Can I skip college math?
May 24, 2008 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to bypass a math course requirement at a community college?

I'm considering going to a community college (the only college that's in my area) because I'm interested in becoming a composer, however, I've been told math is a required course. I'm terrible at math, and I always have been. I just don't seem to comprehend anything more advanced than addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Teachers, tutors, parents, and acquaintances have all tried teaching me the more advanced math (fractions, long division, etc.), and I've never been able to comprehend it. I've even tried recently, on my own, to learn some of the math that will be on the basic arithmetic portion of the ACCUPLACER test so I could at least pass that, but I didn't understand any of what I read. In short: I just don't get math.

Is there any way I can bypass the required math course, and perhaps do something else in its stead? If I take the ACCUPLACER, and fail the math, I'd probably be put in some kind of remedial math course, and they'd eventually expect me to take and pass a real math course. This is definitely going to be a problem.

Does anyone have any ideas in regards to this? I'm not sure how appropriate this question is for this site, but I'm hoping someone here has some experience with these kinds of things and can help me out.
posted by Dreamcast to Education (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you want a degree from pretty much any college, you're going to have to prove that you can do some math. You can sometimes satisfy certain math requirements by earning a good enough score on the math portion of the ACT/SAT.

But no matter what, you're going to have to do some math.
posted by DMan at 4:08 PM on May 24, 2008

I don't think there's any way to pass Gen Ed requirements, unfortunately. The only way you may skip going through a class is to test out of it as far as I'm aware. I'd suggest taking the most basic and dumbed down course you can find in the program - I'm at an art school that understands how badly most people here dislike the unnecessary math classes, so they offer a class that is more history and less problem solving, but still counts as a gen ed fulfillment.

You may have more luck talking to a counselor at that particular college and seeing what they'd suggest.
posted by Bakuun at 4:13 PM on May 24, 2008

This is a matter of school policy, and there's not a lot we can tell you other than "Go ask them." Imagine the question was "Will my employer let me take off from work next Thursday?" It's pure policy, but something that the school will obviously be able to answer.

That said, I think it's clear that your difficulty with math is so deep - fractions, even? - that it almost certainly goes beyond "bad at math" and into "there's a learning disability here, which should be diagnosed and addressed directly."

(This doesn't even go into the fact that music inevitably involves a lot of concepts that are basically mathematical - octaves, for example, boil down to powers and ratios. Simple ones, but still, concepts I'm sure you're going to need to have a good grasp of if you want to get a formal education in composition.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:22 PM on May 24, 2008

As Tomorrowful said, it's not an answer we can give you -- you need to talk to your school.

I took logic instead of math, because at the time I registered at the community college, that substitution was allowed. But by the time I graduated, you were not allowed to substitute logic for math anymore, and I was only able to do it because my graduation requirements were grandfathered in.

My BA is from a school that did not have a math requirement, but if you are placebound, you may not have that choice. So talk to your school counselors. They want you to succeed, and have probably dealt with this situation before.
posted by litlnemo at 4:27 PM on May 24, 2008

You should contact the school for an answer to your question. They will have the correct answers for their specific program, which are the only ones that matter.

That said, in general, if a course is a requirement, it is usually in fact required; otherwise it would be considered an elective. The only way to get out of taking most courses is to show that you already know the material, usually by passing the class's final exam, but even then, not every course can be skipped.

If you have sufficient medical documentation of a physical or mental disability that prevents you from doing math, you might be able to arrange something, similar to how sometimes you can get out of a physical education requirement if you literally cannot run. Have you had, perhaps, a stroke that has impaired your mathematical ability?

In is difficult to imagine how you could become a composer without a solid mathematical foundation, though, so even if you managed to bypass this requirement, I would expect you might have a lot of trouble with the rest of your studies.
posted by kindall at 4:31 PM on May 24, 2008

That said, I think it's clear that your difficulty with math is so deep - fractions, even? - that it almost certainly goes beyond "bad at math" and into "there's a learning disability here, which should be diagnosed and addressed directly."

