Lackluster math ability a deal breaker for engineering?

Discussion in 'Air Force Academy - USAFA' started by usafa2022, Feb 4, 2016.

  1. usafa2022

    usafa2022 Member

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    Math has always been my weakest subject, and while my grades and test scores in it are well above average, my math ability isn't anywhere near my reading and writing. While I could definitely do a better job of studying math, it's looking more and more like my brain just isn't wired for it like many of the typical engineering types' are. Relationships that come easily to some people might be really hard for me to understand, for example.

    I still, however, want to pursue an aero or astro engineering degree, either at USAFA or a civilian school, because I love designing, constructing and flying aircraft and learning the science behind how they work. My concern is that my less-than-stellar math ability might really hold me back if I try to pursue this further. Yeah, I know I can study harder and improve, but isn't there a point where you just have to have a certain level of natural ability to succeed? If you had to study twice as much as someone else to achieve the same understanding, that would be far from ideal, and with the huge time commitment engineering majors already have it doesn't seem like this would work out well.

    I understand USAFA is very demanding with math, even for non-tech majors. So if it turns out I don't have the math gene (or however that works), should I start rethinking some of my plans? Look into different majors maybe? I want to fly or work in operations in the AF.
     
  2. goforspaatz

    goforspaatz USAFA c/o 2020

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    Math is broad. What do you struggle with? Your weakness may be related to the type of math you're doing. Sure, all math builds on previous concepts, but you may find that you excel at some math and not so much with others. If you want to avoid math entirely, you could look at AFROTC for a non-tech major. However, your likelihood of getting scholarships could decrease, and the school you're going to may still require you to take varying levels of math. At USAFA, all cadets take Calc 1 at the least, most more.

    I'll go ahead and say that engineering is math-based. Most engineering programs will have you studying math past a Calc 3 level. So if you want engineering that much, just be prepared for that level of math. I would recommend you look into alternate teaching styles (Khan Academy/Coursera/other online systems) and try some math taught from a different perspective - you may surprise yourself.
     
  3. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    I sucked at Math while at USNA. I was a Humanities major. I worked in a very technical field as a Marine and then fell into being a Systems Engineer when I left the USMC. I have spent quite a few years working in very technical engineering fields and have nearly completed a Masters in Systems Engineering. I have done fine. To be honest the critical thinking skills I developed as a humanities guy has really helped my career to defend view points and to really analyze things. If its what you want, you can do it. It may take more work, but you can get there. You have 2022 in your name, you have some time, relax. Also, I know at USNA there is voluntary summer school that can help you take a class that will either kick your butt. Its your only class for 100% focus. If they don't offer one that fits that category, then you can take another one that will lighten your load to help focus on those you need more work. Its not ideal, but it works for some folks even if they gave up all their leave for it.
     
  4. AlexT

    AlexT Banned

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    You're getting some good advice here, and I'll just add my 2 cents. At my various high school reunions, it never ceased to amaze me where some of my classmates ended up. I was especially amazed at the number of classmates who were not math rock stars in high school that ended up as engineers. These were guys who were not in the "advanced" classes and didn't take calculus in high school.

    My advice to everybody who want to go into math-heavy technical field in college and especially those going into a service academy is to focus on the fundamentals. In my opinion, there is too much focus on taking the "tough" math classes such as AP Calculus and AP Statistics and not enough focus and really nailing the Algebra and Geometry classes. These will be the heart of everything you do in math going forward, so do not neglect them.
     
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  5. wildblueyonder

    wildblueyonder USAFA '19

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    I agree with pretty much all the above. I will add that all USAFA cadets have to take through Calc 2 regardless of their major. Engineering majors go quite a bit beyond that level.

    Having said that, the learning support offered here is top-notch. Teachers are more than willing to meet with you individually to discuss any topics with which you may be struggling. It's not uncommon at all to do this, and you don't get looked down on for it either. I would guess that the vast majority of cadets seek EI for at least one class during their first year (many for more than one). A great number probably get EI for at least one class every year throughout their time here at USAFA.

