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Realistic math dreams for a nontraditional undergrad

  1. Oct 17, 2015 #1
    In what seems like another life I was a Theater Performance undergrad at a state university. I withdrew after 2 1/2 years in the program after I realized that I really didn't want to be an actor after all (turns out I kind of hate actors, go figure).

    Anyway, long story short, I am currently enrolled full time at my local community college in a program to get my Associates of Science. I am planning to transfer to a 4 year university to get me B.Sc. in Physics.

    I studied my butt off before my placement test and was able to place into Pre-Calc(this was a big deal, I failed Algebra II in high school because I didn't care. I didn't need math, I was going to be on Broadway!). I am continuing into Trig next semester, then taking Statistics over the summer and doing my second year in Calculus with Analytic Geometry (I and II). My question is, as someone who is interested in pursuing a degree in Physics, when I transfer to the 4 year will I be anywhere near where I need to be in mathematics? I started this race behind and I'm afraid I will be playing catch up for the rest of my academic career.

    I love math (never thought I'd hear myself say that. It's amazing what caring can do for a subject) and am willing to take math forever and a day, I just want to make sure to keep my expectations within reason.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 17, 2015 #2


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    What I don't understand, is that you say you love mathematics (great, I love it too!) but you are after a degree in physics. I'm not familiar with the education system in your country, but why don't you aim for a degree in mathematics directly? I mean, physics is a very nice choice as well, but if mathematics is what you enjoy most, I would go for that directly.
    No, you will not.Yes, you will be a few years older than others, but in the long run that is not going to be a major factor. Your previous experiences and personal development also have value.
  4. Oct 17, 2015 #3
    Excellent point :) I'm honestly leaving my options open, and maybe mathematics will be my path! I took a silly intro to physics class in high school that I enjoyed but I suppose I honestly can't say if physics will be my calling or not. Maybe math really is. I'll do some research into mathematics degrees too. Why not?

    Thanks for the reply!
  5. Oct 17, 2015 #4
    I'm a nontraditional student (26) who just got accepted to a good 4 year school for physics and mathematics. My goals were initially a PhD, and still may result in that, but I'm leaning more towards teaching high school while doing research on the side for myself. There are a lot of reasons why being nontraditional makes no difference on how you will do in Math. For one, the average PhD graduating from school is 34. Which means they probably started when they were 24 or older or just had a long stint out of school after undergrad. Another thing is that doing well in Math or Physics in school or in research is entirely dependent on your intuition, which most people have to build up through thousands of hours of hard work, which has nothing to do with age.

    IMO, your expectations should be this:
    1. You're going to have to make school your full time job by putting 40 hours a week into it. It's ok if you falter your first semester. I had a couple B's my first two semesters at my CC, but I got all A's beyond that because I busted my tail learning the material.

    2. You need to read more than the required materials at your CC. Idk how your CC is, but mine had watered down courses in that the exams were trivial most of the time. In my E&M class for instance, very few people didn't get over 100%. Just getting an A in an easy class won't prepare you for your University experience. When you've finished your first one or two calculus courses, work through Apostol's book on single variable calculus. It will expose you to what real Math is like. If you decide physics is your thing, work through Kleppner and Kolenkow's book on Mechanics for the same effect.

    3. When you get to your 4 year school, it will make no difference that you're nontraditional. If anything, it's a benefit, because you'll have developed a work ethic necessary to do well in your classes that a lot of the younger people won't have, so it may be easier to make a name for yourself.

    4. Do research as an undergrad to see if a PhD is for you. Being in your 20's or 10's makes no difference here either. Whether or not you get a PhD is entirely dependent on how much you like research, so getting exposed early on is important. This means your grades will have to be good, so don't slack on the hours you're putting into your class.

    5. Don't do anything that will get in the way of your school. This includes dating someone who stresses you out or having kids. I don't have kids, I don't intend to have kids, but a lot of people I've dated wanted them. Some people can do school and raise a child, but it's harder with Physics and Math than with most things. I know because I have a friend who was incredibly intelligent but was under constant stress due to his child and had to drop out twice as a result. I don't recommend trying it yourself. It's easier to get into situations like this when you're older, so do what's in your best interest, and be safe.

    6. Take care of your health. Sleep well (8 hours), exercise, and eat right if you want your productivity to be good. Again, this is something that is impacted by your age. Your metabolism isn't as good as someone who's 18, so don't get slammed and eat nothing but ramen like they often try to do. This is a good guide to eating healthy cheaply as a student: http://imgur.com/gallery/pHUdq

    7. Work just enough outside of school to pay for your life expenses, but also to save a little. I've been saving money for a while now and having an emergency fund for when stuff hits the fan is very important. If you can live at home and your folks aren't going to stress you out, do it, so that you can save more. It helps to think of your spending habits as if you're taking a vow of poverty and saving whatever you don't spend.

    8. I made a post here outlining what my transfer process was like for another poster: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/what-schools-would-accept.826096/#post-5188079

    That thread is a good read, and take the words in it to heart.

    In short, being nontraditional doesn't put you at any disadvantage other than your physical health and your responsibilities. Just work hard and you'll be fine.
  6. Oct 18, 2015 #5
    Thank you for your thoroughly helpful reply! I appreciate it.

    I will definitely look into mathematical studies on my own once I reach an appropriate level. Great advice.

    I do have a long term boyfriend who has been nothing but supportive, hopefully that remains. Neither of us want children so we're in the clear there. We have dog who might as well be our child but I imagine the constraints on education are less

    Again, thank you. I'm glad to hear my greatest fear was unfounded.
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