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Physicists study the laws of nature and the way things work. On any given day, they may be plunging into black holes, inventing medical technologies, analyzing the stock market, predicting the weather, or even creating films and video games. Yes, there are one or two mad geniuses in the field, but many physicists are normal people using their problem-solving skills in all kinds of fields – from manufacturing and communications to biology and law.
Sound interesting? Then check out our short guide to affordable physics programs. Along with profiles of 50 affordable schools, you’ll find practical advice on degree choices, sample coursework, career options, accreditations, and more!
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California-Irvine has strong programs in particles, plasmas, condensed matter, and astronomy and is involved in interdisciplinary research in biological, chemical and medical physics. All undergraduates in the physics program must declare a career track, with options including a concentration in medical, biophysics, applied physics, computational physics, physics education or a specialization in astrophysics. Other tracks include professional, law or business. The department also offers an M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics, and Ph.D. students may concentrate in chemical and materials physics. The department hosts seminars and colloquia throughout the year with guest speakers discussing current research. Physics majors may apply for the Physical Sciences Undergraduate Achievement Award (amount varies).
The Department of Physics at the University of Minnesota-Duluth offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in physics, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics. In addition, the Department offers a Master of Science in Physics. The B.S. in Physics is the preferred degree program for students who plan to continue their study of physics at the graduate level, while the B.A. in Physics is designed for students who want to earn a liberal arts degree. The B.S. in Applied Physics is designed for students who want to work in industry and includes a strong research component. Students enrolled in the B.S. or B.A. in Physics can also enroll in the secondary education licensure program to become secondary school teachers.
In addition to research in cutting-edge areas such as condensed matter and high energy physics, the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M has an active outreach program to bring physics to the public. The department runs an annual Physics Festival, featuring interactive demonstrations, that attracts thousands of visitors. Students and professors work side by side to develop these demonstration experiments. The university grants a B.A., B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics. Institutes run by the university include the Cyclotron Institute, which is an accelerator facility, the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy. The Department of Geosciences grants a B.S. in Geophysics.
Physics research at the University of North Carolina ranges from galactic to nano, with access to state-of-the-art facilities around the world to support the research. Biophysics is a primary area of research as well, with the school one of the largest recipients of NIH funding for biochemical and biophysical research. Undergrads can earn a B.A. or B.S. in Physics or in Astronomy. Research and independent labs ae required of all students. Graduate programs include an M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics or Astrophysics and a graduate Biophysics Track offered through the Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program or the Program in Molecular & Cellular Biophysics. Graduate students typically receive funding through teaching assistantships and funding through their research group.
At the University of California Los Angeles, research in physics spans the spectrum from the search for exoplanets to the physics of hearing. UCLA faculty have played important roles in creating the kind of cutting-edge instruments needed for new research, and collaboration between departments is a hallmark of research. The UCLA campus hosts many research institutes in various areas of physics. Departments within the UCLA College of Physical Sciences grant degrees at all levels in Physics, Biophysics, and Geophysics. Undergrad physics majors can also earn a B.S. in Astrophysics, and geophysics majors can receive a B.S. in Applied Geophysics or in Geophysics and Space Physics. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers graduate students teaching assistantships and researcher positions.
UIC's Department of Physics, which runs BA and BS degrees in the discipline, prioritizes giving young people hands-on experience, even publishing the annual Journal of Undergraduate Research. Students can apply (via the UIContest) for a research internship alongside a faculty member worth $1,100. This might be supplemented with $1,250 per semester by the College of Liberal Arts and Science's Undergraduate Research Initiative. MS-seekers and PhD candidates, meanwhile, typically receive a research assistantship or teaching role, along with funding, upon acceptance to their program.
The BS in Physics at Vassar (also available as a minor, known as a "correlate sequence") is unique in that, although it's an undergraduate program, it offers students paid research and teaching assistantships. Incoming freshmen from under-represented groups can participate in the monthlong Diving Into Research summer program, where they'll get paid to work alongside faculty in the laboratory. Physics students at all levels are eligible for the 10-week program at the Undergraduate Research Summer Institute, which comes with a $3,800 stipend and subsidized housing. Upperclassmen with a 3.5 GPA, meanwhile, can apply to the dual-degree engineering program, where they can tack on a fifth year at Dartmouth College and emerge with a Bachelor of Engineering.
UCR's Department of Physics and Astronomy maintains several endowments for BS/BA in Physics enrollees. The Wild Family Endowed Scholarship prefers student-athletes with a 3.0, for instance, whereas the Williams Endowed Undergraduate Student Award prefers meritorious female students with financial need. About half of undergrads assist with research. For support in this endeavor, low-income students regularly land $1,200 stipends via the university's STEM Pathway Program. Every Physics PhD candidate receives funding, often in the form of a teaching assistantship that pays $20,000 and waives tuition. Additional awards, like the Staats Prize and the Shen Memorial Scholarship, go to grad students who have, respectively, built an amazing apparatus and produced excellent research on high energy and heavy ion physics.
