Awhile back I was very weak with my trigonometry so I came to this site asking for help, and it turned out the few answers I got made a huge difference. I excelled at the trigonometry section in my precalc course and now I am enrolled in calculus 1. In fact, during my break I ended up teaching myself a lot of differential and integral calculus techniques (not much theory though, which is where my current class will make the difference). After this exposure I'm more confident that I am capable of getting my degree, but I have one obstacle - credit requirements.

I transferred from a community college with no intentions to ever major in math and even no intentions to go to university, so I did not take many upper division courses. Having transferred 63 credits, it certainly makes my studies much easier and less stressful (in fact at this point I'm no longer required to take any general studies so only math courses are required of me), but unfortunately I am worried about the upper division credits required for my math major. I've completed 72 credits, with 10 more in progress (3 of which are upper division). However, a whopping 42 upper division credits is required of me after this semester.

In my case, I want to avoid taking classes that are not purely-math related because I know I will do only best dedicating my entire focus on my major-related classes. I also hate most other classes and have to force myself to endure them.

From this point on there are 21 credits worth of upper division math courses that are either already required or critical for a math major to take that I intend to take, this leaves me with another 21 credits worth of upper division courses of any subject. If I'm interpreting my major map right, I would have to take up to 5 to 6 more math courses than the average math major at my uni. This might not sound like a lot but I suspect its a huge deal at the upper-division levels (ring theory, abstract algebra, complex analysis, etc.).

What should I do? Should I suck it up and take unrelated upper division courses to avoid having so many advanced math classes - or is going all out on a pure math schedule not a bad idea?

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    $\begingroup$ Talk to an advisor at your school, ideally a math major advisor. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2020 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ Think about how it sounds when someone tells you they only like history, and they have to force themselves to endure math. Go take an upper-level history class and figure out why it's also amazing. Then take an upper-level geology class and do the same. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2020 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it appears to be asking for specific advice about how to proceed through a degree program. This is a question which is much better suited for an academic advisor, and is not (in my opinion) of general enough interest to be asked on a Q&A site about mathematics education. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson
    Jan 14, 2020 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson The question is about how universities work in the U.S. You have to have "broad" education, taking courses you don't need. You have to take a specific number of courses, otherwise you are deemed not worthy of BS or MS badge, and the uni would miss on tuition money. With tuition, textbooks, dorms, parking getting more and more expensive something got to give. The market economy should work both ways, and students specializing in math should not be forced to learn history of ancient Asia. I understand that SO is not a discussion board, still I find the question relevant. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Jan 14, 2020 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Lex_i "I transferred from a community college with no intentions to ever major in math" — why did you transfer from the community college? Did you feel that graduating a community college would not be enough to get a decent job? Were you looking for higher quality courses and teachers; were teachers and courses in the community college weak? Or did you want, um, more education? More specialized education like math, or more broad education? In the latter case I guess this is what you are getting with all the unwanted courses. I presume your perfect pathway would be a specialized math college. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Jan 14, 2020 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


A lot depends on what you plan to use the bachelor's for. If you plan to go to grad school, than go crazy and take a bunch of hard upper div classes. I really caution AGAINST grad school in pure math though (for you, based on your evident aptitude level). Even for stars, this can be quite a daunting pyramid--how many of the people here are tenured profs at R1 universities? I think it will be even worse for you.

If you plan to use the bachelor's for just "having a degree" (e.g. to get sales manager versus salesman, to go "mustang" in the military, etc.), than it matters little, provided you pass.

It is also possible that you may do something intermediate to the above. Go work for the NSA or an insurance company or the like. Or want to keep your options open. There is also high school teaching--but having a bachelor's in math is plenty. You don't need to have the hardest one.

If you have not already done so, I strongly recommend to take a calculus-based (check on this) general physics class. Don't need to go any further. But this is really key application area you should know if you ever teach math in high school or college. Drives me crazy to see sooper smart peeps here that don't know this (major reasons for them having their jobs!).

[Edit: see comments below on chemistry...can be unpleasant.] Similarly, but not as critical would be to do a first year course in chemistry. There are a lot of applications of algebra in chemistry (stoichiometry, equilibrium, baby thermo, kinetics).

Some other classes outside of math that may be useful (but check the book/teacher to make sure you will enjoy it): economics and technical writing. If you could pick up a decent accounting class that would be useful also. The vast majority of college educated people encounter money things on the job, even if they are not financial analysts or in the finance department. It's good to have had some exposure to basics of balance sheet and income statement (and ideally to NPV or "engineering economics").

Within math (if the former suggestions just make you lose heart), consider some applied topics: design of experiments, operations research, etc. Yeah, it's not the pure math you wanted but at least closer than my previous suggestions. And won't be so wicked hard as taking a slew of upper division or baby grad school math topics simultaneously. Also more useful.

I would also make sure to take a class in ODEs and a class in PDEs. Shocks me to find people here who are math Ph.D.s and never took this stuff. The normal, calculational emphasis, class is fine. You don't need to take the most theoretical one (bad idea for first viewing). I would also avoid classes with too heavy an emphasis on computers, numeric estimation, or linear algebra. (Nothing wrong with any of those three...it's just that "enriched" classes like this usually seem harder and have more issues than just the standard fifty to hundred year old stereotypical class.) Also stay away from any diffyQs class with too much emphasis on modeling or applications. (Little bit is fine, but learn the stuff in basic equations first, versus with a lot of physical interpretation. Would you want to take a high school algebra class that started with word problems versus with the equations?)

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with physics suggestion but not chem. I hated chemistry. I think almost anyone who loves math will love physics. (I could certainly be wrong...) $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Jan 14, 2020 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah...chemistry can be miserable. I actually think it is extremely useful but NOT for the chemical content. For the massive amount of "algebra word problem" content. Very similar to business analysis in a way. Have to weed past the spinach and translate into equations and than transform back into spinach. But many, many people struggle with it. It is the most hated freshman class. So caution. And yes, physiocs rocks. If you liked calculus, you'll like zoics. It's so intuitive. $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Jan 14, 2020 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mind expanding on what do you mean by "general physics" as unis are different. For example, here is one, "General Physics I, sometimes referred to as "University Physics" in other universities, is calculus-based course covering kinematics, Newton's laws, energy, momentum, rotational motion, and oscillations. The second section of General Physics I covers the electric field, Gauss's law, electric potential, capacitance, DC circuits, RC circuits, magnetic field, Faraday's law, inductance, LR circuits, AC circuits, and Maxwell's equations." So, only mechanics and electricity. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Jan 14, 2020 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ Um...the standard calc based two-semester physics course that every engineering major (and many non engineering majors) take(s). I can't recall if that is called general or university. But basically AP Physics C, NOT AP Physics B (which is really a high school class). First semester should be mechanics. Second semester is E&M. $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Jan 14, 2020 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ Imagine some grey haired crew cut guy from the 1950s with a copy of Halliday and Resnick. OK? Um...that class. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Jan 14, 2020 at 22:02

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