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Taken an intro level class, should I change my major?

  1. Aug 18, 2014 #1
    Hi all,
    So far, I have taken two, non-calc based intro level Physics classes (101 and 102). I really enjoyed the material covered in both classes. For once, I actually enjoyed working through problem sets and I found myself researching topics outside of the classroom. I am seriously considering changing my major over to Physics.

    However, I am a little worried about changing over, simply because I do not have the strongest foundation in math. I have taken Geometry, Trig, and Calc, but I found that I had to reteach myself many of the things I learned in Trig and Geometry for Physics 101/102. I know that understanding calc (and math in general) is extremely important for upper level physics classes.

    I was just wondering if you guys think that changing my major to Physics simply because I really enjoyed two intro level courses is actually a logical decision. The two non-calc based intro classes I took probably don't represent upper level Physics classes all that well, do they? Not sure if this is even answerable - but how different is calc based general physics from non-calc based physics? Can I actually do well in the upper level courses (optics, thermal, etc...) with weak(ish) math skills? If it helps, I am willing to learn what I need to in math in order to strengthen those skills. But is it worth it?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2014 #2
    I just took a look at the "So You Want to be a Physicist" thread on this forum. It was extremely useful! Clearly, having a strong foundation in math is a must. But can I reteach myself what I need to know as I take upper level classes? Or would that just lead to me falling behind?
     
  4. Aug 18, 2014 #3
    You can definitely still do it for sure. But you might feel like you are swimming just behind.

    I switched over from bio myself.

    I took phys 1&2 as calc-based but just at a local very low level college over the summer and it wasn't a particularly challenging class and I breezed through to 4.0s without even trying really, but that meant that I started without having had the basics drummed into me at a high level well and without having done tons of problems (my thought process had been: I was going to major in bio but since I also had some interest in physics and wanted to be able to take more than a couple physics electives along the way, I could just get 1-2 out of the way over the summer on the cheap locally so I could hit up more physics electives on the side of my bio major and since I wasn't going to major in physics or take physics GRE or whatnot it really didn't matter a whole lot). Once I switched to physics, that wasn't quite the ideal place to have started from. Also the physics GRE happens to be considerably based on a strong phys 1-2 foundation.

    What I could suggest (and that I did absolutely none of myself, don't do as I did) is to spend the rest of the summer trying to go over as many Phys 1&2 problems and much material as you can from a calc based book like University Physics (or even better K&K and Morin). There isn't much left to the summer so you might not get too far now but do what you can and then next summer go over all of the rest of that basic stuff well. Knowing that stuff inside out and being able to snap snap snap the problems will help everything else and especially the physics GRE test. Do a lot of problems.
     
  5. Aug 18, 2014 #4
    calc 1-3, linear algebra, diff eq. are some of really core math classes
     
  6. Aug 18, 2014 #5

    jtbell

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    Staff: Mentor

    At most schools, the upper-level physics courses require the calculus-based intro courses as prerequisites. You may be able to substitute the algebra/trig based courses, or you may need to take some kind of "bridge" course, or you may be able to self-study and then take some kind of exam, or you may have to take the full calc-based intro courses. Study the physics major requirements on your college's web site carefully, and talk to an advisor in the physics department about it. Different schools do things differently.
     
  7. Aug 18, 2014 #6
    I spoke to a Physics advisor and she said that I can self-study to catch up on the material that I missed out on by taking the non-calculus based course. But I'm guessing this is an "easier said than done" type situation.
     
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