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Physics Advice

Preparation for the Transfer Major


On the average over many semesters, 40% to 50% of students who enroll in Physics 1A do not complete the course. Those who withdraw are usually doing unsatisfactory work. We have observed that a combination of two or more of the following conditions are commonly present when students withdraw:
  1. Student is working outside school 20 of more hours per week or has a number of family responsibilities.
  2. Student has C or lower grade in previous physics courses, or no previous physics.
  3. Student is concurrently enrolled in Mathematics
  4. Student is in his/her first semester in college, or is returning to college after 4 or more years away.
  5. Student is from a foreign country, and may have language problems in English.
If you are in the "high risk" category, you should consider taking fewer units than the average student (14-18 units) unless you know that you are a very competent student.


Because of the difficulties that many students have in obtaining advice from a counselor, the Physics Department offers the following advice to students planning their course work at El Camino College over several semesters.
  1. Bear in mind that Physics 1A,1B,1C,1D and Math 190, 191, 220, 270 (formerly 5A, 5B, 6A, 6B) are 4-semester sequences and should be taken, if possible, in 4 consecutive semesters. (Note: it is possible, though not advised unless you are a very competent student, to double up the physics courses, or take them out of sequence, once Physics 1A is complete. Also note that Physics 1D is normally only offered during the spring semester, usually MWF at noon, and Physics 1C is offered at night, only during the fall semester. Physics 1A and 1B are generally offered both during the day and evening every semester.) Plan ahead so that you don't end up with all your lower-division units completed except Physics 1D or Math 270. Transferring to a 4-year school without completing the mathematics and physics sequences (and chemistry as well, if you need 4 semesters of chemistry) almost always results in confusion, some omissions and some repetitions, since no two schools divide their physics and mathematics sequences in exactly the same way. UCLA and many other transfer institutions have stated that they prefer students to finish all of the sequences in their lower-division majors at the community college, rather than completing only part of the physics, math, or chemistry sequence and planning to finish the rest at the 4-year school. (Students who have ignored this advice, incidentally, have told us that they regretted doing so, and that found the mathematics, physics, and chemistry courses better at El Camino that at the transfer institution.)

    • If you run into scheduling problems, remember that you can usually take the mathematics courses and some of the chemistry courses in the summer session, but not Physics 1A-1D. This means that you may very likely run into difficulties if you drop a physics course, since you will then be one semester behind in the physics sequence and will either have to double-up physics classes, or remain at El Camino for 5 or more semesters. (About 70% of students who have tried to take two physics courses in the same semester have had to drop one of them.)
    • If your overall program permits it, it is better for you to be a semester ahead of physics in math ? i.e., to be taking Math 191 with Physics 1A, 220 with 1B, and 270 with 1C. This makes the physics courses somewhat simpler. However the usual arrangement (Math 190 with Physics 1A, 191 with 1B, 220 with 1C, and 270 with 1D) will see you through with no great difficulty unless you are a poor mathematics student.

  2. You should not omit any of the lower-division sequence Mathematics 190, 191, 220, 270 or Physics 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, or Chemistry 1A, 1B (and others for certain majors) just because a certain transfer institution does not list all of these as required by their upper division major. There are 3 good reasons for not omitting courses from the lower-division sequences:

    1. the transfer institutions have a long and dismal record of changing their requirements every few years, and a course that they have decided is "unnecessary" in one catalog turns out to be necessary in their next catalog,
    2. the courses are structured sequentially at El Camino to cover the necessary lower-division material in the simplest and most logical way; any omission will cause you trouble,
    3. many students change their mind about which transfer institution they wish to attend, and if they have omitted one of the sequential courses, they will not have met the requirements of the school of their second choice. The best plan, as UCLA has stated, is for the student to take the standard lower-division program as prescribed by the community college s/he attends, and then transfer the entire lower division set of units. Any transfer institution will accept this arrangement.

  3. In the matter of elective courses, you should bear in mind that the responsibility for educating yourself resides primarily with you and the choices you make. Community-college breadth requirements for the A.A. degree are generally minimal and can be satisfied by courses of little worth or substance. The transfer schools make only very general requirements that can also be satisfied by courses of little worth or educational value. While opinions differ, of course, on which electives are most valuable for the average student, most well educated people would agree that all of the following are essential and necessary. You should therefore choose them in preference to others of questionable value.

    1. History of Western Civilization (History 3 and/or History 4)
    2. English literature of the period of the best English writers ? roughly, from Shakespeare to Shaw ? and World literature. El Camino has no comprehensive literature survey course, and so one would have to choose from English 15AB, 35, 36, 20, or 29, of which 15B and 35B are probably the best choices.
    3. The philosophical principles established by the most famous philosophers of the past. (Philosophy 10 and/or 11)
    4. Some course in art or music. If you are not creative in art or music, the course will probably be an appreciation course like Music 11 or Art 1. Students who have not learned the rudiments of classical music or art by college age are well on the way to denying themselves a great cultural heritage that will probably not be open to them for the rest of their lives unless they take this opportunity to acquaint themselves with it. Ignorance in these things is not becoming.
    5. At least two semesters of a foreign language. More that one year is required, of course, if you want to become proficient in speaking and writing, or even reading, a language, but proficiency is not really the purpose for most technical students who could hardly know, anyway, at this stage, which foreign language to try to become proficient in as a useful adjunct to their professional careers. The value lies in the fact that foreign language study, even one year, gives a student a better understanding of and control over language processes and makes the student more accurate and eloquent in handling his own language ? the thing he does more of in his/her life, than almost anything else except sleeping.
    6. Because of the emerging importance of research in the life sciences, and cross-field studies such as biochemistry, biophysics, bioengineering, a student who has a background in biology often has an advantage over other majors in engineering, physics, chemistry, or math when it comes to employment. Consider Biology 11.