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vanausdr's avatar

Has anyone taken physics in college who did not take it in high school?

Asked by vanausdr (146points) March 15th, 2010

I have taken every other science (biology I & II, chemistry, environmental…) but physics (I took art though…). Am I in for a rude awakening? I make good grades, I’m just not sure what to expect in college physics if I need to take it. And I’m talking about just the fundamentals of physics. When should I take if I just want to take it? Freshmen year?

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21 Answers

mangeons's avatar

I would not suggest taking it your freshman year, I took it this year (my freshman year) and it was difficult for me and many other in my class full of freshmen. I’d suggest taking it between your sophomore-senior years if you want to take it in high school.

bob_'s avatar

I took college-level physics in high school. If you’re good at math, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Rarebear's avatar

I didn’t have physics in high school and I did physics as a freshman in college.

bummer's avatar

I took it a college preparatory school, NAPS, (Naval Academy Preparatory School). If you like watching Science Guy or are of a curious sort, you will enjoy physics. Do the reading and keep up.

lilikoi's avatar

I took a basic physics course in high school, but did not learn anything. I took physics my first year in college and survived. I had a strong math background though, having already took my first calculus class in high school.

My college offered calculus and non-calculus based physics – only non-science majors took the latter. You need to know basic algebra and how to derive and integrate to understand basic physics.

Although all the sciences are connected and were in fact not segregated into different fields until the recent past (in relative terms), what you learn in high school biology and chemistry is so basic that the connection to physics may not be real clear. In other words, it will probably be very new to you.

I think I remember you saying you were going to study wildlife biology or ecology. In this case, I don’t think postponing physics for a future term would hurt you much, although I’m not sure. If you put it off, you should make sure that it isn’t a prerequisite for a number of other courses.

I recommend checking out MIT’s Open Courseware for basic physics. You can look at the topics covered, in as much or as little detail as you’d like, and decide for yourself. The book I used for college physics was by Paul A Tipler. Not great, but not bad either.

mangeons's avatar

I was talking about high school, by the way. Not college. ;)

elenuial's avatar

Believe it or not, calculus based physics is actually way easier for many than non-calculus based physics. Many of the equations you need to know can be derived from each other using calculus, so not having it can greatly increase the amount you need to memorize.

In other words, if you’re the sort of person who likes to memorize facts to recite them on a test, then take non-calculus based physics. It will likely be a challenge, because in addition to memorization, you have to deal with numbers and relate them to reality. If you prefer developing an understanding of the subject and not have to memorize so much, take the calculus version (of course, take calculus first). It will probably be pretty easy, assuming you’ve got a decent grasp of calculus of a single-variable (that might be the harder part ~_^).

One thing more: since the majority of the course will focus on Newtonian mechanics, you will have a way better understanding of the material, have more fun, and do better in the course if you try to demonstrate the principles being discussed to your own satisfaction. Just take a ball and some string and play around and see whether you can believe what you’re being told. Play! It makes your life and your academics better.

nope's avatar

If you’ve taken chemistry, and were okay with it, physics in college shouldn’t be too bad. Have you taken math? Calculus will really help you in physics, as @elenuial indicates. I took physics in high school, then again in college (my freshman year), but I’m not sure how much that the mathmatecally dumbed down high school physics actually prepared me for the college version, and I did just fine.

Ivan's avatar

Most people take Calculus-based Physics in their second or third semester. It’s nothing like Chemistry, so don’t use that as a benchmark. If you’re strong at Calculus, it shouldn’t be a big deal. If math isn’t your strong suit, you could consider taking an algebra-based physics course first. That would give you a huge head start for the calc-based class, but of course that would require delaying everything by one semester.

nope's avatar

@Ivan I disagree, partially, about your chemistry comment…it’s a physical science (which is way different than say biology). I think people who can handle chemistry perhaps can handle other physical sciences as well, that’s all I was trying to say.

Naked_Homer's avatar

I also took art in high school and not physics. I then took physics in college. I found it no problem. MUCH MUCH easier than chemistry. There is a logic in physics that allows you to dig yourself out of problems that doesn’t exist in chemistry. I was actually able to reason out the solution to problems that I had forgotten the formula to. In deference to that, your toast in chemistry if you can memorize a billion bits of info about the period table etc. That is just my opinion.

bob_'s avatar

I agree with @Ivan, Physics and Chemistry are nothing alike.

Naked_Homer's avatar

@_bob – ditto that sentiment.

nope's avatar

Geez, what does a guy have to do to catch a break here? Obviously the two sciences are “nothing” alike…although they are both physical sciences, and both (at least at more advance levels) require good math skills. I don’t remember the last time I needed math for biology, or botany, or…

Ivan's avatar


Nothing personal. The fields of Physics and Chemistry are similar, but the General Chemistry and Calc-based Physics courses are very different. Chem I and II are all about memorization and arithmetic. Physics I and II are all about problem solving and logic.

bob_'s avatar

By a vote of 3 to 1, it is determined that Physics and Chemistry are nothing alike.

nope's avatar

@Ivan Well, thanks for that, and I agree. My original comment was more about the type of mind that likes the mathmatical sciences, vs. the other ones.

@_bob I disagree they’re nothing alike. In fact, I found in college that my second semester of physical chemistry was remarkably similar to my physics class in spectroscopy. The physics class was much better taught, so I ended up understanding the same material much better because of that, but at the end of the day, it was the same shit.

bob_'s avatar

@nope Well, yeah, that’s why it’s 3 to 1.

nope's avatar

And I had no intention of getting into a pissing match about this, I think we’re all actually on the same page.

Rarebear's avatar

@ivan is absolutely correct. I ended up being a biochemistry major because I didn’t have the math skills at physics, even though I like physics a lot better. In order to do anything in physics you really need the math skills.

Naked_Homer's avatar

@nope – Yeah, I didn’t mean to come off as completely disagreeing with your statement. It is just that, by my experience, at the level I was at the two sciences were different in that Chem required mass memorization and physics required logic and postulating. When you get into advanced Chem, as you stated, starts taking on very similar characteristics as far as how you problem solve.

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