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College Courses Too Easy; Need Advice

syntacticalbeingsyntacticalbeing 39 replies5 threads Junior Member
Good day,

This past summer I had high hopes of finally being challenged in school, partly due to the fact that I got credit for Calculus III and Differential Equations in high school, and partly because I was willing to present my case and request permission to take classes that would challenge me. Besides straight A's in all classes I had independent published research in theoretical physics and computer science. I was able to obtain a research position in a mathematical topic of some applicability, although it is only tangentially related to my own research interests. However, I was unable to obtain permission to take more appropriately advanced classes due to the strictness of the overall school system. I began freshman year with some amount of optimism, albeit with minor worries. I am taking the following classes (listed by topic):

1. linear algebra (not proof-based)
2. intro to proofs
3. English
4. upper-level classical mechanics

I couldn't take any more due to the strict college credit limits (the research counts for credit as well). The problem is that I'm not learning a thing even though nearly half the semester is over. I've looked through all the books too and have already seen the material. There's a lot of busy work (very easy but takes a long time), and I've maintained straight A's so far through sheer force of will, but the experience is soul-crushing, especially since no one in my classes shares similar interests.

Of course, I've been spending much of my free time on self-study (the most recent topics have included chaos theory and the rigorous construction of QFT), but I have very limited time outside of the scheduled grunt work and filling in gaps in research-level textbooks and papers is nearly impossible without anyone knowledgable nearby in the field(s), as is the case here.

I've brought up this issue to a few relevant people but they are always indifferent to such matters. Responses run along the lines of, "Why are you complaining? You should use this time to relax and adjust to school." That's all well and good but when this concept drags over for long periods of time, it is I who will pay when I arrive at courses that I actually need study skills to pass, which I have yet to obtain. Moreover, it was not my intention to go to college to slack off. I wanted to get as far away from the misery in the grade school system (one of the most prominent examples of social engineering) and change my academic experience for the better. What can I do to improve the situation for myself in this case?

I apologize if this comes across as merely a heated rant. I'm just so frustrated that after more than a decade of cooperating with the school system and its absurd limitations that restrict any actual learning, I get repayed with more of the same at an institution of higher education in an ironic way.

Thank you for your patience,
syntacticalbeing
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Replies to: College Courses Too Easy; Need Advice

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78556 replies695 threads Senior Member
    What was the reason you could not get placement into more advanced courses than the ones which you already know the material for?

    Next semester, will you be able to take more advanced courses whose material is new to you?
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 5603 replies1 threads Senior Member
    Are you a freshman in university? Are you at a university where people typically only take four classes at a time?
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  • allyphoeallyphoe 2438 replies59 threads Senior Member
    So last spring you wrote, "My main concern will be finding academic challenge in college, either through the classes themselves (not so likely at GMU at least for the first year)" / "If I attended GMU my best bet is to just focus on research and not worry too much about the courses. In that case I will have my first challenging courses in grad school." / "I'll aim to start with 300-level math courses my freshman year and take my first 600-level (graduate) course either the second semester of freshman year or sophomore year. I'll attend colloquia and spend more time on research if I'm still not challenged enough."

    If the issue is that the busy work is filling too much time, you might look over the syllabi to see how assignments are weighted. You don't need a 4.0 to get into grad school.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5844 replies10 threads Senior Member
    Take advantage of office hours. Go talk to your profs about something that interests you in the work you are doing. Math isn't simply about whether you can solve the problems but in the ways you can solve them. Your profs will likely be happy to see someone who loves the material as much as they do.

    Some students may be challenged to solve the problems. Others have the freedom to think about th them. Enjoy being in the latter group and make the most of it.
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  • EmpireappleEmpireapple 1798 replies26 threads Senior Member
    Get a job to fill your time.
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  • syntacticalbeingsyntacticalbeing 39 replies5 threads Junior Member
    @ucbalumnus: The school won't make these kinds of exceptions for anyone, even students who have shown understanding of the material. I suspect it's because such students at this school are very rare. Formal placement tests don't approach my level; they would merely be enough to place students into Calculus I at most, which I already have credit for. I was able to take one course that I thought would be challenging enough at the beginning (classical mechanics), but it's surprisingly much easier than what I was expecting. We haven't covered Lagrangian mechanics yet, and the class won't even treat Hamiltonian mechanics in depth, let alone cover some of the trickier details. I most likely won't be able to reach new material until near the end of undergrad or grad school (1-2 more years at least), but I may have a chance next semester via my research connections within a limited subset of math courses. Physics course offerings will be very limited next semester, so I'll need to narrow down my realistic options and choose wisely in how I present my case and to whom. In terms of motivation of the students/options for challenging work this is a lot like accounts of public high schools that I have heard from similar-aged people in the past.

    @DadTwoGirls: Yes, I am a freshman. The reason why my schedule is so odd is due to the joint enrollment credits earned in high school (including the full calculus sequence, differential equations, and freshman-level physics). Technically I'm taking 5 courses (totalling 16 credits), but I didn't count one of them in my list since it wasn't a traditional course (just research work for credit).