Students can pursue either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at UC San Diego. A BA in General Physics/Secondary Education program is available for students who plan to teach after graduation. The BS in Physics program offers specializations in computational physics, earth sciences, materials physics, and astrophysics. On the graduate level, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy programs in physics are available. PhD students can specialize in the following: bioinformatics, computational science, multiscale biology, and quantitative biology. The Kyoko Matsuda Scholarship ($2,000) supports qualified physics majors who plan to teach physics at the high school level. Doctoral students typically receive teaching/research assistantships that provide them with tuition, fees, a stipend, and health insurance.
Students seeking a graduate degree in physics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities are allowed to select an adviser from outside the School of Physics, which allows them to select a research director from a related field such as biophysics, astronomy, chemical engineering or materials science. The School of Physics and Astronomy offers undergrad degrees to prepare students for careers in engineering and applied physics, computer applications, secondary school teaching, or biomedical science. It also offers M.S. and Ph.D. programs in both physics and astrophysics. Through the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, the university is involved in research such as star formation and stellar evolution. Scholarships include the A. O. C. Nier Undergraduate Scholarship in Physics.
The Physics Department at Buffalo State offers a variety of undergraduate programs as well as master's degrees in physics education. The Bachelor of Arts in Physics is a liberal arts degree that requires 33 credits in physics and 12 credits in math. The Bachelor of Science in Physics is appropriate for students who plan to continue to study physics in graduate school or to seek a scientific job. The program requires 44 credits in physics and 15 credits in math. With the Three-Two Engineering option, undergrads spend three years at Buffalo State studying the liberal arts curriculum in physics, then transfer to an engineering school for their degree. Departmental scholarships include the Dewayne Berry Physics Scholarship (amount varies).
The Physics Department at SUNY Oswego offers a Bachelor of Science in Physics with two tracks: traditional physics and applied physics. The department also offers a liberal arts Bachelor of Arts in Physics, as well as a program leading to physics education certification for future middle or high school teachers. Students in the applied physics track have the option of an internship and can take electives in related areas such as engineering and computing. Students in the B.A. program must earn 59 to 61 major credits, which include a few math and chemistry classes. Students in the B.S. program must complete 74 to 77 major credits. The department receives National Science Foundation funding for its faculty and student research work.
The Physics Department at the University of California Berkeley is one of the best in the U.S., and it ranked No. 2 on the 2018 U.S. News list of Best Grad Schools. The bachelor's program prepares students for a career in physics or a graduate program. Students must successfully complete several prerequisite classes before they can formally declare a major in physics. The Physics Department has a strong research focus, and undergrads are encouraged to get involved. Students who conduct research under faculty supervision may qualify for academic credit, and the department provides stipends to students who are highly committed to research. At the graduate level, the department grants a Ph.D. in Physics. Grad students get a fellowship or instructorship.
The Department of Physics at UC Davis offers both Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics and Bachelor of Arts in Physics programs. There is also a BS in Physics with Specialization in Astrophysics degree. The BS in Applied Physics program has concentrations in computation physics, chemical physics, materials science, physical oceanography, atmospheric physics, geophysics, and physical electronics. A BS/MS integrated degree in physical electronics is offered by the Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate program. Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy programs in physics are also available. PhD candidates making satisfactory progress towards their degree can typically expect to be awarded a teaching or research assistantship, which covers tuition and all fees and includes a $21,000 to $25,000 stipend each year.
Physics majors at SUNY Oneonta can take a track designed for students who plan to work in the field of physics or a track for those who want to work in another field, including engineering. Oneonta has a 3-2 engineering program where students attend Oneonta for three years, then transfer to a cooperating engineering school for their engineering degree, earning two degrees in five years. Oneonta also has a secondary education-physics major. The Physics Department administers several scholarships, including the Wang Scholarship for freshmen and upper-level students who have strong academic records. The Physics Department faculty conducts research in fields such as materials, lasers and photonics, and string theory. Students research is encouraged.
Appalachian State University's Department of Physics and Astronomy led North Carolina in number of Physics graduates last year, with a program that is continuing to grow. The department offers Bachelor of Arts in Physics, Bachelor of Science in Teaching Physics and Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics degrees. Those pursuing the Applied Physics track may choose a degree emphasis in a number of interdisciplinary areas, such as industrial physics, mathematical physics or computational physics. A dual-BS program in Physics and Engineering is offered through both Auburn University and Clemson University. Graduates can earn a Master of Science in Engineering Physics. Internship, study abroad, and institutional research programs are part of the curriculum. Scholarships include Goldwater Scholarships ($7,500) and Perryman Scholarship.
