How to Prepare: Tips by Discipline

Learn what to expect and how to prepare for specific areas of study or academic discipline.

Program Overviews High School Foundations College Expectations
  • Algebra II
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Earth Science
Good high school preparation in math will allow students to take accounting and other math- related courses such as chemistry without any remedial courses first. Plant science classes include biology and chemistry as well as earth sciences.
Horticulture/ Landscape Design
  • Algebra II & Geometry
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Earth Science
Good high school preparation in math will allow students to take classes such as chemistry without any remedial courses first. It will also help in landscape design and surveying classes. Plant science classes include biology and chemistry as well as earth sciences.
Animal Science / Pre-Vet
  • Algebra II, preferably Precalculus
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics for Pre-Vet students
  • (Job shadowing Veterinarians for Pre-Vet students, too.)
Good high school preparation in math will allow students to take math-related courses such as chemistry without any remedial courses first, saving time and money.   Pre-Vet students need 1-year of biology, 3-years of chemistry, 1-year of physics (plus animal science courses) so it is very helpful to have taken these courses in high school first.
International Agriculture Development
  • Algebra II
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Earth Science
  • Second language
Good high school preparation in math will allow students to take math-related courses such as chemistry, accounting, and statistics without any remedial courses first.

Visit the Agriculture and Animal Science Department website to learn about programs of study and who to contact for more information.

  1. Focused attentiveness and attention to detail: The successful biology student needs to be able to keep track of a myriad of detailed facts and discover new ones by detailed observation.
  2. Time management: Due to the elevated demands on the student's time in the university setting, the successful biology student needs to carefully prioritize and plan an effective schedule for time management.
  3. Professional etiquette & integrity: A professional in this field must operate under the highest standards of ethical behavior in the scientific enterprise and in his/her dealings with colleagues. From teamwork activities to public presentations a biology student must be an effective communicator and collaborator.
  4. Inquisitive mindset & internal motivation: Progress in science is often driven by asking "why" questions and proposing reasonable explanations for natural phenomena. Moving forward into new areas of inquiry and not just reflecting the previous views of others is a key attribute of successful biologists. Students should practice the habit of asking questions.
  5. Superior reading comprehension: Technical reading in the biological sciences is very demanding and is often required by teachers, particularly in upper division courses. The successful student will have good reading skills and a broad vocabulary to help in  the successful navigation of the scientific literature which will be presented in a variety of forms.
  6. Technical laboratory skills & research design: Biologists need to be able to apply the information they learn to a wide range of laboratory and field settings. The student should be familiar with the scientific method and comfortable with answering questions using the basic tools of science.

Visit the Biology Department website to learn about programs of study and who to contact for more information.

General Chemistry is the first chemistrycourse for chemistry and biochemistry majors, but it is also required for many other majors in the natural and health sciences. It is also a pre-requisite for medical, dental, and pharmacy school. In General Chemistry, this first majors-level chemistry class, you should expect:

  1. Speed: General Chemistry covers a lot of chemistry quickly and at some depth.The course’s pace is relentless and will not slow down.
  2. Mathematics Mathematics is used to model chemical phenomena. The chemistry instructor cannot teach students in class the mathematics necessary to solve the problem. A solid preparation in math is essential for General Chemistry success.  Pre-calculus (or beyond) is optimal from a student success perspective.
  3. To seek help: If you get behind, seek help right away. Don’t be bashful. That’s why the instructor’s office door is open. (See 1.Speed above)  Implicit in this is being critically self-reflective and having motivation to grow.
  4. To read and comprehend technical information: Reading and comprehending complex technical information is a skill that can be (and must be) learned for General Chemistry. Expect to ACTIVELY read some sections 5-6 times. Plan to read each chapter actively 3 times at least. Repetition enhances comprehension.  Important chemistry problems are phrased as word problems that chemists use mathematics to solve.
  5. To pay attention to detail:  General chemistry is full of details.  Careful attention to seemingly minute details are a part of success in general chemistry.
  6. To invest time:  The successful general chemistry student will dedicate uninterrupted, not distracted time (2+ hours) into their success in the course on a DAILY BASIS throughout the entire 15 week semester. 
  7. To take ownership of learning:  Approach the course with an attitude of wanting to learn the WHY of chemical phenomena, not simply as a check box on your way somewhere else.

You should prepare by:

  1. Gaining strong math skills, through pre-calculus if possible.
  2. Reading and comprehending complex technical information.
  3. Practicing self-discipline with time and personal management.
  4. Holding yourself accountable to meet deadlines. Every assignment. Every time.

Visit the Chemistry Department website to learn about programs of study and who to contact for more information.

