How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

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isuxatphysics
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How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby isuxatphysics » Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:52 pm

Hello, I am a new member on this forum who needs advice from current knowledgeable undergraduates (or grads) :D. I just graduated from high school and decided that physics was the only thing I wanted to major in. So to make things short, I am an international student (from Canada) who will be enrolling in UC Berkeley this fall. Since it is very expensive, I am looking to graduate in 3 years in order to save money.

However, many things make me nervous about this decision. First thing that comes to mind is I have no idea what possible hell I am getting into. I heard that hard sciences at Berkeley are really competitive and it is very hard to get an A. I have aspirations of getting into a good grad program, so I want to aim for a 3.5+ GPA. I feel like this is going to be very difficult if I'm taking 5 courses a semester. I dunno how things are like in other colleges, but 5 courses a semester is normal, right? Any physics major at berkeley want to inform me about how hard it is to graduate in 3 years, based on courseload alone?

The thing I'm really worried about though, is research. From skimming this forum it seems like research is an extremely important asset of one's application. How on earth am I going to get ample research experience in such a short period of time, on top of the heavy courseload? I am going to finish all the lower division physics/math courses required for the major in the first year (not a lot), and then the next two years are technically my "junior" and "senior" years. My second year is when I will be starting research (the summer after my first year is occupied as I'm taking summer school). However, i dunno how much research I can get done in one and a half years (since after that I apply). So I just want to ask, how does research typically work? Do undergraduates usually start doing research their junior year, or the summer before ? (if this is the case, then I will be at a disadvantage as my corresponding summer would be occupied by summer school) Is research something that can only be participated during the summer or can it be done throughout the year? I am completely new to the subject so I have no idea when it should be done. I am thinking about taking a gap year afterwards if my research experience ends up being lacking and apply to graduate school after then. Is this a viable option or is it mandatory to apply right after you graduate? Do grad schools look unfavourably upon gap years? or 3 year degrees in general? I heard some programs don't even let 3 year physics B.A's apply to their programs.

Sorry for asking a million questions but I need to know if a 3 years bachelors gives ample time for research opportunities, and studying for GRE's/PGRE's on top of that. Right now, taking a gap year afterwards seems like a perfect option as that significantly makes the timeline more flexible. However, I am just a high school graduate who knows little about this process. Anyone who did a 3 years bachelors, or anyone who attended berkeley undergrad specifically, enlighten me about the difficulty of this path I am about to embark please :). And for everyone who made it this far into my post, I congratulate you lol.
Last edited by isuxatphysics on Wed Jul 06, 2011 12:17 am, edited 2 times in total.

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midwestphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby midwestphysics » Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:59 pm

I'll admit, I only read to the end of your first paragraph and skimmed the rest. :D Still, if you survive your first year and still want to do physics, come back and ask again. Until then, you don't even have a clue as to what you've gotten into. I personally wouldn't wish an accelerated program BA or BS on anyone who wants to keep their sanity and be successful :lol: .

isuxatphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby isuxatphysics » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:15 pm

Thanks for that advice, but can you elaborate a bit more such as when do undergraduates normally start research, as I need to know that before I go into the program.

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midwestphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby midwestphysics » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:32 pm

It depends on where you are physics-wise going in. I've seen well prepared students start research right away, and others wait until their senior year. In both cases, they both were ready for grad school it's just that the former had a longer resume. So, it all boils down to when you're ready to take research on. I suggest you do it as soon as a prof is willing to take you, the sooner the better.

isuxatphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby isuxatphysics » Tue Jul 05, 2011 11:20 pm

So would it be a good idea to take a year off after graduation to do get involved in research/do something productive if I felt like I wasn't involved enough with those things during my school years? I feel like it would also be a nice breather from 3 years of intense studying.