The University of Massachusetts has developed the Integrated Concentration in Science (iCons) program that allows undergrads to work on real-world problems or research, developing the skills and knowledge to work collaboratively on multi-faceted issues. The iCons program can be embedded into a student's physics major. Undergrad physics majors choose a professional track, applied track or general track while pursuing their bachelor's degree. The university also offers a Ph.D in Physics, with a Master of Science degree available to students who are in the program. The Physics Department is involved in a range of research in theoretical and experimental physics, including condensed matter and gravitational and particle astrophysics. Scholarships for physics majors include the Flosum Scholarship ($750).
St. Cloud State University's Department of Physics and Astronomy offers Bachelor of Science degrees in physics/astronomy with tracks of study in physics education, astrophysics, electo-optics, engineering science, mathematical physics and professional physics. A Bachelor of Elective Studies in Physics and undergraduate minors in optics and physics are also available. Students in all B.S. programs complete between 77 and 78 credits of coursework. Students also participate in research labs in optics, materials, observational astronomy and computational physics, and faculty-led research opportunities. Additionally, physics students can participate in student organizations like the Physics and Astronomy Club and are eligible for the Physics and Astronomy Endowed Scholarship.
Michigan Technological University's Department of Physics integrates research opportunities throughout its undergraduate and graduate programs. More than 20 laboratories, computer labs and workshops support these efforts. The school offers a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Physics and a BS in Applied Physics. Graduate programs include a Master of Science and Ph.D. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Applied Physics. The College of Engineering offers a unique program in Geophysics, with BS, MS, and Ph.D. degree programs. Students in this field can take part in global study through the Peace Corps Master's International Program or the INVOGE dual degree program. Scholarships include the Shepherd Endowed Award and the John Miles Physics End Fellowship for graduate students.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at CSULB's College of Natural Science and Mathematics offers both a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts in Physics. A minor in the field is also available, as well as a Single Subject Preliminary Credential in Physics. Students interested in pursuing the credential program are encouraged to consult with the Department of Science Education. The department also offers a Master of Science in Physics degree with options in general physics, computational physics, and applied physics. A number of scholarships specifically for physics majors are available, including the following: Philip Ord Johnson Scholarship ($1,350), John and Terry Milligan Scholarship in Physics ($2,000), and the Margaret Heeb Summer Research Scholarship (up to $2,500).
The Department of Physics at Western Illinois University runs both a bachelor's and master's degree, which students can combine into a five-year program. From 2015 to 2017, the American Institute of Physics ranked the department second nationwide among all schools with a master's degree in the discipline. The department and its alumni fund multiple scholarships, including the Physics Freshmen Scholarship and the Forbes Research Scholarship. Speaking of research, the department is focused on increasing undergrad involvement. Students working on a project with faculty can join the Research Inspiring Student Excellence (RISE) program, which provides $350 grants to attend professional conferences, take exams for grad school and, of course, perform research. RISE also gives out $3,000 summer research grants.
Students admitted to the Bachelor of Arts in Physics program at McDaniel College follow a curriculum that includes coursework in mathematical physics, electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, thermodynamics, and computer modeling. Physics majors have the option of selecting computer science as their area of specialization. The college offers a dual major in mathematics and physics for students who meet the academic requirements of the program. Students who plan to pursue a career in teaching after graduation must complete a minor in education as well as the requirements of the physics major. After successfully completing the program, they are eligible to seek the appropriate certification (elementary or secondary level). A minor is physics is also available for non-physics majors enrolled at the college.
The physics program at Winona State is focused on turning students into teachers. BS seekers can walk away with a straight physics teacher certification or a more expansive baccalaureate that covers chemistry. Students also get to choose between the standard science content or a degree enhanced with coursework on electronics, which may appeal to computer science students. Finally, the department runs electrical engineering and industrial engineering degrees. The Eileen Fahey Memorial Scholarship and Ormsin Sormnoonpin Gardner Physics Scholarships are earmarked specifically for the department's undergrads.
The Physics Department at SUNY University at Albany produces a large number of graduating seniors each year, and the department also has a master's and Ph.D. program. The department is active in research, with its newest specialty area being information and computational physics. The department is also known for its research in biophysics and particle physics, and its research activities have generated more than $1 million in grant funding recently. Each year, the department hosts PASCAL, the Physics All Student Conference at Albany, where faculty and students present research. Most full-time Ph.D. students receive support through teaching, research, or outside fellowships. Named scholarships include the Carpenter Scholarship for a graduate student planning to teach community college physics.