IANAD, but maybe you could benefit from reading up on the condition dyscalculia.
posted by rancidchickn at 4:34 PM on May 24, 2008

i think i took an SAT II exam for this. mine was administered by the university. i think it must be up to the school as to what they'll accept for credit, though.
posted by ncc1701d at 4:53 PM on May 24, 2008

You're going to have to be able to deal with math in order to understand modern musical notation and composition. I took a music 101 and the "math" was really confusing for me, and I'm someone who's gone through algebra, trigonometry, calculus with multiple variables, computer science, statistics and information theory, etc. It was confusing, but I didn't spend that much time trying to understand it because a lot of it's done automatically for you by instruments. You don't need to know the ratio involved in playing a third because you can just hit two piano keys separated by one.

So I was able to 'compose' music mostly by trial and error, so it's not impossible. But, even for people who are mathematically inclined it's rather shocking just how mathematical music actually is (and just how weird the math is. Here's a wikipedia article about how music and math)
posted by delmoi at 5:17 PM on May 24, 2008

There are some schools (including the university I went to) that offer a logic/philosophy of math class that counts toward a mathematics requirement. Definitely talk to a counselor, and find out what your options really are.

That said, I can't imagine studying music composition without a fairly solid background/interest in math. I'm pretty good at math, and I did miserably music theory classes I took because the mathematical aspects just went way over my head.
posted by arianell at 5:58 PM on May 24, 2008

Dreamcast, it's possible that the reason you're terrible at math is because you haven't taken any math classes at MSJC yet! Any old dysfunctional moron can be a high school math teacher, unfortunately; the standards are much higher at community college. This may be your chance to surprise yourself.

Community colleges are great at working with students who shine in some areas but are at remedial levels in other areas (far better, on average, than four-year colleges). I've taught English at community colleges, and my colleagues and I were obsessed with finding ways to get people who were completely demoralized by their high school English experience up to speed at the college level. We weren't perfectly successful, but a lot of students who didn't expect to pass my class wound up very pleasantly surprised by the end.

I'm sure that math at MSJC is no different. Call the math department and tell the secretary you're an anxious, terrible math student and you want to meet with the faculty member s/he thinks is best suited to counsel you on your concerns about this requirement. I can almost guarantee that what happens will be tremendously positive.

(If it isn't, call the math department and ask to meet with the second-best-suited faculty member. Seriously, if you find the right person -- and it really shouldn't be too difficult -- you're going to get through this in a way that shows you capabilities you didn't know you possess.)
posted by gum at 6:28 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would highly suggest reading this wonderful Slate article by a woman who feared she was constitutionally incapable of learning math. She started in a worse place than you-- her diagnostic test placed her at the level of a first-grader-- and enrolled in a tutoring program with the hope that she would be able to help her young daughter with her homework. She winds up advancing five grade levels in math in as many months, but those five months took much patience and many hours of math worksheets.

Her personal story is fun to read, and is incredibly insightful into the process of learning math. I mean, I could abstract from it about five rules or so that are so universally essential to learn math effectively (as well as anti-rules on how to expend tremendous effort and not learn any math). But, no one follows rules (and I speak from experience here, having ignored these rules and wasted much effort doing so). Following her story, you identify with her, and pick up the rules through understanding the psychology of her struggle with math.

Good luck.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 9:49 PM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'll second what gum said. I too hated math and thought that I just wasn't good at it (I did miserably in it all through school), but when I got to college I had to take a few math courses and my math teachers were some of the best I had. Endlessly patient in going over concepts with me time and time again, I ended up quite liking math and now wish I had done more - and I ended up getting A's in all my math classes as well.

Now in my job, I have to use math pretty frequently and in the courses I had to take to get qualified in my role, I had to learn some fairly advanced mathematical concepts and I really enjoyed it. Now, instead of being incomprehensible, number problems are like a puzzle to put together, with only one right answer and I love trying to work through them. The rush that I get when something finally clicks and makes everything else clear is great. So don't give up quite yet. Speak to the instructors in your math department and see how they can help.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:07 AM on May 25, 2008

also, there are usually alternative classes that count for math but are really logic or something...
posted by hulahulagirl at 8:29 PM on May 26, 2008

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