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midwestphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Jul 06, 2011 12:34 am

Take a year off only if you get rejected, but definitely apply no matter what you have because all they can do is say no. If for nothing else people will remember your app from back to back seasons and see how much you've improved. I wouldn't put myself through a three year gauntlet of hell just to take a year off and basically catch up with others. Either do the 3 year program, apply and if you get rejected then work for a year, or go do the regular length program. Besides, research, especially if it's all you have going is no breather. If you're doing it right you're frustrated 99.9% of your waking life and euphorically satisfied the other 0.1% :wink: . My advice to any entering undergrad freshman is four part. 1.) Stay several steps (math-wise) ahead of the physics material. 2.) get involved early. 3) Don't be intimidated even by the most condescending profs, it gets you absolutely nowhere and some of the smartest people end up doing nothing because of that stuff. 4.) Remember to enjoy yourself, all of this is absolutely pointless if you don't. Sure there's sacrifice, a lot of it, but make sure you're doing it for something and not just because you want to create some image of intelligence because most people don't even know/care what we do. That last part may sound strange, but I've seen it on several occasions and I feel for those people.

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grae313
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby grae313 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:17 pm

I've heard of people starting research as a freshman. Obviously this is not typical and it may be difficult or impossible to find a professor willing to take you on at this stage, but it doesn't hurt to ask. If you did begin as a freshman you'd probably start with very trivial, "grunt work" type of tasks while an older student mentored you and you learned the ropes. This would put you in an excellent position to be more productive starting probably in the second semester of your second year. However, in all likelihood, professors will ask you to come back after you've had a few more physics classes. Most people start in their junior year, but this can be for many reasons, one of which is that people often don't realize they should be doing research until that point.

Again, it absolutely doesn't hurt to ask. I would set up meetings with as many professors as you can once you get to Berkeley and just talk to them. Tell them you want to graduate in three years and go to grad school, and that you want to get involved in research as soon as possible. Even if no one wants to take you on right off the bat, they'll know you and what you're after and you'll be in a better position to get involved with them later on.

I think you're right in thinking this would be nearly impossible with the courseload you will have. A gap year of just research would not hurt your application in any way and is a great idea in my opinion.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Wed Jul 06, 2011 4:13 pm

isuxatphysics wrote:I am looking to graduate in 3 years in order to save money.


Although I have not looked into expenses for courses at Berkeley, I'm assuming that they run a system similar to most of the other schools I have attended in the United States.

Expenses are usually based on credits, not time spent in school. Therefore, taking 125 credit hours in 3 years should have the same cost as taking 125 credit hours in 4 years. Sometimes credits have a higher cost when taking less than 12 hours a semester (which wouldn't be a problem in your case). There are other costs associated with school, such as room & board, but these are things you'd have to pay for regardless if you were in school or not.

If you're interested in saving money, I wouldn't suggest cutting down to three years, especially in a Physics program. You really won't be saving that much money and will only be gaining three stressful years. If you weren't an international student, I would suggest becoming a resident of California and paying in state for 3 of the 4 years (as this is what I was going to do at one time).

I'm not saying this isn't possible, but I wouldn't suggest doing it myself.

-Riley

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grae313
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby grae313 » Wed Jul 06, 2011 11:14 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
isuxatphysics wrote:I am looking to graduate in 3 years in order to save money.


Although I have not looked into expenses for courses at Berkeley, I'm assuming that they run a system similar to most of the other schools I have attended in the United States.

Expenses are usually based on credits, not time spent in school. Therefore, taking 125 credit hours in 3 years should have the same cost as taking 125 credit hours in 4 years. Sometimes credits have a higher cost when taking less than 12 hours a semester (which wouldn't be a problem in your case). There are other costs associated with school, such as room & board, but these are things you'd have to pay for regardless if you were in school or not.

If you're interested in saving money, I wouldn't suggest cutting down to three years, especially in a Physics program. You really won't be saving that much money and will only be gaining three stressful years. If you weren't an international student, I would suggest becoming a resident of California and paying in state for 3 of the 4 years (as this is what I was going to do at one time).

I'm not saying this isn't possible, but I wouldn't suggest doing it myself.

-Riley


Berkeley's tuition does not appear to be credit-based: http://registrar.berkeley.edu/feesched.html ($18,000 per year for non-residents is no chump change).

