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Should I Take Calculus 3 and Differential Equations at Once?

  1. Mar 7, 2013 #1

    I'm a student at a community college and I'm getting an AA in physics to transfer to a university. I eventually want to apply to medical school with a bachelors degree in physics.

    I've recently been going over the classes required for medical school and for the physics major. I've mostly focused on the ones that I need in order to transfer.

    I need to take calculus 1, 2, and 3, and differential equations. So! The thing is, I have to take the prerequisites before that. I'm going to need to take 6 more math classes (I'm currently taking one). I'm going to be taking classes non-stop. In the summer I'm planning on doing my other general requirements.

    Everybody that I talk to in school says that calculus is this whole chunk of disaster. I've never taken calculus before. I never did any work in high school. My grades were terrible because the classes were just too boring and I didn't really bother trying. Right now I have a 4.0 gpa. I've gotten all A's this semester.

    I love math. Math takes away my boredom and keeps me entertained. Math is like.. the love of my life. I just want to do more and more. In my chemistry class, we have to do a lot of math and it's amazing!!!! It's weird. Right now I'm taking an algebra course and it's incredibly easy for me. I'm really excited for all the math I will be taking.. but I'm a little worried that I may be too excited and that it might not be how it seems it will be.

    I want to get my AA in less than 3 years. In addition to all the physics major requirements, I have to fulfill the pre-medicine requirements. I have to take biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. I'm also planning on taking anatomy and physiology, but that will be a bit easier for me because I'm an EMT.

    How hard is calculus, really? I know that it all depends on the person. I'm the type of person that wants to succeed in everything. A 'B' is not good enough for me. I try to never make the same mistake twice.. I'm a perfectionist. My therapist tells me I'm "extremely bright" but it's pretty hard to believe. I don't really have a lot of confidence in myself.

    I want to finish every single class with an A.

    Would it be a good idea to take calculus 3 and differential equations at the same time? I would also be taking physics with calculus 2..

    Maybe a good idea would be to have a book on those topics and check it out to see if the classes would be manageable?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2013 #2
    Depends. I found the introductory calculus sequence easy, but others do not. It also depends on the instructor. I took calculus III, differential equations, and linear algebra at the same time. Linear algebra complemented both very nicely (important for physics as well). I would take that if possible; just food for thought. Other than that, it's hard to judge your abilities since you have yet to take a calculus class. Calculus III essentially covers the material in calculus I and II, but using more than one variable.

    You are right in the sense that the math you are taking right now is not indicative of what you will see later, assuming that you have plans to take classes beyond differential equations and linear algebra. The classes taken beyond these are generally not useful for physics majors. ;)
  4. Mar 7, 2013 #3
    What year did you take them??

    Does algebra play a big role in calculus, though? How would I know if I will be successful? If I get A's in calculus 1 and 2, would that show me that I am able? I just don't want to get really stressed out. I constantly worry about school and my grades. Constantly.
  5. Mar 7, 2013 #4


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    If you don't know algebra, you won't know calculus.
  6. Mar 7, 2013 #5
    I would say go for it. I found Calc 3 to be rather easy but still really interesting. Having a physics class alongside calc3 would really help solidify your understanding of both courses. ODE's 1 doesn't use much material from Calc 3, but in my experience my professor used a LOT of linear algebra so having that would help you.
  7. Mar 7, 2013 #6
    I took these courses my third semester of college, but I already had the prerequisites to take calculus courses my first semester.

    Yup, algebra is important in calculus. When I spoke of higher level classes, I was speaking of real analysis and such. :P A's in calculus I and II are good. If you feel comfortable with the material from these courses, you should be good to go for calculus III and differential equations.
  8. Mar 7, 2013 #7
    Hmm, okay. I'm going to find out more about linear algebra.

    It's nice to hear that algebra is important in calculus.

    So, yeah, I guess I'll just wait and see.

