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What should I fill my schedule with? Math major? Some minors? Some BS classes?

  1. Dec 18, 2012 #1
    I'm a sophomore studying physics and have been doing some academic planning over the break. I'm beginning to realize just how much open space I am going to have in my schedule. My scholarship requires me to take a minimum number of credits each semester, so only taking a few classes isn't an option. I have drawn up tons of possible plans and am wondering which would be most beneficial for getting into grad school without being too overbearing.

    My first question is whether a double major with math will be worth it. From what I've been able to gather from searching this board and talking to a few professors, physics will teach you all the math that you need to do physics, so double major in math if you enjoy the math. Does everyone here basically agree with that or are there some different opinions? I do research in an experimental condensed matter group and really enjoy it. For grad school I see myself either sticking with that or AMO. As an experimentalist, will the kind of math I learn in math department classes really help me that much?

    A physics/math double major still leaves me with quite a bit of room, so I looked in to adding a computer science minor. I could still tack that on top and never go over 16 credits a semester. I've taken one CS course already as where as a computational class from the physics department. Is the kind of programming that I learn in a CS minor going to cross over well to work in the lab? I already do quite a bit of programming with labview. Are the classes worth it or will I learn all that I need to know in the lab?

    A different approach that I considered is becoming a kind of pseudo-grad student by just sticking with the physics degree and a math minor, while taking a few grad level classes. I would fill up my schedule with research credits which usually equate to 3 hours volunteering in the lab each week per credit. How would this look to admissions committees? Would they see at as laziness, or would they be impressed by the amount of research experience?

    Or should I take a few more underwater basket weaving type classes and settle for just the physics/math double without a minor, or physics with two minors? Any advice from those of you who have been there and done that is greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2012 #2
    You know you need time to study as well, don't you?? Grad classes tend to be difficult and you'll need quite some time to study for them. If you fill up your entire schedule, then maybe you won't have time for that...
  4. Dec 19, 2012 #3


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    I double majored in physics and mathematics. I found it to be synergistic. I knew more of the framework than a lot of physics majors and I had more of a context to put the math into than most of the applied math majors. In grad school, I found that additional math was extremely useful. It let me focus on the physics without getting bogged down in mathematical rigor mortis.

    I will say that as an undergrad I stayed away from any really hard grad classes. I mean the core ones the EM and QM. Same with in the math department. I knew some people in my grad program that took such classes as an undergrad and from what i saw its not clear how much it helped them.
  5. Dec 21, 2012 #4
    I found taking a course in linear algebra extremely useful. Also, I suggest taking a course or two in statistics (typical 2-semester sequence covers probability first semester and statistics the second).

    As far as research goes, I would volunteer more than 3 hours per week if you plan on doing that. I believe an average of 10 hours/wk is standard. This allows more time to get results and considering your flexible schedule, it's a good idea.
  6. Dec 21, 2012 #5


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    I think it would be easier to just take the math classes you are interested in rather than doing a second major. You have a lot more flexibility that way. I am actually in a similar position as a junior where I only have one undergrad requirement left so I did a math minor and am taking physics grad courses as well as doing research. Last semester I took two grad classes, an undergrad physics course, a history course, and did an independent study. This was a challenging yet very reasonable load.
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