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Preperation for College

  1. Feb 3, 2008 #1
    I'm currently a sophomore in high school, so i really don't need to be thinking about college yet, but i am. I've already got a pretty good idea, well i three actually, of majors i would like in college. I've been thinking computer programming (i'm not sure, is that too specific or not enough?), physics, or engineering of some sort.

    However, with each i also have doubts. I'll explain the doubts, even though they probably aren't grounded in anything.
    In physics, i understand, or hope i do, the big concepts from reading some literature, no text books but the books aimed at the public. My doubt arises because i know almost none of the math. I am only in a precalculas course(it's a precursor to IB at my school, but teaches the same things), so that might be why.
    In programming, it's nearly the same as physics. I know how programs work, and understand the flow and basic ideas, but i haven't had the patience to learn a whole language, or understand some of the more complex ideas.
    And finally, for engineering, I feel the most behind in this one, as it is also the one holding the least interest for me. I really can't be specific here because it depends on the type of engineering, but it follows the same pattern.

    I understand my fears probably aren't grounded. Is most of what i said exactly what i would be learning in college?

    The other backing to my fears is the big top name schools. I haven't looked around much at colleges, so they are the only ones i know of, and it seems to me, to get in, i would need something to distinguish me from everyone else. Things such as competitions of some sort or somehow demonstrating knowledge above a normal applicant. Is that also ungrounded? will they mostly look at grades and EC activities like other schools?

    Sorry if that last paragraph seems a little stuck-up, as i said, i haven't looked at many schools, so they're the only ones i have as a basis.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2008 #2
    I don't know any high school sophomore that knows most of the math needed in physics. Nor do I know any sophomore that knows the more complex ideas in computer science. The beauty of being young and ignorant is that you can aspire to so many things. You'll learn a lot of what you need to know in your course work, sometimes more than what you need to know. If you plan to go get a PhD, you'll learn even more. I wouldn't worry to much you seem to be doing well.

    As for your last question. Every school values things different. You'll need a decent SAT score and keep a good GPA to get into those "elite schools." I'll like to note that it doesn't matter how many activities you are in as much as how active you are in them. Take a leadership role of one club by the time you are a junior or senior and it'll speak more about you than being part of 6 science clubs. Some schools may require an interview and those aren't to bad. Some other schools may require recommendations. Just keep that in mind and work hard at what you enjoy.
  4. Feb 3, 2008 #3
    If I were in high school again, I would try to get into a program that fits me. If you have an interest in math, physics or compsci, I would look for an undergrad program with the following credentials:
    1) A school that has a PhD program. This means that the faculty members you will be asking letters of recommendations for in 6-7 years (wow that is a long time from now) are known in the research community and will have more weight during grad school admissions. The next part also fits in with this part:
    2) A school that offers undergraduate research. The reason this is related to #1 is because you will be able to research under known professors. This helps when applying to REU's, summer research jobs and internships in general.
    3) A school that offers a wide array of courses in math, physics or compsci (whichever one you are interested in, if all 3). A math program that does not offer differential geometry or topology may not be your best fit if you want to be a mathematician.

    This being said, A LOT OF SCHOOLS FIT THIS CRITERION! It's not just Harvard, MIT, etc. UIUC has an elite compsci department, along with University of Washington. University of California - Santa Barbara has an amazing string theory department. Yes, it is the usual suspects at the very top of the list, but just go to an undergraduate institution that will give you a wide array of courses, oppurtunities to research under professors (via independent studies, an undergraduate honors thesis, etc.) and maybe allow you to take grad courses (AGAIN, this is why I emphasize going to a university that offers a PhD program).

    I did ok in high school, 1420 SAT, 87 average (100 scale), did bad on the SAT II's and I got into a school that is a top 25 graduate math institution just on dumb luck, I did not intend to be a math major when I entered school.

    A quick comment on #1: If you do not feel comfortable being in a school with a PhD program, aim for a school that is a well known undergrad institution that does not offer a graduate program. Harvey Mudd for example is one. There are plusses and minuses to every decision. Going to a school like Harvey Mudd might give you much closer interaction with professors and maybe put more emphasis on the undergrads than the grad students. On the flip side, you won't be able to take grad courses or evn be around grad students.

    Back to the point of your original post. Don't do things to impress an admissions coordinator. Do what you want to do. If you enjoy compsci in your spare time, learn some programming. Don't ask yourself: "what should I be doing to get into Harvard?" It is a very stressful way to go about undergraduate admissions. Work hard, do well in class, try to develop some sort of relationship with a math or physics teacher in case you need a letter of recommendation.

    I would look at the top 30 physics, math and compsci institutions and VISIT THEIR WEBSITES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ask the head of the undergrad programs, what type of students are they looking for? What is more important, grades, SAT scores, letters, participating in math competitions?
  5. Feb 3, 2008 #4
    You're way ahead of me as far as math goes, I'm a senior in high school and am currently taking Pre-Calculus and I'm planning on majoring in Physics. Fortunately you aren't really expected to have too much calculus experience your freshman year of physics. Freshman physics students take physics w/ calculus at the same time as Calc I usually. Although that may not be true for the top schools such as MIT, Caltech etc.
  6. Feb 9, 2008 #5
    Sorry for bumping this from how ever far down it got, I just wanted to thank everyone for the advice.
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