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Physics What can I do to prepare for college and a career?

  1. Mar 24, 2017 #1
    Hello all, I created an account just to make this post but I've been lurking for a while.

    I'm currently a Junior in high school and I have some rather ambitious goals. While it's not very likely I will ever achieve all of them, I'd like to at least get half-way there. I'm currently in AP Physics, and not to brag as I know many others struggle, but the class is quite easy for me. I am also fluent in a few programming languages, those being Python and C++, which I've known for quite a while and it wasn't until recently that I found out programming is quite useful for college courses in Physics and advanced mathematics.

    I have quite a lot of goals, and I am not too sure how to obtain them. I've spoken with the counselor at my school and he said the best that I can do for help is talk to a professor, but I don't have any way to talk to one. My long-term goal is to achieve a Ph. D in Physics, preferably for theoretical physics or astrophysics. This will be tough for me as I must rely on student loans, which I'm not sure I can even qualify for. My family cannot support me due to some large financial issues.

    I'm not too sure what jobs will be available to me if I ever do get a Ph. D, or a Masters for that matter. I have realized that the job market for Physics is quite saturated, and to get a research position is like winning the lottery. With that said, is there any advice for me going forward? (Job possibilities, college/financial advice, etc).
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2017 #2


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    First off I would encourage you to keep learning about what interests your, particularly at this stage of the game. In high school it's a good idea to build a strong foundation in mathematics and the sciences and then specialize as you go further. It sounds like you're on that track.

    With regard to money - a few points. You're not necessarily doomed to a single option of loans. First of all, how much money are you earning now? If you don't have a part-time job, it's a good idea to get one. Even saving up a few thousand dollars to take a bite out of those first year expenses can help immensely. Starting now can also help you to build up experience, which can help you to get better-than-minimum wage jobs in the four months out of the year that you're not in school later on. Second, if you're really doing that well in AP physics, make sure that you push yourself to get into the academic scholarship GPA range. One thing that I've observed about scholarships is that they tend to snowball. Finally, you get paid to go to graduate school - or at least supported financially. It's not a lot, but usually students make enough money to support themselves through a PhD that they don't have to take out any further loans while they do it. Oh - one more. Shop around. Consider cost of living where you want to go. Prices can vary dramatically and the quality of education and opportunities associated with the school name are not necessarily directly proportional.

    As you learn, keep an open mind too. There's more to physics than theoretical astrophysics.
  4. Mar 25, 2017 #3
    I recommend against borrowing too much money.

    Even if your parents cannot write checks to your school to help fund your education, there are a few things they may be able to do: let you live at home as long as possible and keep you on their health insurance. Living away from home adds on the order of $50,000 to one's college debt over four years. Living at home means much lower debt.

    Even if you don't live close enough to compute to a good school with a physics major, odds are you can combine distance learning and commuting for two years or so to a school you do live close enough to reach 60-80 credit hours so you are only two years away before transferring to a better school to finish your BS degree.

    Also, if you are near as good as you think, odds are pretty good you will qualify for merit-based scholarships at in-state schools with physics programs. I'd focus on a decent school in your state. Private and out-or-state schools usually add $50,000-$100,000 to your expenses over 4 years compared with in-state schools.

    To best position yourself for merit-based scholarships, keep your grades up and take the ACT or SAT as soon as possible to see where you stand in that regard. You should also figure out how you can become involved in research as soon as possible. Getting into a local group may be challenging, but a winning project in your local ISEF-affiliated science fair (or other high school science venue) IS attainable.


    Take my science project advice seriously. Students I've mentored in science projects have won 1st place in their category at state science fairs 11 of 14 times and second place at state 2 of 14 times. When they reach college, they do very well with scholarships.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2017
  5. Mar 25, 2017 #4
    Absolutely agree. And science projects will help get you into college. When you write your personal essay, you won't be writing BS about your passion for physics, you will be relating concrete examples demonstrating your passion for physics.
  6. Mar 25, 2017 #5
    An additional advantage is that often science projects provide great material for letters of recommendation - we've had great letters of recommendation from mentors, colleagues, teachers, and even judges result from quality science projects. Also, if projects are high-quality, they may also lead to publications. Publications really help admissions and scholarship applications stand out from the crowd.
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