    Oh, I see that my school has two classes: Elementary Linear Algebra and Linear Algebra. Which would you say is better?
  9. Mar 7, 2013 #8
    Really depends for every school. What topics do the textbook and curriculum span (no pun intended) ?
  10. Mar 8, 2013 #9
    I'm in cal 2 right now, got an A in cal 1. IMO its tricky while youre learning it, but when you look back on it everything is extremely derivative. Math is cumulative, most everything you do gets built upon. And the further you go the more accurate your calculations. Also, be prepared to spend a page or two on some problems (assuming no mistakes). But the more you do it the more steps you can do at once. I find that using a pen helps me to think before I write, and I like all my characters to be clean, consistant, and elegant.
  11. Mar 8, 2013 #10
    It sounds like the "elementary course" is for beginners or for non-mathematics majors. Not to say that that is bad, and if you have never used matrices and the like before it would probably be helpful to introduce you to the topic. However, be prepared to go through linear algebra again because the elementary course would probably not be sufficient by itself to be used for major credit in a physics or math curriculum. I loved linear algebra, and I thought it got really beautiful during my second semester course after you have learned all the mechanical stuff and move on to the more abstract.

    I am actually surprised linear algebra is not a prerequisite for differential equations, considering my professor of DiffEq. used linear algebra for probably at least half the semester.


  12. Mar 8, 2013 #11

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    Why do you need to know now? Doesn't it make sense to see where you after Calc 1 and part of Calc 2?
  13. Mar 15, 2013 #12
    Yup.. I agree! I should wait and see. But I also have to start thinking about it because I need to plan out my future courses..

    A whole page for one problem? :D
    I am oddly excited. I can't wait! I'm taking the next math and a physics pre-req for physics with calculus this summer. :D
  14. Mar 16, 2013 #13
    Like Mmm, I also took Calc, Linear, and DE concurrently (with Biochem thrown in, as well). DE doesn't really cross over multivariable calculus, but linear algebra intersects them both which ties everything together, nicely. Wait until you take single variable calculus and if you find it to be not too bad, you shouldn't have a problem taking them concurrently, but if you struggle with math (which it seems like you don't), one at a time would probably be best.

    One word of advice. Skim through the section in your calc book on partial derivatives before you take DE. They aren't that hard (basically the same as regular derivatives), but I found myself a little confused when we started doing exact equations and I had never seen a partial derivative before. You cover exact equations in DE before partial derivatives in calc.

    Hercuflea, when we went over eigenvalues and eigenvectors, my DE professor liked to bring up occasionally how we were supposed to learn them in linear algebra but the chemistry department wouldn't let the math department make linear a prereq for DE (since it isn't required for chemistry majors).
  15. Mar 27, 2013 #14
    I really don't recommend doing that. Do you know what a differential equation is? How can you possibly want to study Differential equations before you've studied partial derivatives, power series and all that other good stuff in calculus courses? Differential equations is not a particularly difficult course, but you'll fail it without a good foundation in calculus. In fact my university requires you to finish the calculus sequence before they even allow you to take differential equations.
  16. Mar 27, 2013 #15
    Seems like you've got enough advice, but I'd like to add a few things. I'm currently taking Diff Eq, while retaking Cal 2. I've already taken Cal 1-3, in my class. I would be perfectly fine with only a knowledge of Cal 2. As someone mentioned before Cal 3 is mostly taking the concepts of Cal 1 and 2 and applying them to multiple variables.

    And you asked if algebra in calculus. You use algebra almost nonstop in calculus. Those full page problems that were mentioned are usually 90% algebra, trying to work your equation down into something you can work with.
  17. Mar 27, 2013 #16
    Be that as it may, it is an integral part of the curriculum.
  18. Mar 27, 2013 #17
    To the OP, I think you should cross that bridge when you get to it. Get your algebra and trig skills where they need to be, then make a decision based on your performance in Calc 1&2 and the opinion of your academic advisor.
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