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Too late to pursue math and science as an academic failure?

  1. Oct 24, 2012 #1
    Hey guys,
    I'm an 18 year old living in Australia. Throughout my primary and high-school career I've always been either a below average or a mediocre student, I finished my high-school certificate receiving very low marks in my final year of schooling, which has since left me with feelings of regret and disappointment whenever I think about it, as I feel as though I have done nothing significant in my life thus far as I have spent most of time playing games, watching YouTube videos, and movies and just started looking for a job now.

    During this time of disappointment, I came across some YouTube videos of Richard Dawkins and other atheists who really not only challenged my philosophical and religious views but also sparked a great interest in science for me, from then on, I watched some videos and talks by Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynnman, which developed further developed this fascination with science for me. So now, I really want to start studying science and math, however, I haven't done any math since I was 14 and I was really crap at science when I was in high-school due to my laziness and my rebellious attitude towards the rigid education system that I was forced to adhere to as I didn't like the fact that we should be competing for understanding, as I feel that we should give students enough time to fully understand concepts and not just put a time limit on when that particular concept should be learnt by. Anyway, after being out of high-school for a long time, I have decided to start studying math and science again by myself to sort of not only catch up on what I've missed out on, but to also gain knowledge about the universe that I live in.

    However, I have this fear, that my fellow pears are miles ahead of me and I may be unable to catch up with their understanding of science and math, which really creates a mental roadblock from deciding to take the step to study science and math, even though at the moment, it's purely out of interest and curiosity and not based on getting higher marks on a test or anything like that. But nevertheless, I'm trying to overcome this irrational fear and go ahead and start learning math and science again, even if it means I'll be starting from the bottom up. Do you guys think it is still early for me, to gain a good understanding within these next two years through self-study so that I may in the next 2-3 years maybe apply to university even though I've missed out on a lot of high-school science and math?

    Also what resources/materials would you recommend a science/math newb such as myself to start learning math and science?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2012 #2
    I can't comment on how admissions to a university program will be, both given that I am a current student myself and that I'm only relatively familiar with United States colleges.

    That said, it is by no means too late to pursue a math and science understanding in of itself. My mother, who is in her mid 50's, has recently pursued learning science to, if nothing else, get enjoyment from being able to appreciate all of the interesting things I'm learning about, at least qualitatively.

    To better answer your question on how to approach learning, what is your current level of math knowledge? Do you have a particular area of science you are looking to pursue specifically? What is your level of knowledge in that and other areas of science?

    The good news is that most college programs in the sciences, at least that I am familiar with, start off from a relatively basic level, generally only assuming basic calculus knowledge and a year or so of each field of science (i.e. basic bio, chem, physics). The good part about that is that if you do get into a university, you shouldn't be behind other freshman if you have this basic knowledge. The maybe bad news is, if you have a poor academic record from high school, admissions may be difficult. One solution that I know at least many American students take, is to attend a "Community College" a.k.a. "Junior College" for a year or two, make outstanding grades, and then transfer to an accredited university.

    Edit: the additional advantage of "Junior College," is that you can take the freshman-level science and math courses there, and then come into the university program as a sophomore/junior level student, shortening the time until you get your degree.
  4. Oct 24, 2012 #3
    getting into university is not an issue for me at the moment. i don't want to go to university at this moment, as i'm looking for a job, and will study science and math on my own time, although it requires a lot of discipline, i have already given up wasting times on games. i'm hoping to enter university in 2 years time.

    i know basic algebra. however, i'm willing to learn calculus. i'm just starting from the bottom at the moment, to make sure i understand the foundations well.
  5. Oct 24, 2012 #4
    Although it's not an issue at the moment, it sounds like it may be when you want to apply in a few years time. The problem with self-study is that it may be hard to show that you are capable and responsible on your application if you have a poor high school transcript and haven't taken classes to show that you have "verified" knowledge.

    My best advice is to see if you can take night classes at a community college. That way, you can learn what you need to learn, and have your grades as proof that you deserve entry when you apply to a university.

    If you want to self teach, there are quite a number of threads on this site regarding the best textbooks for self-teaching. I don't have enough knowledge of all of the available authors to give any valuable advice about which ones to get. I will say that for the purpose of basic knowledge, go to http://www.khanacademy.org. Khan Academy has a lot of tutorial videos on math up through basic differential equations, as well as intro level sciences. My one caveat with Khan is simply that the examples he works out in the tutorials are often significantly simpler than ones you would find on problem sets with an actual textbook, so it might be to your advantage to get a book anyway, or go to your local library and do practice problems out of one of their textbooks.
  6. Oct 24, 2012 #5
    Thanks. Yes I go to the equivalent to night school in Australia however at the moment, it's purely out of interest.
  7. Oct 24, 2012 #6
    I highly recommend going through the book "Basic Mathematics" by Serge Lang. It covers everything you need to know of high school not including calculus. The book can be hard at times, but it will be well worth the effort if you persist.
    Other great books are the high school books by Gelfand.

    Here are some links:

    Khan academy is a great resource. But please do not use it as primary resource. You should also go through an actual textbook and work through the exercises. For additional information, khan academy is ok.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Oct 24, 2012 #7
    That's good to hear, regardless of why you're doing it, it's definitely the right track to take if you want to pursue a science degree. You're certainly not too old, I have a friend here who was in the navy for 6 years after high school (he was a nuclear reactor technician on a submarine), who's now 26 and is in the middle of pursuing an electrical engineering degree. I understand that finances could play a factor, but the point is that there's nothing about your age that should deter you from pursuing a science degree (or any subject for that matter).

    So you know you're not too old, was there anything else you were wondering about?
  9. Oct 24, 2012 #8
    Luckily you have the insight to recognise these petty fears for what they are and a major age advantage, from my perspective (35) you can't possibly loose.
  10. Oct 24, 2012 #9


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    yes, at 18, there are very few things that are too late to aspire to. i was 19 when i was temporarily kicked out of college and began my long climb back. i was 27 when i was required to leave grad school and begin my second climb back. i am now 70, induced to retire and beginning my third climb back. i'll be back, and definitely so will you.
  11. Oct 25, 2012 #10
    That's great to hear, thank you for replying :D
  12. Oct 25, 2012 #11


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    Hey aspiire and welcome to the forums.

    I am Australian and have experience with our university system with mathematics and science and I can tell you that you can get in if you really want to.

    The pathways range from diong your HSC at Tafe to doing things like Uni prep programs and something known as the STAT test.

    Mathematics entrance ranks are fairly low because no-body really wants to do it and also because the people that are doing quantitative stuff are heading for finance, actuarial work, or engineering because of the dollar signs.

    If you meet the requirements for the STAT test, I'd look into it because you can get into many universities with a good enough STAT score.

    With regards to your peers being ahead of you: just remember that if you are determined you will move ahead. Just become involved in your learning, and find out how to become better at what you want to do. It's like anything: if you practice your craft constantly and always look to improve then you will.
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