It also wasn't at my school, a CA state university but not a UC.

isuxatphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby isuxatphysics » Wed Jul 06, 2011 11:18 pm

Thanks everyone for your replies. So the consensus seems to be that it is going to be very difficult to cram in a decent amount of research and that it's going to be a hellish 3 years in general. Now I just need to make a decision on whether that is worth it to save money. Whatever I choose, I can't half-ass it and need to prepare to go through with it 100%, which is why I ask if doing research while graduating early is possible in the first place.

And as the previous poster mentioned, Berkeley does go by the yearly tuition/costs, so if I graduate one year early, I'll be saving one year's worth of costs. That is EXTREMELEY tempting as the mandatory courses required for the major are very little. Apparently it's common for internationals at berkeley to take advantage of this, which is why I'm seriously considering this. One international on another forum even commented about how I'm worrying and I'm not "even doing a double", but I have no idea of this guy's abilities so I can't base anything off of this comment.

So I'm going to take everyone's advice here and have a regular courseload first semester, have an idea of what it's like, talk to professors/advisors about my goal to graduate in 3 years and see if its possible to do well and get some research in. If it seems impossible then I will just do a regular 4 year program. If berkeley in itself is too hard, I can always transfer back to my homeland :P

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midwestphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby midwestphysics » Thu Jul 07, 2011 1:50 am

Doubles are overrated, you could spend that extra time in a much better way, like by doing research :D .

Still, Like Riley said, you'll still be incurring costs just living somewhere and doing research, so there are advantages and disadvantages. I'd say your plan to start normal and assess the situation is great, definitely get a feel for things and then decide what you want to do, and which option is right for you. It's very useful to talk to profs too, just remember plans almost never go exactly as we want so build room for flexibility.

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grae313
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby grae313 » Thu Jul 07, 2011 10:30 am

midwestphysics wrote:Still, Like Riley said, you'll still be incurring costs just living somewhere and doing research, so there are advantages and disadvantages


I think a paid research position is a real possibility if he stays an extra year. He'll have an undergraduate degree. Since he'll be working full time it ought to be enough to cover living expenses.

isuxatphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby isuxatphysics » Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:22 pm

The overpriced OOS tuition is what I'm trying to avoid mostly, so yes I will be saving a lot of money even if I have to pay for living expenses. But as grae313 mentioned, I think by then a paid research position would be a real possibility, and if not I can establish another source of income on the side to deal with the living expenses. So in the end I would be saving one year's worth of costs.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Jul 07, 2011 1:17 pm

grae313 wrote:Berkeley's tuition does not appear to be credit-based: http://registrar.berkeley.edu/feesched.html ($18,000 per year for non-residents is no chump change).

It also wasn't at my school, a CA state university but not a UC.


That's kind of awkward. So taking one course a year costs you a large sum of money?

This may be something that is associated with the quarter system, as the schools I have attended (Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and Florida) are all credit hour based. I'm not sure how The College of William & Mary does it.

With this knowledge, attending for only three years does have a definite advantage financially. However, unless you are extremely intelligent (relative to other people in Physics at Berkeley) I would avoid this path. It just seems like a miserable three years to me, but everyone is different.

-Riley

isuxatphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby isuxatphysics » Thu Jul 07, 2011 2:29 pm

It is mandatory to take at least 13 units a semester, which amounts to approx 3-4 courses a semester. So no you can't take one/two courses a year.

