Undergraduate Program or Graduate Program?

I don't have a graduate degree and would be a lower priority) to a 'yes, you can matriculate but you'll have to take some lower level courses to make up the credits you don't have' to 'yes, you can matriculate and you can take the lower level courses to make up the credits you don't have'.In summary, I'm considering whether or not to apply to the University of Illinois program even though it's a little complicated. I'm worried about the implications of my master's from Illinois and how it will be handled. I'm also worried about how I'll be able to handle the classes needed to be successful in the program if I'm accepted.f
  • #1
I'm looking for advice on obtaining a degree in physics. I'm older, 52, and have a BSE in Computer Science and Engineering and a MS in Computer Science. While I have a history of being both an undergraduate and a graduate student that was 30 years ago and in areas with little connection to physics. If I wish to at least get a MS in physics is my prior undergraduate and graduate school training of any value at all at this point? I'm thinking they aren't worth much.

I've read through the ZapperZ thread titled 'Can I get a Ph.D. in physics if my bachelor's degree isn't in physics' and understand I can do self-assessment by taking the PGRE. I already know without a serious and sustained self-study regimen I would not currently do well on the PGRE. So I'm trying to decide if I should focus on gaining undergraduate school admission first or should I spend time preparing myself for possible graduate school admission instead? As an undergraduate student I'd be repeating some amount of coursework I've already taken. Probably about 2 years worth. As a graduate student I know I would be under prepared and would have to take about 2 years worth of undergraduate level physics coursework to catch up to where I should be.

What option(s) makes the most sense to you?

1) Seek admission to an undergraduate degree program majoring in physics to increase the chances of getting into at least a masters level graduate degree program?
2) Spend a few years in self-study/adult continuing education classes in order to catch up to where a typical physics undergraduate is after 4 years? Then if I score highly on the PGRE apply for a masters level graduate degree program since I already have undergraduate and graduate degrees?
3) Maybe there is a middle path between options 1 and 2? That of applying for a masters level graduate degree program after explaining I would need an additional 2 years of remedial undergraduate coursework to catch up to a typical first year graduate student? Not knowing much about admission procedures it seems to me that having to explain a special circumstance is not the best way to get yourself into a program. So option 3 seems iffy?

Please don't feel constrained to only discuss what I've listed. I'm open to and appreciate all suggestions.

  • #2
I'm in a similar dilemma trying to relearn my math. A few years ago, I took a course in computational physics using Java and the Open Source Physics framework,which picquet my interest in physics again. My math is rusty but I can still do Calculus related problems with the help of a math tables book. I've been trying to relearn vector calculus which ties together a lot of related math under one roof using the mathispower4u website videos.

I tried once to get into a graduate level program but you have to support your application with a GRE that is competitive with your undergrads to succeed. So right now I've tabled my desire to get into a program and to instead study on my own with the notion of teaching at a community college someday. The requirements are that you have a BS in Physics with at least 18 grad credit hours in Physics which I actually have.

Your best bet may be to go to a lesser college that has a MS in Physics so you can get back into the swing of things and then maybe get into a phd program when you're ready. It would mean switching schools taking more courses and passing a qualifying exam before getting to a disertation. The only other alternative is to find a disertation worthy project at work and to present it to a committee for permission to do a PhD thesis on it. It's a kind of backdrop approach for people with experience but not often tried.
  • #3
Hi jedi,

Thanks for your response. We're in an unusual situation that's for sure.

I did some additional research yesterday and came across a program at University of Illinois to obtain a second bachelor's degree. The idea being if you already have a bachelor's degree from another institution you can effectively request admission to the university as if you were an undergraduate transfer student with some varying amount of credit for previous coursework applied. I called the University today and talked to both the Dean's office and the admissions office. My master's from Illinois is complicating matters. It is causing both the Dean of the department I'd like to matriculate into and the admissions office some consternation. They aren't sure how to handle a previous graduate student of the university requesting to matriculate into a different department's undergraduate program.