    If you struggle conceptually with math, you will have a harder time with some of the math courses--just being honest. It doesn't in any way mean that you can't succeed in those classes; you will simply need to work harder. However, with the exception of a few geniuses, every cadet faces a similar dilemma during their time here. There will be at least one subject that doesn't "click". I found that out very quickly last semester when I realized that Chemistry wasn't exactly my forte. I had to put a lot of work into that class, but my (arguable) lack of the "chemistry gene" didn't stop me from successfully completing the course.

    Yes, perhaps. This is one reason why most cadets don't declare a major until the second semester of their freshman year. You will have an opportunity to test your skills in a variety of classes, and choose a major which is compatible with your strengths. Even after you declare, there are ways to change your major if necessary (at least, up to a certain point).

    Honestly, though, I wouldn't worry about that too much right now. You are (correct me if I'm wrong) a HS sophomore this year. As such, you are very fortunate to have plenty of time to hone your math skills and prepare for the Academy. If I were you, I would focus on preparing your resume, improving your SAT/ACT scores, excelling academically, and getting/staying involved with sports and leadership. Once you get here, there will be time to choose a major which best meets your needs. :thumb: Good luck to you.
     
  6. usafa2022

    usafa2022 Member

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    Thanks for the replies guys.

    I usually have problems with graphing different types of functions and interpreting data in graph form, so mostly visual stuff. Some of the more abstract concepts get me too, like imaginary or complex numbers. After taking the PSAT last fall I kind of realized where I my weaknesses are, so I'm still working on those.

    Yep, I'm a sophomore. I plan to make the most of the rest of high school basically doing what you said, and of course I'm keeping plenty of options open since I'm still learning more about my abilities and interests. Engineering isn't set in stone for my major obviously, so I'm just trying to get a feel for whether or not that's where my abilities point to.
     
  7. 5Day

    5Day Member

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    IMHO lackluster math ability and the academics required for an engineering degree do not mix well. My chemE studies required 2 full years of college level calculus and in addition 75% of my engineering classes required application of that math. If you struggle with the math you will struggle with the engineering.

    The pure sciences, Chem, Bio, and physics are less math bases but they still require a solid math foundation. But could be a better fit.

    You do still have time to figure that out. But you will enjoy college much more and you will do much better if you concentrate on what you do well and have a passion for. Passion alone may not be good enough.
     
  8. Coach62

    Coach62 Member

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    I have an engineering degree. Math is beyond critical. I used to have clearance and work on mobile military eavesdropping equipment. Antique technology by today's standards but great stuff at the time.

    What you're asking would be like asking if you could be a surgeon if you faint at the sight of blood.

    Most engineering IS math, period.

    Honestly, intelligence is 90% confidence in your ability IMHO. Start thinking more positive. Do exercises like sudoku. Practice a lot.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2016
  9. AFrpaso

    AFrpaso USAFA '17

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    As many have said before, math will play an integral(heh) part in any engineering degree. Constructing and interpreting graphs is not a niche mathematical subject. If you want to pursue a technical degree you will want to be proficient in this area.

    Almost all engineering students (especially Aero and Astro) at the Academy take math courses throughout their academic career. Often these math courses are the most difficult of the engineering curriculum. I 100% agree with the statement that confidence in your abilities is key to intelligence. Acknowledge a weakness and then attack that weakness relentlessly until it becomes second nature. I took algebra on three different occasions, trigonometry twice, Calculus 1 and 2 twice, and introductory Physics twice in order to build a solid foundation for my future studies. Put in the work and math will become second nature for you. Good luck.
     
  10. west coast dad

    west coast dad Member

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    What was your math SAT or PSAT score? In my experience, practicing engineers use high school math a lot (algebra and geometry), but we all still had to pass calculus and differential equations to get an engineering degree.
     
  11. Blessedmom

    Blessedmom Member

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    You have to do what you enjoy, I rather stay up all night reading history text than studying for calculus? isn't there another major related to design & aircraft without going into hardcore math/engineering?
     