    @allyphoe: Grades are distributed in such a way to where completion of the long homeworks is extremely important to maintain my grade. Exams count for alot but in most cases it is impossible to get an A without the homework submissions. What you say is true regarding grad school, but I will still need a very high GPA to make up for the easier courses. Someone at a very difficult university may need only a little better than a B average to have a shot at some decent grad schools in the field; at my school getting accepted to grad school from a major like undergrad math or physics is exceedingly rare (<10 that I know of in the last 10 years), and when it does happen in the case of math majors the graduate program isn't in pure math.

    @gardenstategal: That's what I'm doing; it's just hard to rest easy knowing that I'm falling way behind my academic peers due to all the time wasting.
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1447 replies35 threads Senior Member
    I'm surprised that no one has mentioned that the college you're attending isn't a good academic fit. Would you consider transferring to a more rigorous college?
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  • allyphoeallyphoe 2438 replies59 threads Senior Member
    @1NJParent If you read OP's prior threads, he had an unconventional high school experience, resulting in no acceptances from more rigorous schools. I wouldn't anticipate a better outcome from a first-semester transfer app.
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  • syntacticalbeingsyntacticalbeing 39 replies5 threads Junior Member
    @1NJParent: I don't have those secondary "character-related" characteristics that colleges in general are looking for, nor do I go out of my way to pander to their political/intermixed-moral ideology. I was not inflammatory by any means in my application essays; it's just that my focus was not on the usual suspect issues like environmentalism or leadership (save my experiences teaching others about STEM). To have done so would have been insincere, which I cannot tolerate. I gave an account of some notable human characteristics while answering the application questions. They chose not to accept me then; they won't accept me now. It is too late for me to truly undue the damage of being held back in grade school; I can only try to reduce the negative aspects of day-to-day life from this point forward. That's why I'm asking for advice.
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 5603 replies1 threads Senior Member
    In my experience university courses will get more challenging as you get into upper year courses.

    Research work for credit can be a very worthwhile activity (one daughter is also doing this right now). You are likely to discover some "non traditional" things. For example, nearly everything is more difficult to get right in practice than it seems like it should be. Experiments often fail for reasons that you might not have anticipated up front. This can be frustrating, but is a very good thing to learn. The fact that you are doing this as a freshman is pretty cool IMHO.

    The courses that you have listed do include some of the easiest classes that I took when in university. However, these will be used for more challenging and more interesting upper level classes. For example linear algebra is something that I found easy. However, it allowed me to later take econometrics, which was both very interesting and much more challenging. I did need to spend some time in econometrics going through the way that it uses linear algebra and getting to actually fully understand linear algebra. Similarly classical mechanics I found easy, but it allowed me to later take special relativity, which is more challenging and quite interesting.

    I think that within a year you will find things getting more interesting at your current university.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5844 replies10 threads Senior Member
    @syntacticalbeing , help me understand who you are falling behind and how you've set the goals for where you should be. I wonder if you are creating stress by chasing something that doesn't need to be chased. And possibly missing the opportunity to go deeper where you are.

    You sound pretty amazing to me and capable of finding challenge and excelling. It may not be the race you see it to be.
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  • coolguy40coolguy40 2342 replies3 threads Senior Member
    edited October 10
    Maybe the problem isn't a lack of challenge. It might be a lack of maturity. You'll get plenty of opportunities to be challenged, but first, you need a little patience. That's a life lesson. Sometimes things we want don't happen according to our timeline. Challenging programs are abundant, but they all require a bachelors degree. Obtain that and be happy you did. If you want challenge, you could always go to medical school. There's always a demand for smart brain surgeons. You could go to law school and be a high-powered corporate patent attorney. I have a very-smart "calculator-man" cousin who did just that after getting a degree in electrical engineering.
    edited October 10
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 23237 replies17 threads Senior Member
    Take something you have never even tried before, like music theory or Chinese or History of Portugal.
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1447 replies35 threads Senior Member
    You seems to be passionate about physics. You may need the single-mindedness to succeed later in that career, but it's a little too early. You need both breadth and depth. The advances in science and physics in today's world tend to be in non-traditional areas that intersect with other areas. Don't just focus on a few trees in a forest without knowing their relationships with other trees in the big picture.
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  • syntacticalbeingsyntacticalbeing 39 replies5 threads Junior Member
    @coolguy40: I am well aware of the value of patience in these matters, but if one is willing to wait near 15 years for something like that then that's not the problem. In an environment devoid of the right opportunities one must do something to create chances for himself/herself.

