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Taking three courses per term in undergrad

  1. May 18, 2013 #1


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    I am a slow learner and I prefer to spend lots of time on few subjects rather than to distribute time over many. In addition, most of my courses will be extremely time consuming. So I probably want to take three courses per term and I will most likely attain a much higher GPA in this way, but I was wondering how grad schools will view this behaviour.
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  3. May 18, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    I think this is the wrong question. The more relevant question is how you plan on getting through graduate school working at 60% of the usual pace.
  4. May 18, 2013 #3


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    Haha I see your point. Let me explain my situation. I plan on getting a degree in computer science and a minor in some other science. As I am more interested in the subject in which I will be doing a minor, (and yes, I will spend some probationary years if necessary) but getting a job is more important than grad school, so I will probably major in computer science. But, I am pretty sure that you already know, computer science is a extremely time consuming discipline, so I won't be able to study the other subject if I do full-time. I could probably carry a full course load if I were to major in that subject.
  5. May 18, 2013 #4


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    Graduate schools generally don't care too much about it because there are many reasons why someone would take longer than normal to finish an undergraduate education, including financial and/or family commitments, sickness, and even taking time off to "find" oneself.

    There are a few things to be wary of though when making a decision like this. First, there is no guarantee that you will in fact obtain a higher GPA with a smaller course load. In theory, if you have more time, you'll dedicated it to your studies and can generally expect to perform better. In practice, you have to make sure you're not using that extra time in other areas of your life, which from what I've observed, tends to happen.

    Second, sometimes taking more courses can actually help you because courses can build on each other and double up on material.

    Third, you have to keep the opportunity cost in mind as well. You're potentially adding two years or more of time to complete your undergraduate studies. That's two more years of debt accumulation, two less years of working, two less years of real world experience, etc. Is that worth a potentially higher GPA for you?

    Fourth, when you do get to graduate school, as Vanadium implied, you'll be surrounded by others who took full course loads.

    I'm not trying to discourage you from this path. Rather, I am just pointing out some of the potential pitfalls.
  6. May 19, 2013 #5
    From the graduate students at my university who post their coursework, I don't think it's that common to take more than 2 or 3 classes per semester anyway. The computer science graduate classes at my school are also perceived to be easier than the undergrad ones, as the majority of students taking those classes are expected to be spending more time on doing research. It depends on the major/department/university.

    Also 60% of the usual pace? Are you exaggerating or what? There are very few people, at my university, who can take more than 3 serious technical classes in math/physics/cs per semester and do well.

    I really don't think that sort of thing should be discouraging you. Computer science graduate schools give zero garbages about how heavy your course load was (as long as it was a reasonable pace). They want to know that you can do research.
    Last edited: May 19, 2013
  7. May 19, 2013 #6
    I've found this to be NOT true. If you have ANY tendency to slack off, even slightly, this will be a bad idea. When you have extra time, you'll tend to slack off thinking "well, I can do it later". When you have a heavier course load, it will keep you from screwing off.
  8. May 19, 2013 #7


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    I can't speak to specifics about compute science, but in general graduate students, when they are taking courses, will take 2-3 per semester, but the workload is intended to be heavier than undergraduate coursework. Also, graduate students are expected to be spending a certain amount of time reading up on their own field and project (or potential projects) independent of coursework. Not to mention, they will often have a hefty TA load as well.

    That's not an exaggeration as far as I've seen it, but sometimes you have to look at how the courses are broken down. At all institutions I've been affiliated with a standard course load was five courses per semester, and two semesters per year (students weren't expected to work over the summer semester). In honours physics this amounted to roughly 4 physics or mathematics courses each semester and one elective. I tend to see this as a "standard" although from what I understand, other universities set up their system differently - less courses at a time, shorter courses, but expecting the student to attend three semesters per year rather than two. That's why transcripts are generally broken down into 'credit hours' rather than just courses. That way everyone's on a roughly equal playing field.

    Regardless, the point is that if you're having a hard time keeping up to whatever the standard is at your school during your undergraduate studies to the point where you feel it's necessary to stretch the workload out over a larger period of time, there is the potential for you to find yourself struggling that much more at the graduate level. Of course, on the other hand, you may be just fine.
  9. May 19, 2013 #8


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    OMG thank you everyone for such a great advice!

    It is physics that I want to pursue further, if I still want to do in the future. If I were to major in physics, I don't think I would have much trouble carrying 5 courses per term, as one or two of the will be electives. But if I decide to do a minor in computer science, then it's a totally different story.

    However, as I said earlier, getting a job is much more important, and frankly, I don't even know if I really want to go grad school at this point. So I thought of doing a minor is a good idea. But again, I am not confident with myself of carrying four or more technical (just wondering, why are math or physics courses called technical? :S) courses per term. That's why I asked this question.

    Well, I don't think that physics minor appearing on my degree is not that important for grad school if I have the required materials. I have searched intensively, and figured out that I need

    - Classical Mechanics (Fundamental and Intermideate)
    - Two semesters of Quantum Physics
    - Two semesters of Electromagnetism
    - Statistical Mechanics
    - Thermal Physics

    But is it really the absolute minimum? It seems like I am just majoring in physics, just not taking specialized courses like general relativity or particle physics.

    Assuming I am willing to spend one probationary (or transitional) years, and go for masters and then think about phd, what are the courses that I shall definitely not miss?
  10. May 21, 2013 #9
    Just to provide a bit of the other side of that, from my personal experiences, my gpa is higher because of this. When I know a course is going to be difficult for me, I will take fewer classes and devote just as much time to those classes, using the extra time to master whatever I find difficult. Once I am making all A's in my classes, I start to branch out and study parts of an upcoming class that I believe will give me issues.

    So far I have a 4.0 gpa so hopefully I will be able to keep this trend up, but only time will tell. I don't have much of a social life because of all of the studying though, haha.
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