  12. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    It's not like you have to declare a major on your first day at the academy. I didn't actually have a problem in any high school classes, I simply sucked at all high school. Yet in college, I finished an engineering degree, a behavioral science degree, and a computer science degree with a 4.0 gpa. In other words, I guess high school bored me and college challenged me.

    In other words, get through your first semester or two at the academy, take the math required, and then see how you're doing before choosing a major. Maybe math won't be as difficult as you think it is.
     
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  13. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Another vote for not declaring too early. When I was in your position, I knew I was going to be an electrical engineer. When I came to USAFA, I was going to be an Military Strategic Studies or Aero Engineering major. I happily graduated with a History degree!

    Keep studying and learning. Sometimes things "click" after a while, or after getting a good instructor.
    Also, upper level college courses are often significantly different than HS or freshmen courses. I loved my majors courses, but the History 101 class was an awful grind.
     
  14. MN-Dad-2016

    MN-Dad-2016 Member

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    The question is universal to all college students. One big difference is you won't have 7 hours to study for a test like I did back in the day (UofMN Electrical Engineering) when I needed more time. Meanwhile the guy who was gifted (there is always that guy or gal) breezed though the class with ease. Anyways, I always struggled with advanced math. I understood the problems but the ever-so-slight curve ball tripped me up which means I really didn't understand it fully (B's and C's). I was tapped out brain-power wise to that level of understanding. I got better and better at it as time went on (some B+ grades). The great news as an engineer, more often than not you don't really use the advanced math. For most positions, you need to understand the concepts occasionally.

    I worked for years as an EE and never once used any math beyond basic algebra. I used the basic concepts in physics and chemistry, often used simply statistic principals, and lots of circuit designing concepts. Normally, some guy before you wrote a top level program that did the background math for you (modeling, CAD/CAM etc). So you really need to fight though it and know that most people will never use advanced math beyond the very basic applications. But a flag will be if you don't more easily see graphs. Initially I had that problem but learned it was actually stress induced (others around me got it while I was stressed trying to figure out why it didn't come natural to me). Attack that shortcoming now and build your confidence. You can do it!
     
  15. Wonderfulmom

    Wonderfulmom Member

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    USAF only takes 7% of the students that apply. You got in, so you must be sharper than you think. If you REALLY want it, go for it.
     
  16. Blessedmom

    Blessedmom Member

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    Actually saw latest acceptance stats: USNA 7.9%: USMA 9.5%: USAFA 16%: USCGA 18%: USMMA 22%.
    Also article said stats not that accurate for SA cuz they take into account candidates who didn't finish application & those kids who applied to summer seminar? So SA is much easier to get into than other top colleges? Who knows...still think SA is top:)
     
  17. Coach62

    Coach62 Member

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    I'm also an EE and agree you don't need advanced math for that very often, but you DO need it to get the degree.

    I also have no doubt that he can do it if he sets his mind to it, you just have to believe in yourself and maybe work a little harder
     
  18. Wonderfulmom

    Wonderfulmom Member

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    I don't know, but it's hard to get all of the paperwork, congressman/woman letters, etc. to more than 2 academies, so we were hedging bets on interest and acceptance.
     
  19. Wonderfulmom

    Wonderfulmom Member

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    Well it is when you consider a full scholarship.
     
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  20. usafa2022

    usafa2022 Member

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    I have only taken the PSAT so far, and I ended up at 680 English (98th percentile), 550 math (82nd percentile), 1230 composite. I pretty much knew I bombed the math part as soon as I finished it since I didn't know or remember a lot of the material. Right now I'm trying to use the PSAT as a medium for improving my math, especially in preparation for the ACT and SAT. Studying hard for it before taking it next year will hopefully yield some improvement.

    Engineering to History, that's a long shot for sure! As I understand, and correct me if I'm wrong, most USAFA cadets don't declare majors until after their first semester, and during that semester they're exposed to high-level engineering, English, chemistry (which I have a strong interest in), and other classes so they get a feel for what they're really cut out for. So, I guess as long as I focus on being well-rounded and getting appointed in the first place it'll sort itself out.
     

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