  1. Math: Math is essential for engineering students. Math is used both to analyze existing solutions and problem scenarios, and to predict good solutions (designs) to new problems. Take pre-calculus during high school to be ready to take Calculus I and II in your freshman year.  If pre-calculus was not available in high school, find a local college or university offering this during the summer before you arrive.  
  2. Study habits: Engineering is one of the majors that will requires the most time to complete in four years. If you are not used to having to spend time studying, engineering will be a challenge. Practice taking notes by hand, and practice studying hard in high school even if you don’t need to. It will pay itself back if you choose to study engineering. Once you start your engineering program we encourage you to study with class mates. Studying together will for most of you both improve your learning and reduce your study time, and you will practice team work – one of the most sought after skills employers of engineers are looking for.
  3. Be open minded: Engineering students are typically practical and focus on HOW things work and how science can be APPLIED to solve problems. You will take courses from mathematicians who are much more interested in the pattern itself (math) than in how it is applied, and you will take courses from scientists who are much more interested in WHY things work than in HOW. You have to recognize that their view points are also valid so you can maximize your learning in these courses.

Visit the Engineering Department website to learn about programs of study and who to contact for more information.

  1. Students should take four years of mathematics in high school. Advanced students may take university Precalculus and Calculus I online for university credit in conjunction with their high school.
  2. It is important that students study hard for the ACT or SAT. The mathematics score will determine placement in university mathematics and in other STEM courses. ACT and SAT scores also influence scholarships.
  3. Students need to cultivate the ability to focus exclusively on one thing for 50-75 minutes during class and longer during study times. Students should learn to avoid “multitasking”. Making an A on a university mathematics exam often can require 10 hours of focused study without distraction.
  4. It is important to be able to take good notes by hand with paper and pencil. Current research shows this is the most effective way to learn and retain information and ideas. Many teachers will require that students put away all electronic devices during class. It is always important to make eye contact and connect with and interact with the teacher without distraction, and this is particularly important in mathematics.
  5. The Department of Mathematics teaches students to put away electronic devices during seminars given by invited speakers. Teachers try to model professional behavior for students. It is not appropriate to be looking at a phone or other device when someone is speaking to us face to face.
  6. It is important to be able to do mathematical procedures by hand. Teachers in many courses will not allow students to use a calculator on exams. It is important also to learn to use technology to do mathematics, but only after mastering the ability to do it by hand. Students entering Calculus should know the graphs of common functions and the sine and cosine of the 16 angles around the unit circle without needing to look at a calculator.
  7. In most classes students will not be allowed to turn in late work or arrive late to class. It is important to learn personal responsibility.

Visit the Department of Mathematics website to learn about programs of study and who to contact for more information.

Preparing for a wonderful life of asking and answering “why” questions.

  1. Focus to finish. Be able to focus for 50-75 minutes in class, 3-4 hours at home or in a study room solving problems or studying for understanding, and several hours at a time, over several days or weeks, until the completion of an extended study, problem solving, or lab project. Finding a way to keep from being distracted is essential. Sometimes it is a multitasking problem, since you are actually continually disrupting your own thoughts. Sometimes focus is a medical problem, and it is better to address this sooner than later.  Sometimes focus is a scheduling problem, especially if you have wide interests, high energy, and a willing spirit. Know how to write out what you want to do and how much time it will take. Make a budget of some sort to make sure you have the time to do it all. (Often talented physics majors take on 3 times the hours they have available.)
  2. Record things. Be able to take good notes by hand (this is known to be particularly effective). Sketch situations, ideas and plans on paper or electronically (you don’t need to be artistic -- doodling is good). Touch type effectively so you can enter data or text quickly on any keyboard (you often need to make things easy for others to read, including your computer). Keep information organized so you really can find it later.  Listen carefully to increase recall.
  3. Connect with teachers and peers. Networking is one of the most important skills that will help you succeed. If you feel shy, find ways to work around it. Practice meeting new people.  Make a study group so you can practice working with others, learning to verbalize what you know and learning how to learn from others. Physicists and scientists depend on the community of physicists and scientists to make progress.  Sharing is at the heart of their endeavors.
  4. Depend on yourself. Don’t depend on technology or other people to give you answers.Think things out for yourself. Do your own hand calculations or estimates to check up on yourself and others. Normed tests (like ACT, SAT, GRE) don’t allow calculators, anyway. Use shortcuts, visualizations, and rules of thumb to get the lay of the land on a problem, eg. the unit circle for sine and cosine functions, the right hand rules for torque and magnetic force, etc.  
  5. Study hard and deliberately now. If your teachers don’t keep you challenged, challenge yourself. Study hard because you want to think well, not to get a grade. Prepare deliberately for the PSAT, ACT or SAT.  It will make a difference financially and academically even after you get accepted. Work on the vocabulary part, which some STEM students ignore but admissions people don’t. And learn how to write by finding someone who will help you get down on paper or on a screen messages you care about and need to communicate.  Make sure the mathematics part is in good shape so you can get into higher mathematics as soon as possible. Take mathematics every year in high school. If not available, see if you can take it online or at a nearby college for dual credit. 
  6. Know about graduate school. Once you finish a physics degree in college, you will never pay another dollar for education.  “They” will pay you to go to grad school, including a stipend for living expenses as well as all tuition and travel for professional purposes.  Spend your summers and extra time during the school year doing research or whatever a national lab, local college or industry.
  7. Feed your creativity. Physics is as much about creativity as precision. Play music. Program. Cook. Do puzzles. Do fractals. Draw. Sail. Design. Dream.

Visit the Physics Department website to learn about programs of study and who to contact for more information.