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Courses Which Introductory Physics Course Sequence Should I Take?

  1. Aug 9, 2010 #1
    I'm going to be a freshman next year in college and the school I'm going to offers two sequences for possible physics majors. The "highly recommended" sequence is a modern introduction made up of three courses which introduces physics by incorporating relativity from the beginning. The other sequence is simply a calculus based introduction which introduces relativistic mechanics at the end of the second course and throughout the third course. I've taken phyisics in high school but the math didn't involve calculus and the course wasn't quite at the level that say an AP physics course would be taught. I have taken first semester calculus but I still would feel more comfortable taking the sequence that doesn't incorporate relativity right from the get go. But every handbook or physics major path description that I look at recommends the other course. I guess what I really want to know is what other people here have taken for their introductory physics courses and what you recommend I take. Also if I were to take the less recommended sequence would I be at a severe disadvantage when I start taking higher level physics courses?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2010 #2
    Which school is that? I've never heard of such a thing, but then again I'm just entering my freshmen year.
  4. Aug 9, 2010 #3
    It's the University of Wisconsin Madison
  5. Aug 9, 2010 #4
    Cornell University does something similar as well.

    For prospective physics majors, it's highly recommended to take the honors sequences of mechanics (includes relativity). However, the course content in the beginning is extremely similar so that you can "correct" and switch out from the honors into the easier version without falling behind. You can also start off in the non-honors and switch up into the honors version if you find the regular course way too easy. Grades from homework and labs (and even the first test, if I recall correctly) transfer easily. The department wants to make sure you end up in the correct course, so they don't penalize you.

    I'm in the exact same situation (no AP Physics in high school, but decent Calculus background) and I'm nervous about the honors course, but I think it's better to try. If you need to switch down to the regular version, then at least you can say you tried the honors. Also, I know it's common here for people to take the non-honors mechanics and then switch up into the honors version of second semester physics.

    Obviously, you should check if your university has a similar switching policy, but I would imagine they would. Most places are reasonable with course adjustments within the first few weeks of the semester.
  6. Aug 9, 2010 #5
    Oh, my bad when you said relativity I had a brain fart, I thought about general relativity! jeez, silly me, special relativity should be doable, I would recommend you to take the honours sequence as well. If it's too had you can always drop. Always try to aim higher. Well that's my 2 cents.
  7. Aug 10, 2010 #6


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    Staff Emeritus
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    Really, this is something that you should ask your academic advisor. Or, if they used to do it when I went to UW-Madison eons ago, you should ask the "generic" advisor. If you don't think this is satisfactory, go to the Dept's office and ask to speak to an undergraduate advisor who would know more about the nature of these courses/sequence. This person will get to talk to you about your background, etc., and with his/her knowledge of what these courses entails, can make a more informed recommendation to you.

    When you get there, wave at the 2nd floor of Siegel Hall where I used to hang around!

  8. Aug 10, 2010 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Are you referring to handbooks etc. that you found at UW-Madison? It may simply be the case that the "relativity-first" version of the intro physics course is relatively (:wink:) new and not all the advising materials have been updated yet..
  9. Aug 11, 2010 #8
    I chose the "highly recommended" one. It turned out to be pretty nice - the class is smaller, your classmates are probably going to be your classmates for the next four years (like it or not...). And those topics indeed "spice up" the course, IMHO
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