I'm supposed to get an answer tomorrow to my request. I'm expecting anything from no can do (they rightfully prioritize matriculation spots for first time students over those already with degrees) to I should apply as a transfer student who just happens to have both a bachelor's and master's degree in a different area and they'll figure it out. Not sure which way it is going to go so I'm not going to get my hopes up.

  • #4
Thought I would follow up with a change in my situation since I posted this thread in February. At that time I wasn't sure whether to pursue admission into a graduate physics program or get an undergraduate physics degree first. My background is undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science followed by a 30 year career in various IT positions ranging from technical to management.

In mid-February I went ahead and applied to the University of Illinois' undergraduate Engineering Physics program seeking what they term a second bachelor's degree. A unique option that allows someone with previous degrees to enter the undergraduate program at a higher level than a freshman. Last month I was accepted into the program as a junior and will start attending U. of I. full-time this fall.

So for anyone wondering if it is too late to pursue a goal that you may have set aside for some amount of time? Anywhere from postponing your goal for a few years up to postponing it a few decades. Don't lose hope in your situation. There are ways out there which will provide you with the opportunity to get back to what you want.

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  • #5
I'll be starting at UIUC in the fall in Specialized Physics as a junior. Are you going to be retaking the introductory physics classes, or are you going to move right into the upper level courses? If you're moving into the upper level courses, there's a good chance we'll have some classes together.

edit - And by the way, congrats on pursuing your dreams. I look forward to seeing you at UIUC. :)
  • #6
So for anyone wondering if it is too late to pursue a goal that you may have set aside for some amount of time? Anywhere from postponing your goal for a few years up to postponing it a few decades. Don't lose hope in your situation. There are ways out there which will provide you with the opportunity to get back to what you want.
You honestly made my day!
  • #7
I'll be starting at UIUC in the fall in Specialized Physics as a junior. Are you going to be retaking the introductory physics classes, or are you going to move right into the upper level courses? If you're moving into the upper level courses, there's a good chance we'll have some classes together.

Hi Curt,

I haven't attended academic advising yet some I'm unclear what level of classes I'll be taking in the fall. While I'm technically a second semester junior due to all the transfer credits I've received I'm not going to feel comfortable skipping that far ahead in the physics curriculum. I've taken introductory mechanics, introductory e&m, and an introductory astrophysics class plus three semesters of calculus/linear algebra during my previous degrees but that was 30 years ago. You can imagine I'm a bit rusty on things so if I can I'll drop back to sophomore level classes to get reacquainted with the subject matter.

I see you are in the LAS Specialized Physics program. I would have opted for LAS Specialized Physics if I could but I learned you can't earn a Second Bachelor's Degree in LAS. They don't allow it. Fortunately the College of Engineering does allow Second Bachelor's Degrees so I opted for their Engineering Physics program. Turns out the Engineering Physics program is very flexible and I'll be able to mirror the coursework to the LAS Specialized Physics curriculum so at least from a coursework perspective they can be exactly the same. I'm sure we're going to bump into each other. If not in class then in the halls of the department. Looking forward to meeting you too!

Having read a number of your posts I know you're a junior transfer student starting at UIUC this fall. Have you had to take placement tests for the Specialized Physics program? If so, which placement tests have you had to take? In Engineering Physics there are physics, chemistry, math, and a foreign language placement test that transfer students may have to take. The only one I'm sure I will have to take is the physics test. For the others it is kind of unclear if I should take them or not so I'm curious what you've had to do. Have you also registered for your fall classes yet? I'll not be registering until the week before courses start in mid-August.

  • #8
I actually registered for my courses on the 20th, so just a couple days ago. I'm going to be taking PHYS 225, PHYS 325, MATH 446, CS 101, and PHIL 110 (world religions - my last gen ed) in the fall. I'm doing dual degrees in physics and math, and unfortunately wasn't able to get into the math courses I wanted for the fall, but I found a schedule that will work well. I also have to take PHYS 110 - Careers in Physics, which is basically the general introduction to the physics profession and possible career paths (a 0 credit course), and LAS 199, which is the transfer orientation course (only 1 credit).

