Vanderbilt first semeseter course load too hard?


I am an incoming freshman to Vanderbilt University and going for the CS and Math double major. The following are the classes I enrolled for:
Math 1300
CS 1101
Physics 1601 with labs
Introduction to engineering 1401-1403

(Total of 14 hrs)

I have taken upto the end of calculus 3 in my high school but I have to start from calc 1 in college because I don’t have credits for them. So even though I hear that 1300 is a tough course I feel it would be reasonable easy. I have also taken a college introduction to CS with python this year so I feel that too would be manageable plus I am currently learning Java too (the language used in CS1101). The introduction to engineering modules aren’t generally hard from what I heard. The physics with lab course is going to be the one course I feel will really challenge me. I’m not saying that the others will be a walk in the park, I mean it’s Vanderbilt after all, but that I already saw the syllabus for CS1101 and math1300 and I’m familiar with almost all of what is taught. Although this is what I feel, my advisor and many others think I should take an easier load and shouldn’t take calc and physics at the same time. What are your thoughts on this matter? There’s still the open enrollment period so I can still change my schedule.

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I can’t speak to this specific course load in great detail because it’s not my area - although it looks reasonable to me as you’re not overloading your credits too soon, which it a good thing from an adjustment standpoint. But your frame of mind coming to campus may need a slight tweak:
You describe Math 1300 as “easy.” Wrong attitude. You describe CS 1101 as manageable. Better attitude.

I’m not insulting your intelligence - really, I’m not, because I’m sure, nay certain, that you’re incredibly smart. But so is everyone here. Who knows, you may be the wunderkind that blasts through Math 1300 as though it were the simplest material in the world without the same stress and worrying of your colleagues and peers. OR, much more realistically, you’ll see that its reputation as “tough,” as reported by the many hundreds of weed-outs who have come before you, was assigned fittingly. Again, I’m not a Math/CS double, but even if Math 1300 is one of the easiER options for some people when it comes to Math offerings, it’s certainly not easy. So spare yourself the angst and frustration of becoming average for the first time NOW, and instead nip it in the bud by preparing to come to Vanderbilt as an average student. You’ll either have your expectations met, which is great and less psychologically upsetting, or you’ll exceed them, which is great. But too many people think “I got an A+ in Calc BC in high school, I was top of my class, seriously how hard could this be?”
You’ll soon see how hard, so just pace yourself.

But, regarding class selection, essentially I think your course load looks very manageable from what I know of my engineering friends. If you’d added gen chem or an extra STEM course on top of that and were at 17-18hrs, I’d probably be recommending you cut back a little just initially, but four solid courses for a 14-hour total looks like a very well researched and well chosen set of options for your first semester, which means you can also have a social life and just figure this whole ‘college’ thing out. So good job there!

@fdgjfg probably has some more concrete and detailed thoughts on this given area of expertise. I wouldn’t wish to lead you astray.

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D is a rising sophomore CS premed and she had 14 credits first semester and also with multiple ECs. It is very doable. She had physics, chem, intro to engineering and writing seminar. She had CS1101, math 2300, socialogy, chem and CS ethics classes the second semester.

Tests for CS1101 is tougher than assignments, where you need to write workable, functional codes during the test periods on paper. But you can do well. A lot of group projects in intro to engineering and prepare for non-contributing group members (Not different from HS). Believe or not, D told me kids who get B in one of the modules.

D never took math 1300. Is that cal 2.? I heard cal 2 is a major engineering weed out. Also math department has several new professors who taught math 2300 last semester. On 2300 Syllabus, the average GPA for the class was stated, 2.6 to 2.9. Not sure about 1300. Use RMP to see your professor rating if available.

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I think this would probably be fine, unless you really really need to have a 3.9 at the end of the semester. Calc 1300 is is accelerated calc I and definitely tough (well-known as “the most failed class at vanderbilt”) because it serves as the universal weed-out that affects the pathway for most STEM majors. However, the reason it’s tough is mostly because people like you (with advanced math experience who are forced to start here due to lack of credits to place-out, especially international students) eat up the top grades, and the people that come in with only AP calc AB credits or something start here and eat a lot of Cs and Ds.

The question is, how good do you think the quality of your math education has been, if you don’t have college credit? If you took calc 1/2 but don’t have AB/BC AP credits, or credits from a university, it might not be quite up to scratch if you took them from nowhereville high/community college. If you’re from stuyvesant, another elite magnet, or a private equivalent, then you’re good (although I’m still not sure why you wouldn’t have AP credit).

If you think your calc 3 experience is up to par, then I think your schedule is fine as is, although it may be challenging at times. I’d go ahead with it, and think about dropping something if it gets too tough (if you’re not premed there are no worries about taking a W and retaking later, so you have until October to decide). 1300 is just a really annoying class where they try to mess around and trick you on tests rather than fairly challenge you, but if you have advanced math skills and work hard, you should be alright. Physics is very conceptual and math-based (i.e. you’ll use a lot of similar skills, not like bio or chem where there’s a ton of memorization or something), so again, if you think your calc 3 is legit I think you’d be fine doubling up.

