Calculus — one semester or two?

Hey folks.

I’m trying to formulate my post-bac plans… anyone here have a recommendation on taking one semester of calculus vs. two?

My concern is not to meet the “college-level math” requirement (I’ve got enough already), but to prepare for physics.

I.e.: at my current school (Occidental), we are required to take two semesters of calculus before even starting physics. Yet I hear from some folk that one semester is fine, or even none(!) if they do non-calc-based physics.

Whatcha think?

Check the requirements of all the med schools you are interested in applying to to see if they require calc-based physics. If none of them do, or only one or two that you would not mind leaving off your list, you could certainly go for non-calc physics. That’s what I did. I HAD college calc and had done well, but it was MANY years in the past and since I expected physics to be a big challenge anyway, I didn’t think I was best served trying to reteach myself college calculus and take calc physics.

In any case, most folks I know used only first semester calculus for calc physics. I’ve never heard that you need two semesters. To doublecheck, look at your institution’s requirements for physics -it will tell you if you need one semester or two of calculus as prerequisite.


Thanks, Kate; I’ve read and enjoyed your posts on other threads. My institution does require two semesters, but I’m hoping that that’s an exception to the rule

First semester calculus is largely limits and derivatives. It is helpful to have an understanding of derivatives when working with newtons laws of motion. This will help you understand how acceleration and velocity are related, for example. And will give you the intuition to handle the graphs on MCAT.

Second semester calculus is largely integrals, and infinite series. Infinte series are not very applicable. While integrals are certainly an important part of practicing physics, only a basic understanding is really useful for Physics 1&2. My recollection is that you may use integrals to calculate B fields from currents and what not. You would likely not use much of the more complicated 2D integrals you are learning to solve in Calc 2.

Let me know if you have further questions.

Hmmm. So maybe I should take calc 1 and then learn some “integrals” stuff on my own? Bad idea?

The first physics class I took during my pre-req was calc based phys 2 (I also have an advanced degree in biochem, so I got a waiver). Not hard, a quick review of integration rules (the most basic ones) will be necessary but can be done in a few hours.

I then went on and decided to CLEP the entire MATH series (Algebra, Pre-Calc and Calc), to raise the amount of credit hours on my transcripts. I did really well on the 3 exams (like 96% average). It took me about 2 weeks home working at night. So you can definitely do some Calc on your own. Khanacademy is also a great resource for that.

Note however that I had a Stat requirement fulfilled and didn’t use my CLEP test to satisfy the usual 1 semester Math requirement.

If you have any question, let me know.

Unless you need the calc-based physics for a second major or if a specific medical school requires it (either calculus or calc-based physics), it is a course that you may want to skip just reduce course load and costs.

Please note that the MCAT does not have ANY calculus or calc-based physics on it. In fact, I found that the calc-based physics I took in my postbacc prepared me less for the MCAT than non-calc physics course for life sciences