I didn't have to take any placement tests. Since I'm coming right out of a community college though, I'm not required to. I've completed the introductory physics, calculus, and chemistry, plus I've completed my 4th level of foreign language. In your case, it's likely that you'll have to take some placement tests, though I'm not sure which ones. My adviser did specify that they encourage students to retake lower level courses if they feel that they aren't adequately prepared for the upper level courses, so I imagine you'll be fine. The physics adviser, Merissa, is great. She'll help you set up a good schedule.

Engineering Physics and Specialized Physics can be almost identical to one another depending on the electives chosen within Engineering Physics. Engineering physics is administratively housed in both engineering and LAS, so there's a lot of overlap between them. Merissa almost flat out said that the distinction is whether or not one wants their degree to have the word 'engineering' on it...lol
  • #9
Thanks for referencing Merissa. I'm going to give her a call next week in order to clarify how I should proceed with the placement tests. Also if I can retake some of the introductory physics and math classes I'm going to do that so I don't accidentally put myself into an advanced class where I'm in over my head. So I'm likely going to be taking PHYS 110 and then some unknown combination of PHYS 211, 212, 213, or 214 and MATH 231, 241, or 285. Looks like I'm going to place myself about a year behind where you are at. We might be in the same PHYS 110 class.

Have you taken much computer science in your previous coursework? If not I'm more than willing to help you out with any questions you have during your CS 101 course.

  • #10
If you take PHYS 110 in the fall, then we'll almost definitely be in the same one. There's only one section of the course currently, with 186 seats still open. It sounds like this class involves very little. It's basically a series of presentations from various people in the physics department discussing what one can do with a physics degree. Merissa said that it usually only goes about 6 weeks or so into the semester. It's a 0 credit course, so no homework or anything like that. I think retaking some of the introductory classes is a very good idea in your case. Given that it's been 30 years, I'm sure a refresher is very much in order. I was told over and over again how rigorous the physics courses at UIUC are, so it's good to be prepared.

I've actually never taken any programming before. This summer I'm planning on getting at least familiar with Python with the open source Think Python book. How much time I'll actually have for this is questionable though. Between my internship and my planned review of classical mechanics with Kleppner & Kolenkow, I may not have much time. I'll be taking CS 101 and then MATH 357 (Numerical Analysis) later on, so I may end up with some questions about programming. If I do I'll track you down. I'll basically be living at Loomis Lab and Altgeld Hall (as well as my apartment that's about a 3 minute walk from Loomis), so I'll be around a lot. I'd be glad to help if you get stuck on any of your math or physics.
  • #11
Sounds like we're going to be pretty close to each other. My apartment is about a 7 minute walk to Loomis Labs. Surprised how close to the engineering campus I was able to get although you're even closer. Thought I would end up much farther east in Urbana or in Champaign which is where I lived when I attended UIUC in the mid 1980s.

I checked the CS 101 syllabus for the spring 2015 classes and it teaches the C language and MATLAB using the Unix operating system. I've used C a lot in the past so I definitely can help you there. Been using Unix forever so I have you covered on that too. Haven't used MATLAB yet and want to learn it as well.

Did you use Kleppner & Kolenkow's An Introduction to Mechanics in your previous coursework? I have it but haven't done much with it yet. I picked it up for some self-study but have found myself focusing on relearning all the mathematics I've forgotten over the years.
  • #12
I've never formally used K&K in any of my classes, but I've used it as a supplemental resource within my classes. This summer I'm actually working through a more thorough self study of K&K in preparation for junior level mechanics. In the past I've only used it as more of a reference or to seek further explanations on a specific concept. I'm looking forward to really working through it. I'm going to work through Purcell's Electricity and Magnetism after that.

It sounds like we're almost going to be neighbors. I only got so close because I got my apartment early. I signed my lease in January, before I even got accepted to UIUC. It was a bit of a gamble, but I felt good enough about my chances.

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