If you’re skeptical about your math skills, then you could save physics for later.

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@fdgjfg thank you for your comment! I don’t have credits because I am an international student. I am confident in my math and if anything, I am kinda worried about the physics course. I don’t have a solid background in physics and if it’s a weed-out like the math 1300, then things could definitely get messy. Could you please tell me why it’s fine unless I am aiming for a 3.9, because I am. If you also could, more about the physics course, maybe?

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Ah makes sense, I honestly think you’re fine then. Physics is somewhat challenging here but it’s not a weed-out on the level of 1300. 1300 can sort of be unfair and tricky (but you can still get an A if you just know everything already and aren’t actually learning brand new material through the course, which describes your situation, so you’re alright), whereas physics is a fair class and doesn’t try to be tricky.

I think you’d be alright with a limited background in physics. Not to stereotype the subject at all, but I feel like even at the general level it very much feels like applied mathematics, much more so than something like chemistry at a general level. I feel like people who’ve already developed sort of a strong “math intuition” by taking more advanced classes (like you have) can then put this towards something like physics quite easily and do well even with limited experience. This is way oversimplifying things, but it’s just basically about understanding concepts and associated equations, and then manipulating and integrating those concepts and equations in unconventional situations (which you already do a lot in calculus classes). Physics I especially is pretty straightforward and intuitive. There isn’t a whole lot of background knowledge or memorization required, it’s more about application.

The reason I say it’s probably fine unless you need a 3.9 is just that the margins of error are quite small at that level, and if you need to be especially conservative GPA-wise it can be smart to start your first semester slow and adjust. But there’s a difference I think between aiming for a 3.9 (a goal) and needing a 3.9 (a requirement): someone who needs a 3.9 would be like a premed who didn’t come well-prepared from high school and needs adjustment time, whereas everyone should be aiming for a 3.9. From your post, I’m guessing you’re someone interested in engineering/CS jobs, grad school, or maybe something quantitative in banking. For all of those, it’s probably preferable to take harder schedules so you can take a greater number of impressive advanced classes at the end of your undergrad career, compared to protecting a sky-high GPA (which out of what I’m reading as your interests, would only be required on the not-as-quantitative side of banking). For you, I don’t think it makes as much sense to pursue GPA at the expense of course rigor.

I think I’d keep the same schedule, and if you get here and feel overwhelmed you can always drop a class in the first couple weeks, or drop a class by October and take a W (which you can just retake later for a grade and no grad school will care).

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@fdgjfg : Do you think VU has any loopholes (like contacting instructors and showing the credentials/evidence) to help the OP out with the mathematics issue (doing up to calc. 3, but not having specific credits for it)? Like can they maybe “skip out” of certain math courses and accelerate to say…diff. eq or particularly linear algebra (the logic in LA is super useful if you have to learn higher level CS stuff and of course diff. eq is great for if you will do mathematical modelling of any kind). Would be sad if a person with that experience needs to start all the way over when they have that strong of a background. Just seems like a waste of time. If they are accelerated, they can even avoid taking a math course the first or second semester knowing they’ll have instant access to intermediate courses whenever they do want to take math again.

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Not quite sure; all I know is that many international students did end up starting from the beginning but I don’t know if they asked to take a higher class and were told no, or if they just took the ap credit thing at face value. It does seem silly for someone that’s already taken calc III to have to go back to calc I just because they don’t have a credit system specific to the US, so they might be willing to work with a student.

If they wanted to skip ahead, I think they could contact the person at the bottom of this page:

and they might be willing to work with them/have a placement test or something.

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@fdgjfg : Yeah, I am just trying to look out for them because if they are trying to do something that exposes them to lots of math/favors those with a strong quantitative background, it is adding bigger hurdles having to go through the whole math curriculum as opposed to starting where your competence lands you. Hell, even they were a pre-health STEM major (I think all require some form of calculus), I would want them to get out of it, as they could maybe get those for the major, and then take some type of statistics course that many med/allied health schools like to see.

I mean, it looks like most math, physics, CS, and maybe quantitative focused economics majors, come in with calculus 1 credit of some kind and start no lower than calc. 2, and most start at MV, LA, or Diff. Eq. Usually there are very few advantages of retracing steps if you plan to take higher level maths. If anything, those accelerating will have the advantage over those who took the college version of calc. 1/2. You see this a lot at places like Georgia Tech, MIT, and the STEM institutes. Those who go through the intro. series on the way to higher level math regret it either because it puts them behind/costs them space to explore other courses late or b) the grading schemes/styles of beginning calculus classes end up yielding lower grades than expected and then end up affording no advantage in the intermediate courses. The only time one retraces when they will pursue higher level stuff, is if their training was bad which is unlikely for either a 5 or anyone who took up to MV. Retracing in non-math STEM courses is more reasonable as the college version (especially at an elite) is more likely to be different as a whole, and simply have instructors who write harder exams than in HS.

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