# Which easier probabilty or differential equations?

## Main Question or Discussion Point

I'm an engineering student, and in my next semester I want to take one of these 2 courses, differential equations or probability. I'm good in math but I'm taking some hard engineering courses and that's why I'm willing to choose the easiest of these 2 courses. Thank you for your advice.

LCKurtz
Homework Helper
Gold Member
I'm an engineering student, and in my next semester I want to take one of these 2 courses, differential equations or probability. I'm good in math but I'm taking some hard engineering courses and that's why I'm willing to choose the easiest of these 2 courses. Thank you for your advice.
The obvious choice for engineering is DE. Choose the most appropriate course, not the easiest one.

Differential equations is an elective?

Well it's true that DE is more appropriate for my field of studies but I would really like to know which is easiest.
Differential equations is an elective?
Both courses are required, they are not electives.

verty
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For the first half semester, I suspect DE would be easier. For the second half, probability would be easier, IMHO.

vela
Staff Emeritus
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I'd say differential equations is easier overall.

It really depends on what level. The first term of DE is pretty standard, but probability classes vary more in difficulty.

I thought ODE is the hardest of all the math class including PDE. All the other students in the thought that too. We might had a hard class as it's a 4 units. But I compare to the EM class in terms of difficulty. We all agree ODE is so much harder that Cal II and III combined.

I never study probability in college, but we studied in HS, it's easy.

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Take differential equations. Not only is it highly important for your engineering courses like heat transfer and fluid dynamics its not all that difficult. I mean how good are you in calculus 2? If you can integrate and understand what a derivative is and it's applications you will be fine. To me differential equations was actually easier than calculus 2 because I didn't have the lab component nor did I have to learn integration techniques or series and convergence theorems. Once you get to differential equations you should already know these things, and you can model pretty interesting and practical things like radioactive decay and population growth. Take DE, stats is boring and involves long drawn out formulas. I struggled with statistics, not even sure how I managed to stay focus enough to get an A.

I thought ODE is the hardest of all the math class including PDE. All the other students in the thought that too. We might had a hard class as it's a 4 units. But I compare to the EM class in terms of difficulty. We all agree ODE is so much harder that Cal II and III combined.

I never study probability in college, but we studied in HS, it's easy.
No. Just no. I took statistical methods and engineering statistics and they were both far more involved and difficult then the statistics course I took in high school. I should upload some of my notes and coursework for you.

The obvious choice for engineering is DE.
Not necessarily. As an engineer you're also definitely never going to see a differential equation outside of school but probability is something that can pop up very frequently in one form or another, and something that engineers are typically quite weak at, with little focus having been given to it during school.

No. Just no. I took statistical methods and engineering statistics and they were both far more involved and difficult then the statistics course I took in high school. I should upload some of my notes and coursework for you.
He's talking about probability, not statistics. Often the two are included together in introductory classes, but there is a difference.

vela
Staff Emeritus
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I never study probability in college, but we studied in HS, it's easy.
In the U.S., the level of difficulty with what's covered in high school and what's covered in college is vastly different. In my experience, many students really struggle with probability the first time they encounter it in college.

Probability can be highly unintuitive, diff eq is straightforward.

SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
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Not necessarily. As an engineer you're also definitely never going to see a differential equation outside of school but probability is something that can pop up very frequently in one form or another, and something that engineers are typically quite weak at, with little focus having been given to it during school.
I don't know about that claim. Some engineers see DEs all the time. Some even see PDEs, which are quite common in mechanics and hydrodynamics.

AlephZero
Homework Helper
As an engineer you're also definitely never going to see a differential equation outside of school
I don't know about that claim. Some engineers see DEs all the time. Some even see PDEs, which are quite common in mechanics and hydrodynamics.
I would agree you are probably never going to have to produce an closed form solution to the simple types of DE you meet in a BEng course - unless your employer wants your reports written with a quill pen instead of a word processor.

But some conceptual understanding of (for example) how the difference between elliptic, parabolic, and hyperbolic, DEs relates to the physics of what they are modelling, or the relationship between DEs and Laplace transforms (and Z transforms if you are using DSP) is a different issue, and you have to learn to walk before you can run - which is why college courses in DEs start from where they do.

As Hamming said, the purpose of computation (either on paper or with a software package) is not numbers, but insight.

If I were to give a fast and simplified answer I would say that probabilities/combinatorics is harder conceptually but simpler to calculate, whereas DE's/PDE's are the opposite, easier conceptually but often hard to calculate.

It really depends on what level. The first term of DE is pretty standard, but probability classes vary more in difficulty.
This is very true. At my school, the EE's take a pretty difficult probability class and we don't take it until our third year. Because of that, our probability class is significantly harder than the DE class we take in our second year. People going into stuff like communications and signal processing I guess need that solid background in probability theory. On the flip side, some people in other majors take a probability class in their first year, which I imagine is probably easier than DE.

honestly, and i'm not trying to be offensive, but if you do not currently know diff eq, how difficult could an engineering course really be? that being said, and this coming from a math major and grad-student in mechanical engineering, take diff eq!

jasonRF
Gold Member

I think you will get more reliable answers by asking other students and perhaps faculty at your university. I also recommend speaking with your advisor on what course would make the most sense for you. You may be taking courses very soon that will be much easier going if you know differential equations, even though it isn't an official prerequisite. Likewise for probability.

jason

If anyone is interested I took both and I found that probability was easy, but differential equations are really hard, harder than all the calculus courses.

IGU
Sounds likely that diff eq was a much more valuable course to take then.