cost of living is generally higher. Depending on where you live, you may be able to take advantage of a undergraduate exchange program to enjoy reduced tuition in another state. For example, here is the http://home.nau.edu/admissions/wueprogram.asp" [Broken]. There are lots of Alaska plates in the parking lots for this reason.
 
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  • #9
cristo
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5. If possible, consider purchasing a home rather than renting and then renting out the rooms to other students.
Sorry, but if the OP hasn't managed to save up enough money to put himself through college, how is he going to afford to buy a house?
 
  • #10
jtbell
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At first I was thinking that I would cover my undergraduate years in a California public university
Are you from California? With most state university systems it makes a big difference whether they consider you (or your parents) to be residents, in terms of tuition and admission policies.
 
  • #11
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You should go talk to people in the admissions office at 2 or 3 universities and ask them about financial aid. I'm sure there are web resources available too, probably at US News.

I saved diligently for college and they took it all in the first year. Then in later years I qualified for financial aid. I would have been better off buying a car or not working to save.

In my opinion many universities , especially private ones, set tuition really high but that is just their list price. Then when they see how attractive a student is and how much they can afford to pay they provide scholarship, grant, or financial assistance.

You most likely qualify for grants and certainly could get education loans. With a federally sponsored student loan you don't pay any interest (forbearance) while a full time student and then get a reasonable interest rate and payment schedule afterward. This makes a lot of sense to do for the student because it is much easier to pay for the tuition with the salary of a physicist than on minimum wage. Do to inflation you actually save money by borrowing it interest free.

There is also work study jobs that are really easy and flexible. You don't get paid much but in many of them you can read while on the job. In later years you could get a research assistant job or something that would contribute to your education.
 
  • #12
Choppy
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Sorry, but if the OP hasn't managed to save up enough money to put himself through college, how is he going to afford to buy a house?
Well the idea is that the student would have to be resourceful enough to come up with a mortgage and a downpayment. In general, one would have to find a job that pays enough to save up for a down payment. The other major obstacle would be finding someone who will continute to work full time to co-sign the mortgage - a parent for example who would be willing to make some extra money. Obviously this isn't an easy option, but I knew a student who did it in undergrad.
 
  • #13
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Thanks for all the advice. I'm looking through the posts and putting things together. I've looked through a few sites for good public universities for physics as well as some suggested here, but can I get a few more recommendations?
 
  • #14
cristo
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In general, one would have to find a job that pays enough to save up for a down payment.
But if you've got enough money to pay for a downpayment on a house, you could just use this money to pay yourself through college, and not be in a massive amount of debt. It's hardly a good time to be advising people to take out more debt.
 
  • #15
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Looking at the situation practically...can someone tell me how many years it'll take me to finish undergrad (I'll be able to cut off a year from my high school credits...so that leaves 3 years for a full-time student; there is also the chance that I might be able to take tests for certain courses to get them done with)?
 
  • #16
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The problem I'm having here is how do I pay for college while in college (it cuts from my work time). I'm planning to enter graduate school, but the job market for a degree in physics looks bleak. Any advice as to how I would be able to carry things out?
Read ZapperZ's article on becoming a physicist, it has some very useful information: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=240792
 
  • #17
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Read ZapperZ's article on becoming a physicist, it has some very useful information: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=240792
Thanks for the link...I'm reading right now.

For the sake of keeping my previous question still active, I'll post it again here:
Looking at the situation practically...can someone tell me how many years it'll take me to finish undergrad (I'll be able to cut off a year from my high school credits...so that leaves 3 years for a full-time student; there is also the chance that I might be able to take tests for certain courses to get them done with)?
 
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  • #18
symbolipoint
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Looking at the situation practically...can someone tell me how many years it'll take me to finish undergrad (I'll be able to cut off a year from my high school credits...so that leaves 3 years for a full-time student; there is also the chance that I might be able to take tests for certain courses to get them done with)?
Between 4 and 8 years.

