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Physics major difficulty

  1. May 25, 2010 #1
    I really like physics, however I'm worried about not being able to get a 3.8+ gpa (looking to go to a top med school) if I major in it. I'm also going to be attending a really good undergrad school so there will be much more competition in my classes (having a near 4.0 gpa in high school is irrelevant considering everyone else attending the university has one too).

    Any comments on the difficulty compared to engineering or a regular bio major perhaps?
    Last edited: May 25, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2010 #2
    Go with a biology major or something easier than physics. Medical schools don't care about the rigor and difficulty of physics (or engineering), even if it is at a top school.
  4. May 25, 2010 #3
    Yes, I know. I've researched extensively on the medical school application process. I want to take Physics for me, not for med school.
  5. May 25, 2010 #4


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    Books, books, books. Not to mention there's also this thing called the internet.
  6. May 25, 2010 #5
    What about a biophysics degree? Or do you still just want the pure physics education?
  7. May 25, 2010 #6
    A competitive GPA for a top medical school is a 3.8+. A 3.8+ in physics is much more difficult than getting a 3.8 in biology or biochemistry. I'm still playing with the idea of going with physics, but it's disheartening...and I have a high GPA at an easy school. Don't be surprised if, 4 years down the road, you aren't competitive for top schools because upper level physics classes have trashed your GPA. I'm just saying.
  8. May 25, 2010 #7
    If he's just adamant about getting a physics education, maybe a biology major with a physics minor would be a good compromise in order to be in a much better position for medical school.
  9. May 25, 2010 #8


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    You could major in something that you feel confident in earning a 3.8+ GPA. Then if you want to further your physics education just for the love of it, take those classes pass/fail. You'll learn physics, and keep your GPA high. Might cost you an extra year of undergrad, though.
  10. May 26, 2010 #9


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    This may not answer your question, but this might be an interesting statistics for you to look at.


    It appears that physics majors score the highest average in MCAT and LSAT tests.

    My anecdotal observation seems to show that since physics majors are that common in candidates applying for medical schools, you have a leg-up on the competition with your background.

  11. May 26, 2010 #10


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    I'm not sure that a biology major is necessarily easier than a physics major - especially if your heart isn't in it. Taking a subject with the hope that you will end up with a good GPA can easily backfire. If you find out it's harder than you thought, then you're stuck with a lower GPA and an education in a subject you didn't really care about in the first place.

    On the other hand, just because you enjoy physics doesn't mean it's going to be easy either and most certainly by challenging yourself you do risk a lower GPA compared to an easier course load.

    One thing to consider is that among science majors (especially those intending on medical school), the first year of university tends to be relatively uniform with respect to course load. Get that first year under your belt with enough options to jump one way or the other. You'll have a better idea then of what direction you want to go.

    If you go the physics route, something else to consider is balancing the more intense courses with courses that allow you to switch gears a little for your electives - humanities, social sciences, kinesiology, etc - this both expands your education and can lighten the rigour from your physics classes.
  12. May 26, 2010 #11
    I think its a bad idea to go with physics just for the sake of getting into medical school. Nobody that I have talked to has said that people can put up with the physics curriculum unless they genuinely like learning the subject and its a passion. If physics isn't your passion and you are interested in medicine, you probably won't get a 3.8. I would highly recommend something like biochemistry or biology. Its going to "probably" have more application in medical school as well.
  13. May 26, 2010 #12
    Physics and medicine (and music/guitar but I'm not going to be a musician :P) are both my passions. I just don't want to go with a bio degree and end up wanting to pursue physics in grad school as opposed to getting an MD. I'm not at all interested in pursuing a career related to biology that isn't related to medicine/health care, so I guess the main reason I want to get a physics bachelors is to keep my options open.

    I'm not worried so much about grasping concepts or doing the math. What I'm worried about in Physics, more specifically, is certain exam questions. Those vague, ambiguous, tricky questions that are open to many interpretations -- the kind you can't prepare for. Is this what all your courses will consist of?

    Thanks all for the help so far.
    Last edited: May 26, 2010
  14. May 26, 2010 #13
    Hi Sean. I'm familiar with the difficulty here, since back in undergrad I was doing premed for my first three years (decided at the end of junior year that I'd rather go to grad school in physics...not sure that was the best idea). Personally I think biology is easier than physics. I mean no offense to the biology folks here, but one of the fundamental differences is that biology requires memorization of facts, whereas physics requires understanding of fundamental principles. I'm not saying that one method of learning requires more intrinsic intelligence than the other, but I personally find it harder to learn physics than biology. One thing to consider is that to prepare for the MCAT, you'll need to be really good at memorization. So maybe a biology major would be a good way to prepare for that. I'm not saying this is necessarily the best way to go for you, but that's what I'd do if I had to do undergrad again.

    Another thing you should keep in mind is that there are many more biology prerequisites for med school than physics prereqs. You need to take two semesters of biology, two of inorganic chem, and one of organic chem. Most med schools also require a second semester of ochem, the ochem lab, an advanced biology course such as biochemistry, and sometimes even anatomy and physiology. The only physics prereqs are two semesters of physics with lab. Clearly it's a lot easier to do these prereqs if you're a biology or chemistry major.

