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Studying Studying both math/physics and computer science in college

  1. Mar 19, 2009 #1
    I'm a junior in high school and I've started with my "plans" early for college and beyond. I'm going to be finishing partial differential equations and introduction to quantum mechanics at Stanford EPGY before I finish my senior year which will put me very much ahead in physics and math, which are the fields which I want to study most.

    However, with the economic situation and all, lately I've had to get my head out of the clouds, not to mention the fact that for the most part, physics and math graduates don't have much better job options that those who took a 4 year or even a 2 year degree, except of course for acadamia which gets extremely competitive.

    However, I've been programming since I was about 9 years old and have a lot of experience with many languages both low level, high level, and web. I've had three part time jobs so far with the best one paying 25$ an hour, working for various companies and it's been great. I had very flexible hours, made more money than any of my classmates who had jobs, and it was something I enjoyed so I know I can find a job in software with flexible hours and decent, if not outright good, pay.

    However, I enjoy studying physics and math so much more so my question is, is there a way I can combine the three fields and do a double or even triple major and, if I go on to graduate/post graduate studies, combine them such as with quantum computation? That way, I'll have the degrees to work in applied mathematics (possibly) or computer science which is a massive field and if I get into a graduate school, go on with my studies. Possibly my greatest want is to go into aerospace engineering but I've scratched that off my plans for the most part because it deviates so much into a fourth subject.

    Also, to what extent will taking the two classes at EPGY help with a double or triple major? I know that many, if not most, universities will not accept it as credit, but will they let me take more advanced courses in those areas (which could mean having to take graduate courses as an undergrad)?

    Final question, how could pure/applied mathematics combine with computer science? I've heard from many people of having these dream jobs working for banks and other financiers or even major sports teams, to do their math. Would this be a reliable option or just a pipe dream with maybe a tenth of a percent of applied mathematicians getting this kind of job?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2009 #2
    I can only really speak for my college, but it might give you an idea of what might be possible at other colleges. Note though that departmental policies and major requirements vary a lot.

    At my college the requirements for a math major are pretty lose: 3 semesters of abstract algebra and real analysis, 4 upper-level electives, senior conference, and whatever prerequisites you need to get to algebra and analysis. The math department lets students test out of all the lower-level prerequisites (up through linear algebra and multivariable calculus); but not analysis, algebra or other upper-level electives. If you don't get transfer credit for those courses, you would have to (re-)take them. I am pretty sure the department would let students substitute the graduate version of algebra or analysis if someone had already taken a comparable course somewhere else and just didn't get transfer credit for it for whatever reasons. (Whether that's a good idea is a different issue. First-year graduate courses can be tough.) The electives can be graduate courses as well. I have taken math classes at several universities, and all of them were very open to undergraduate students taking graduate math classes.

    Physics is similarly flexible about its major requirements: 4 semesters of intro courses (up through quantum mechanics) and 4 semesters of math (through multivariable calc and linear algebra) that students can test out of; and 7 upper-level courses, mostly electives, that students have to take or get transfer credit for.

    Computer science at my college is less flexible. I think the only courses they let students test out of are intro, data structures and discrete math. The rest you have to take, even if you already know everything that's covered in them. I personally found many of the required CS courses boring or a pain in the ***, so I decided to just major in math and take whatever CS courses I am interested in without the restrictions of a formal major.

    With your background, a double-major should be very doable and a triple major might be possible as well, but you should think about whether or not you actually want to take all of the required courses for all three majors or just take courses that sound interesting to you. I would also like to mention that at my college a triple-major would entail 3 theses in your senior year, which could be mistaken as a suicide attempt...

    Another option that might be of interest to you are 4-year BA/MA programs. Basically, students who enter with an advanced enough background can finish all of the requirements for a Master's degree in 4 years and then apply to receive a Master's degree for their undergraduate work. If you are planning to take a significant number of graduate courses anyway, you might take a closer look at colleges with this option. You might even be able to do a BA/MA in one field and double-major in another. One student at my college graduated with a math/physics combo last year, and she started with less math and physics background than you will have.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2009
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