first year,  math

lost in a STEM course maze


I am a first year student from the States and I recently signed up for my courses on timetable. I’ve taken 2 years of AP Physics (algebra-based) and one year of AP Calculus AB. I registered for PHY151 and MAT135/136 and failed to see that PHY151 has a co-requisite of either MAT137 or MAT157. I am worried that my calculus knowledge is not quite strong enough for MAT137. I did pretty well in high school calc but not well enough that I feel super confident. After looking at the course description for MAT137 I can’t tell if it is a good idea to take it in first year. I plan to enter some type of mathematical or physical sciences program which is why I chose PHY151 (plus two years of physics).

Is taking MAT 137 a bad idea? Should I switch to PHY131 and keep MAT135/136? If anyone knows of any major differences between the two math classes that would be greatly appreciated. I am taking CHM151 in addition to physics and math. I thought about dropping physics for first year and taking BIO120 instead (and keeping MAT135/136) because I have no clue what sciences I like best and I couldn’t bear taking all three plus math. I’m in need of advice about the two math courses and about which two of three (physics, chemistry, biology) is most important to take in first year.

Thanks so much


hey there,

if you’re thinking of entering a math/physical sciences program, then yes, it does make sense to take PHY151 and MAT137 or -57. it’s great that you’re being realistic about your abilities and trying to find the calc class that works for you, but you will need to take 137/157 if you’re planning on doing PHY151.

here’s what i would do: enrol in the PHY151 and MAT137. see how the math goes. if you took AP Calculus, you’re probably better prepared than you think. HOWEVER – and this is the important point – if you do find that it is too much for you, you can DROP DOWN to MAT135/136 by early October.

unfortunately, it’s not possible to start in MAT135/136 and upgrade, but at least you can downgrade if you find the 137 to be completely overwhelming.

if you do drop down, however, you will be in a sticky situation with respect to the physics class. since you have to be taking MAT137 or 157 to stay in PHY151, you will likely be removed from PHY151 unless you stay in MAT137. it’s possible to ask for an exception from the physics department, but it would certainly be an exception. it’s not something you can count on. what’s more likely is that you’ll have to make the hard decision of either abandoning physics or sticking it out in MAT137.

that’s all pretty far down the road at this point, though. it’s pointless to stress about it now. i’ve laid out one possible strategy, but you have to do what feels right to you. down the road, if it turns out that the decision you made isn’t working for you anymore, then just change it.

there is this rhetoric about university that makes it out to be this inflexible decision, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. it’s like the decisions you make on course enrolment day in first year will dictate the rest of your life. not so. in my first year, i knew by December of my first ever semester at university that i was in the wrong program. so i changed it. big whoop. four years later, i graduated from the right program and the right school. i’m glad i started out on the wrong path, because it helped illuminate the right one.

as for which sciences you should take: it really depends on what program you’re interested in. if you’re thinking about a more physics-based program, you probably won’t need to take any biology, and perhaps not even any chemistry, either. the astronomy & physics specialist, for example, only requires that you take physics and math in your first year. biological physics, understandably, requires phyiscs, bio, chemistry and math (though they don’t all have to be taken in your first year).

obviously, your ideas about which program(s) you’d like to enrol in may change after first year, but if you can decide which programs you think you might be interested in, then you can get an idea of the first year courses you might want to take.

good luck!


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