    Obviously if you're some kind of physics genius, then physics is the way to go since it'll maximize your GPA. But if not, then I'd say that you should do biology. GPA is the most important thing in the med school game. If you graduate with a low MCAT score or insufficient volunteer experience, you can always take a year off to retake the MCAT or volunteer more. But taking more college classes is expensive and time consuming. I'm no professional advisor, and I don't know anything that the other posters on this forum don't know. But just from thinking about this logically, it makes sense to me that you should not go with the "do what you love" philosophy. If you want to be a doctor, then everything you do in undergrad should be directed towards this goal, and anything that gets in the way should be cut out. If physics will get you the high GPA that you need to get in, then do it. If it won't, then take the path of least resistance and do biology or chemistry. After all, since you want to be a doctor, I'm guessing you don't hate biology, and that being a biology major wouldn't make you wake up in the morning dreading another painful day of learning the Krebs cycle or doing a PCR. So it's not like you'd be miserable if you majored in biology. Majoring in physics may seem like a fun thing to do right now, but in ten years when you're enjoying life and working 80 hour weeks as a resident physician, I doubt you'll care what your bachelors degree was in. I'm of the opinion that all the cool stuff in physics can be learned in one's spare time through books intended for the general public (I've got three years of graduate education in physics, and I still read physics books off the Barnes and Noble bookshelf in my free time). If you think physics is cool, tune into the Discovery Channel once in awhile. But if you want to be a doctor rather than a physicist, and if you don't believe that physics can contribute to your goal of getting into med school, I personally don't see any reason to do a physics major.

    Again, I'm no medical career expert. The above are just the thoughts of someone who's considered the same career path that you're thinking about.
  15. May 26, 2010 #14
    Oh, sorry, I missed this. One way to keep your options open as far as physics grad school is to do a minor in physics. With a minor, you'll usually take four semesters of introductory physics, as well as advanced mechanics and E&M. A lot of grad schools will let people in who haven't taken advanced quantum or stat mech, but will make them take these courses during their first year of grad school. Just make sure you don't overload yourself with physics. It's really important that you get As in your other classes too.
  16. May 27, 2010 #15
    Don't those topics (adv quantum, stat mech) appear on the GRE?
  17. May 28, 2010 #16
    Going to have to disagree with most people in this thread.

    If you want to go to medical school, the best thing to do is to major in the thing that YOU are the most passionate about. Regardless of its perceived difficulty to others, your own interests are the ones in which you will be the most successful.

    Not only that, the physics degree will really help you learn to think and reason, which are excellent skills to have as you prepare for the MCAT. This is something that a lot of the bio majors have basically no experience with, since most of what they've done in undergrad involves memorizing rather than reasoning.

    I'm a chemistry major myself, and I get the occasional "that sounds difficult" comment when discussing my program with others. However, it's my favorite subject and I have a great GPA. The truth is, if I were to swap majors with the person making that comment, I definitely wouldn't do as well.
  18. May 28, 2010 #17
    They do, but there are few enough problems that if you do well on the other problems, and apply your sophomore quantum knowledge to the GRE quantum problems, you should do fine. After all, there are people in my department who started grad school without having taken any undergrad quantum. So it's certainly possible. I'll point out that the GRE will be more challenging if you haven't take quantum and stat mech. But I think the issue to Sean here is keeping his options open, so there will be some tradeoff.

    Well in principle I think you raise a lot of good points too. Choosing a major that you love will make undergrad more enjoyable, and enjoying life is always a good thing. And yes, physics majors do have really good reasoning skills. So there are many reasons why a pre-med student might major in physics. I certainly don't mean to negate any of the valid issues you raise.

    I only wish to observe that there's a pretty big "if" statement here. Namely, you've got to be able to maintain a high GPA (i.e. something above a 3.5, preferably 3.6+). At the end of the day, someone can always satisfy their passion for physics at the public library, but grades are forever. AMCAS (the med school application service) calculates your GPA independent of what's on your transcipt. If you retake a class, it does not replace old grades with new ones, but counts them both. You really don't want to be found in the position of having done four years of undergrad with a subpar GPA, and discover that you need to do a three-year postbac to perform GPA-repair.

    Again, I don't want to make myself out to be some professional adviser; people should do whatever they want. I'm just saying that if I were in this guy's position, I would make a list of all the subjects in which I feel I can get a high GPA, and a list of the subjects I like, then see if there's some overlap. If there is, that's great. If not, I would personally choose the high GPA over passion. In Sean's case, one way to go may be to take calculus-based physics his first year and see how he does. If he finds that he's really good at it, physics may be a good option. If not, at least the GPA damage will be minimal, and he'll have obtained some useful calibration data to apply to the rest of his undergrad career.
  19. May 28, 2010 #18
    Hey! Great idea, Shackleford. He can conceivably maintain a stellar GPA but also satisfy his intellectual interests as well!

  20. May 28, 2010 #19
    Haha, it is a great idea, I'm actually considering doing this! and sorry, I meant to respond, but got sidetracked :P
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