# Should I take Vector Calculus before General University Physics?

• Schools
I'm currently in my first semester at a community college with intention of transferring to a 4 year. At some point while still at my current school I will have to take General University Physics. My curriculum is saying that I should take both Uni. Physics and Vector Calculus in my third semester but I'm worried I might need the math from Vector Calc to really grasp Uni. Phy. So should I instead put off taking Physics for a semester to make sure I can handle the math or will I be safe with just an understanding of Calculus with Analytical Geometry? Also it says I should take my second semester of Physics while taking Ordinary Differential Equations. Again I'm worried about the same thing. Should I postpone Physics or will I understand it fine without those previously taking those math classes?

## Answers and Replies

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Could you give the book you use for university physics? Furthermore, could you list the topic you're going to learn?

jtbell
Mentor
Assuming it's a typical calculus-based intro physics course, the first semester will not use any vector calculus, and probably not even much single-variable calculus. Calculus is used mainly to simplify some derivations and concepts. All you need is a good conceptual understanding of derivatives and integrals, and the ability to do simple ones involving polynomials and maybe some trig functions.

In the second semester, which usually concentrates on electricity and magnetism, you will use some vector calculus stuff, mainly line and surface integrals for writing down Maxwell's equations in integral form. Here also, they're used mainly conceptually. Examples and exercises are set up so the integrals simplify so much that I call them "Geico integrals": so easy a caveman can do them.

Nabeshin
Science Advisor
Examples and exercises are set up so the integrals simplify so much that I call them "Geico integrals": so easy a caveman can do them.
This is fantastic and I will be sure to shamelessly rip this off every time I can :)

WannabeNewton
Science Advisor
Examples and exercises are set up so the integrals simplify so much that I call them "Geico integrals": so easy a caveman can do them.
Haha this is absolutely brilliant. This made my day mate.

jtbell
Mentor
What I need is a cartoon of Ogg doing a Gauss's Law problem on a cave wall with a charcoal-tipped stick.

The only calculus my general physics course used was to;

a) derive the kinematic equations (extremely simple)
b) using partial derivatives to perform error analysis on labs (fairly simple)

Both which can be learned in less than an hour.

My professor taught us vector multiplication, but it was not necessary for solving the problems given to us.

Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
There's another factor to consider: you're going to have to take Vector Calc sooner or later, and you're going to have to take Physics I sooner or later. Taking them out of the usual sequnence may cause you scheduling problems in later semesters.

Here also, they're used mainly conceptually. Examples and exercises are set up so the integrals simplify so much that I call them "Geico integrals": so easy a caveman can do them.
:rofl: (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I'm currently in my first semester at a community college with intention of transferring to a 4 year. At some point while still at my current school I will have to take General University Physics. My curriculum is saying that I should take both Uni. Physics and Vector Calculus in my third semester but I'm worried I might need the math from Vector Calc to really grasp Uni. Phy. So should I instead put off taking Physics for a semester to make sure I can handle the math or will I be safe with just an understanding of Calculus with Analytical Geometry? Also it says I should take my second semester of Physics while taking Ordinary Differential Equations. Again I'm worried about the same thing. Should I postpone Physics or will I understand it fine without those previously taking those math classes?
Download The MIT OpenCourseWare Physics 8.01 lectures by Walter Lewin. He gives a jam-up explanation of the vector calc concepts most pertinent to a student of first-semester classical mechanics. I can pretty much assure you that a community college physics course isn't going to include material not included in those lectures and the accompanying course materials.