    @twoinanddone, @1NJParent, and @blossom: That's why I'm majoring in math and not CS or physics. I'm far less confident of my capabilities there than in the other two. Most classes here in fields outside of STEM have been watered down to the point of utter uselessness for academic purposes; people take them for how easy they are rather than out of interest. I do read about a wide range of topics; in fact, I have no idea what I want to focus on after college (especially since academia/research in industry is unrealistic). Choosing a major was very difficult, and the narrower consideration of math, physics, and CS had more to do with the overall program rigor rather than any factor associated with aptitude or interest. Fields of interest outside of those three include physical and organic chemistry, genetics, neuroscience (+ connections with CS), and philosophy (epistemology, philosophy of mathematics and science). Any physics learned beyond basic Newtonian physics was done relatively recently (it started a few years ago as opposed to ~10 for the others). I used to read lots of literature but grew bored when it became repetitive (with the exception of histories of not-well-understood cultures). I spent some amount of time on Latin in middle and high school and then French. I intend to continue studying foreign languages along with the other subjects, both out of personal interest and due to the pragmatic value of that knowledge.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5844 replies10 threads Senior Member
    One thought, @syntacticalbeing ... You and I share the trait of loving novelty. I get bored from what I perceive as repetition, whether it's running the same route or "learning " the same thing. At some level, though, it's important to figure out how to find the new in what's not so new, at least immediately. It requires a special attention to being present. Really, this is a life skill. Not only will you have great insights, you will make your life a lot more interesting. You will, quite literally, save yourself from dying of boredom.

    You sound like an interesting person. The trick is figuring out how to keep the world interesting to you, and that's on you!
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 9008 replies335 threads Senior Member
    I've looked through all the books too and have already seen the material....
    I work in a STEM major and am connected to the departments of several others through multidisciplinary programs. Seeing the material and being able to apply it to real life situations are two entirely different things. What you call busy work and grunt work the faculty refer to as tools for developing patience and strong research methods. They're wary of students who think they already know it all and want to jump ahead. There are no short cuts in research.


    I'll aim to start with 300-level math courses my freshman year and take my first 600-level (graduate) course either the second semester of freshman year or sophomore year.
    You need to show your professors that you're capable of more, but I think your goal of skipping the entirety of undergrad to go straight to grad school courses as a college freshman is unrealistic. One paper published in a peer reviewed journal doesn't make you ready for grad school.

    You need something more before you announce to your professors that they don't have anything they can teach you. You need to be able to answer why you're more deserving of a seat in those classes than all the upperclassmen who, at the very least, have a proven record of completed work at that college.

    I've brought up this issue to a few relevant people but they are always indifferent to such matters. Responses run along the lines of, "Why are you complaining? You should use this time to relax and adjust to school." That's all well and good but when this concept drags over for long periods of time, it is I who will pay when I arrive at courses that I actually need study skills to pass, which I have yet to obtain.
    You're arguing that if you're not allowed to skip intro courses for higher level courses you won't be able to develop the study skills to succeed at higher level courses when you get there? That's an argument that supports keeping you in regular courses.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34475 replies382 threads Senior Member
    edited October 12
    If GMU is GeorgeMason, of course this could be a bad fit. But frankly, when any OP cites "pandering," ideology, what *you* can't tolerate, and dismisses others, my eyes glaze. This may be a self-perception issue.

    And if it is GMason and you feel so advanced, why not look for side work in the area?

    There are kids who find freshman year challenging, even exciting. And some who don't. It's really up to you to endure while you wait for more challenging college courses and make the best use of other opportunities. Don't miss the forest for the trees. Scorning this situation may bring you some ego satisfaction. But it's shallow and it is NOT productive.
    edited October 12
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  • PrdMomto1PrdMomto1 151 replies5 threads Junior Member
    edited October 12
    I am having trouble figuring out what exactly is bothering me about this entire thread. I think it's your attitude about your situation. You seem to have refused to participate in things that you knew would strengthen your application because that would be "pandering". But now you find yourself in a situation where you are at a school that you do not find challenging. Would a little "pandering" have maybe been worth it? To be honest with you, "pandering" is part of life/careers. You usually have to do (within reason) what your supervisor expects of you whether you like it or not.

    If you're not careful, I am concerned you are going to have a similar issue when it comes to grad school. Instead of fighting the system, work with it, in a way that works for you. I assume you want to get into a more challenging grad school? What do you think those schools are looking for? I suspect it might involve getting good grades (doesn't seem to be a problem for you), being involved in some activities and getting some good letters of recommendation. Are the things you're doing now helping you? Telling profs that their classes are too easy isn't going to help. Instead. like another poster said, go to office hours and engage them. Talk about things that interest you. I'm sure they'd be happy to talk about the subject and their interests to you. If they like you they will love to have you help with research and will be good options for recommendation letters later. I am not suggesting you be disingenuous, but accept that maybe you can learn something from those around you. In addition, taking SUPER high level courses will probably not help. I'm afraid you'll find yourself in the situation you're in now where a grad school will not accept all the graduate level classes you took as an undergrad and you will find yourself repeating courses/bored again.
    edited October 12
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