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Questions about qualifications for theoretical physics for college

  1. May 2, 2013 #1
    First of all I am new here so hey. I hope this is in the right section. So, I read Zapperz's So You Want To Be A Physicist article and that answered many of my questions. The article But I have not been able to find the exact qualifications to get into any theoretical physics major. I am a sophomore in high school, so you get a sense of where I am at. So basically what do you need before entering college and to get into a college to study theoretical physics? What kind of person becomes a theoretical physicist? What GPA is needed ect... I have a strong interest in how the universe works and theoretical physics but I am considered average or even below average at math at my school, I am not at the very top of my class, I am not in honors classes, but I am quite intelligent and I can grasp abstract ideas quite easily. I am probably not smart enough to become a theoretical physicist. I really just didn't get the right foundation or had the inclination to really study and learn when I was a little younger. I only this school year did I find that. I really do not know what kind of job I want to get. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Even if you just post a link to another thread or article that would be great because I am sure countless others have asked questions very similar to this.

  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2013 #2


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    1) I don't believe many, if any, school offer a degree in theoretical physics. Typically, you just major in physics, and if you desire to become a physicist, then you go on to graduate school and specialize in a sub-field of physics.

    2) The admission process into a university is a bit detailed. Every school has different requirements. It would behoove you to look at schools that interest and look at what their admission requirement is. There you can plan the rest of your high school career to reach them. I would advise you to pick a few schools that you believe if you tried really hard you can be accepted into, a few schools were a bit more dedication will accept you and a few schools where your current level of dedication makes you a sure thing basically. So for example, two or three regionally renown schools, two or three state level schools, and two or three local schools. This is just so you won't put all your eggs in one basic.

    3) My mom used to tell me, 'if say you ain't good enough to do something then you're right because you haven't even given yourself the chance.' You don't know your potential. Physics and math may come easier to some people, but everyone works hard. So with that said, if your goal is to understand the universe, then you have to sit down, study, and focus. What this means is, instead of going out to that movie you sometimes have to self-study material not taught at your high school.

    4) Your GPA should be above a 3.0. That's a minimum and just to give yourself somewhat of a chance. The reality though is you should strive for A's in every single math and science course you take, because those are things you claim interest you thus you should be willing to work hard at it. Furthermore you should strive for A's in non-math and non-science course because doing so will only give you a better chance of going to a better school, thus better positioning yourself!

    I know my answers are vague but I hope you think about what I said a little. Also before I forget, your school should have a counselor whose job is to teach you how to apply to college. Use this person!

    *I'm assuming you're a US student.
  4. May 3, 2013 #3
    An regular undergraduate degree in physics is mostly theory. There is generally only a token of lab and experimental material taught. Otherwise its all theory.

    If you want to do theory rather than experiments after undergraduate a dual major of math and physics can be good.

    Note that theory is not a field of physics though. Every field has theorists. What the public calls "theoretical physics" is not the same as what physicists call it.
  5. May 3, 2013 #4
    Hey! I wouldn't be too worried about mathematical skill at your age. If you grasp things like you say you do, it'll eventually pay off. It wasn't until my senior year of high school when I started getting A's in math, even higher than the ones who have always gotten A's. My grasp helped me understand things at a more fundamental level, and I've been a math tutor since then.
    Good luck!
  6. May 3, 2013 #5
    If you're in the US, you typically don't get a degree that says theoretical physics as an undergraduate, it's all physics (though you might have a speciality, UCF and FSU for instance gives degrees that say physics but specializes in mathematical, computational, biological, etc, there's degrees for engineering physics as well).
    You're only a sophomore, you have plenty of time to get your math skills up, it will just take practice (perfect practice). Math is not this monolithic thing that people are either born with or their not, you can improve, and the more math you know the easier physics will become; so get as much practice as you can before you enter college, the hard work will pay off later.
    ModusPwnd is right, generally the coursework for the physics undergrad degree is all theory and math unless you're doing laboratory modules and experimental research.
    MarneMath is right that you should strive for A's, it's not end of the world if you don't and there are even ways to work around not having a 3.0 but it's always the safest bet to keep your GPA as high as possible. Grades are a crapshoot IMO but there doesn't exist a more objective measure to compare students against eachother, so the necessary evil exists. Check out this blog for study tips: http://calnewport.com/blog/
  7. May 7, 2013 #6
    Thanks for all the advice. Sorry it took my a while to respond to your reply's. I understand that there is no "theoretical physics" degree and I am going to check out what field seems like a good fit for me. I'm relieved that you guys are talking about having a minimum 3.0 because my gpa is around 3.8. I got a little worried when I also read Michio Kaku's so you want to be a physicist where he was talking about getting admitted to top schools in the nation which at this point I dont know if I could get into. But I was really wondering before beginning my physics courses whatever they may, what level of math would be a good idea? Should I already know calculus ect.. It seems like it wont matter to much as the first year is mostly concepts from what you guys said. So looks like over the summer I have some more research to do. Again I am grateful for your help.
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