And yes it would be extremely tough. But I feel the intelligence level of my peers has more to do with the school than my decision to graduate in 3 years. Chances are if I choose to do the normal 4 years, I would go on the same course track as what I'm about to do now, with more advanced/graduate courses thrown in in my fourth year. So it's not like I'm even losing one year's worth of "brain development" that would result in higher grades in individual classes. But, the problem lies with the courseload, as I'm taking 5 courses a semester instead of the normal 4, which will force me to spread out my energy to less important classes. Whether or not I can handle this can only be determined by actually going and experiencing my first year

Judging by the comments on here however, this idea of graduating early seems pretty grim. If in my first year, I work my ass off and end up getting B's and C's even in lower division math/physics classes, then chances are pretty high that I will NOT go through with this idea. In fact, that would be a pretty good sign that I should get my ass back to canada immediately

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Jul 07, 2011 3:17 pm

What I meant to imply by "extreme intelligence" is that you typically finish "all assignments in all classes" in 65%-75% the time of your peers. Perhaps this is not extreme intelligence but extreme efficiency or a mixture of the two. If you were capable of doing that, then the extra load shouldn't be a problem. 13 credit hours is probably the amount to be considered a full-time student (and probably what is required as an international). I would be shocked if there weren't any "part-time" students who take less than 13 credit hours.

Also, if you plan to socialize at all, it may be a good idea to go for four years. I'm not a very social person myself and I don't think it would be impossible with such heavy courses, but you'll be consistently busy for 3 years, which doesn't leave a lot of time for other things. I think that would drag a little.

Maybe you should look into some summer courses? I'm not sure what the extra cost would be but even 3.5 years could be an option. Also, if you're thinking about the three year plan at all I would suggest starting the first semester with a heavy course load. I'm assuming most of these will be general courses. If this is difficult to get through you should definitely plan on a 4 year route. However, if you can handle that many courses (these should be some of the easier courses) then you can judge as time goes on if you can handle that many Physics courses at once. In any case, I think starting out strong isn't a bad idea, even if you fizzle out after the first set of classes. That way you'll have the option to go back to your 3 year plan if you feel you can actually do it.

-Riley

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midwestphysics
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby midwestphysics » Thu Jul 07, 2011 10:39 pm

I just want to see you have some wiggle room, everybody stumbles, so you don't want to be up against the grinder too much. I was a total jackass my first few semesters and because of it I had to go through my last few as make or break, no life, 24/7 craziness in order to get what I wanted. I can't imagine trying to do the whole degree that way. I started to feel like The Shinning, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy :lol: . So, I'm just saying it's smart to designate some time to just break away from physics and do absolutely nothing or else you may burnout. I'm not saying everybody burns out, obviously a lot of people have gone your route, but it's much nicer to move at a more mentally friendly pace. Especially if you jump right into a Phd program, next thing you know you'll be 40 before you get to take a breather and look up from your desk. That's just my opinion, take it or leave it.

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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Jul 08, 2011 12:58 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:This may be something that is associated with the quarter system, as the schools I have attended (Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and Florida) are all credit hour based. I'm not sure how The College of William & Mary does it.

-Riley


Just FYI, but at W&M, at least for undergrads, they charge a flat semester tuition with a minimum of 3 classes (or equivalent) per semester and a maximum of 5.25, without special permission from the dean. Less than 3 classes leads to part-time status and reverts to per-credit hour, which (a) isnt as good a deal and (b) doesnt include niceties like the ability to live on campus or carry student insurance.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: How will deciding to graduate in 3 years affect everything?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Jul 08, 2011 9:17 am

bfollinprm wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote:This may be something that is associated with the quarter system, as the schools I have attended (Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and Florida) are all credit hour based. I'm not sure how The College of William & Mary does it.

-Riley


Just FYI, but at W&M, at least for undergrads, they charge a flat semester tuition with a minimum of 3 classes (or equivalent) per semester and a maximum of 5.25, without special permission from the dean. Less than 3 classes leads to part-time status and reverts to per-credit hour, which (a) isnt as good a deal and (b) doesnt include niceties like the ability to live on campus or carry student insurance.


Yeah. It seems that at schools of "higher academic standing" there are more traditional students and therefore full-time is "required." That makes sense, but I'm so unfamiliar with it. It is interesting to know. Hell, if I was in a situation like that I'd definitely be taking maximum courses (not necessarily all in Physics). As an undergraduate I would not take "extra" courses just because I would have to pay per credit hour. I would just sit in on them for free. =D

-Riley




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