If you are sharp, you might do what you expect in 3 years. The risk is that maybe the courses you need will be more difficult than you think they will, and that maybe you will not be assessed as having the prerequisite knowledge that you studied in high school.

Trying to eliminate courses from your college program through assessment testing will not serve everyone well. In case you are weak in some areas, you need to build up strength in those areas through coursework.
 
  • #19
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I see. Thanks for the reply.
 
  • #20
symbolipoint
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Let me add a little more commenting.

If you are sharp, and if you need no remedial courses, and IF you do not change your major field, you could likely start and finish your undergraduate degree in 4 or 5 years.
Even a sharp, decisive student with no change in major field might need the "extra" year for some elective courses to strengthen or broaden his knowledge.
 
  • #21
I currently work in the financial aid department of a university. With a 2008 AGI of about 12k/year (without dependents) you are in line to recieve about $2,000 in the Federal Pell Grant and up to $3,500 in a subsidized Stafford Loan (no interest until you begin repayment 6 mo. after leaving school, 5.6% fixed) and $6,000 in an unsubsidized loan (6.8% fixed interest same 6 mo. grace period but interest accrues from day 1). During your junior and senior year, depending on your GPA and if you are eligible for the Pell Grant that year, you will also be eligible for the SMART grant which would be an additional grant of up to $4,000. You only need to fill out the FAFSA in order to be eligible for these grants and loans.


Forgot to mention, if you can request for any financial aid not being used for tuition and fee purposes to be sent back to you for living expenses.

Another comment: I am 25 and going back to school full time to finish my B.S. in Physics (currently have AA), I am planning on living on campus and "shedding all my worldly possesions" so to speak. Financial aid (Pell, SMART, and loans) are covering everything, and I am getting back about 4k for personal expenses. If you are serious about this, school has to be your life and living on campus and getting an on-campus part time job is a good way to do it. At my school, you can get a part time job actually assisting the Physics department like setting up labs and such.
 
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  • #22
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Let me add a little more commenting.

If you are sharp, and if you need no remedial courses, and IF you do not change your major field, you could likely start and finish your undergraduate degree in 4 or 5 years.
Even a sharp, decisive student with no change in major field might need the "extra" year for some elective courses to strengthen or broaden his knowledge.
I see what you're saying...4 or 5 years doesn't sound bad. I just don't want to be stuck in undergrad for too long.

I currently work in the financial aid department of a university. With a 2008 AGI of about 12k/year (without dependents) you are in line to recieve about $2,000 in the Federal Pell Grant and up to $3,500 in a subsidized Stafford Loan (no interest until you begin repayment 6 mo. after leaving school, 5.6% fixed) and $6,000 in an unsubsidized loan (6.8% fixed interest same 6 mo. grace period but interest accrues from day 1). During your junior and senior year, depending on your GPA and if you are eligible for the Pell Grant that year, you will also be eligible for the SMART grant which would be an additional grant of up to $4,000. You only need to fill out the FAFSA in order to be eligible for these grants and loans.
This is good stuff...each state also has its own big scholarship, right?
 
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  • #23
This is good stuff...each state also has its own big scholarship, right?
That is defintely true, most of the states' scholarships and grants are aimed to reach first time students just out of high school though. Which state do you live in, out of curiosity?
 
  • #24
read a prev post: so California, huh? Here's more information on the state grants that Cali offers: http://www.calgrants.org/index.cfm?navId=12 [Broken] and whether or not you are eligible.
 
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  • #25
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Wow, thanks for posting the financial aid stuff. I'm a non-traditional student and I work full-time in addition to attending school part-time; I have to say, I find the financial aid stuff a bit bewildering at times. It was actually easier when I was younger and going into college straight out of high school. Now, with all of the extenuating circumstances I have to consider, it's a bit confusing trying to figure out what will or will not apply to me.
 

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