Stony Brook's nuclear physics program was ranked fourth in the 2014 U.S. and World Report rankings while the Department of Physics and Astronomy was ranked 23rd overall out of 151 programs. Undergrad degrees are available in Astronomy or Physics, with the option of a specialization in Optics. The graduate program has produced more than 1,000 Ph.D.s in 50 years. The department also grants an M.A., M.S., and teaching master's. Research opportunities include working on high energy physics, string theory or statistical mechanics with the CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics or on projects conducted by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, including the physics of the universe. Physics majors may apply for the George C. Warner Scholarship.
UC Santa Barbara offers Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees in physics. BS students are required to complete 49-54 upper division units in physics. BA students can choose to complete the required 42 upper division units by taking courses in physics, chemistry, earth science, engineering, geography, or mathematics. A minor in physics is also available for non-physics students enrolled at the university. Since the university does not offer a terminal Master of Arts degree in physics, candidates are considered only for the Doctor of Philosophy program. An MA may be awarded to students who have advanced to candidacy but who no longer wish to continue with the PhD program. Doctoral students can pursue an emphasis in astrophysics or in bioengineering.
The Physics Department at the University of Florida is involved in research in astrophysics, biological physics, chemical physics, condensed matter, low temperatures, high energy and mathematical physics, with research centers and institutes dedicated to many of these subjects. Undergrads can become involved in research projects, and seniors who submit a thesis based on that research can graduate with honors. The university grants a B.S. and B.A in Physics and also offers a five-year program for students who want to earn a bachelor's and master's degree. Ph.D. students can tailor the program to meet their interests. Available physics scholarships include the J. Michael Harris Student Memorial Awards ($3,000) and the T. A. Scott Memorial Scholarship Fund ($500).
Alfred University's Division of Physics and Astronomy offers an undergraduate major and minor in physics. The physics major requires 40 credits of major coursework and offers concentrations in general physics, astrophysics, solid state physics and mechanical systems. Physics majors with an interest in astronomy can choose to major in physics with an astrophysics concentration or choose a minor in astronomy. The physics minor requires the completion of six courses in subjects like introductory and intermediate physics, elementary optics and elementary modern physics. Additionally, physics students have the opportunity to undertake research projects and take advantage of the facilities at the Stull Observatory, where they have access to one New York's largest optical telescopes.
The Department of Physics at Binghamton University offers a variety of combined and accelerated programs for undergraduates. Traditional options include a B.A. in Physics, a B.S. in Physics with the option of an emphasis in applied physics or mathematical physics. Undergrads can also choose a 3-2 program in Physics and Engineering, where they earn a B.A. in physics in three years, then transfer to an engineering school. There are also five-year programs that result in a B.S. in Physics and a B.S. in Computer Science or in a B.S. in Physics and an M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering. Binghamton also offers an M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics. Departmental scholarships include the George E. Moore Minority Physics Scholarship.
Michigan State University offers advanced research opportunities in numerous areas of physics, with state-of-the-art research and computing facilities and a student machine shop. The school houses the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, as well as research labs in other areas of interest. Summer research programs are available to undergraduates. Students may pursue Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Physics; BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in Astrophysics; and a BS degree in Chemical Physics from the Department of Chemistry. The MSU Science Theater offers community outreach programs and students have also formed a number of special interest organizations, such as the P-A Choir.
The study of photonics, the transmission of protons and optical technology, is an area of expertise for the faculty at City University of New York-Queens. Students at all levels are welcome to participate in the ongoing research program, which includes collaborative work with other CUNY physics and chemistry programs, with access to cutting-edge laboratory facilities. The school offers a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Physics, with tracks for applied physics, physics education and pre-engineering. A BA-MA program is available to accelerate a student's education. Graduates may choose a Master of Arts in Physics that prepares them for further research and education at the Doctorate level, or a professional Master of Science in Photonics.
The Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of North Carolina Greensboro offers both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in physics. The BS program requires students to complete the same core requirements as the BA degree, with the addition of three courses from the following: astrophysics, modern physics with quantum mechanics, analytical mechanics, electricity/magnetism, and biophysics. Students who plan to teach physics at the middle school or high school level after graduation are required to complete additional coursework from the School of Education, such as literacy in science education and the psychological foundations of education. Academically qualified physics majors are considered for the STAMPS (Science, Technology and Math Preparation Scholarships) Program, which award up to $4,000/year.
The Bachelor of Science in Physics program at Cal State Fullerton is organized around a core of upper-division courses that include thermodynamics, introduction to math methods in physics, analytic mechanics, electrodynamics, and quantum and modern physics. The university also offers a Master of Science in Physics degree. The Dan Black Phys-Bus Program offers a BS degree in physics with an emphasis in business. Students are allowed to substitute certain physics requirements with accounting, marketing, and entrepreneurial courses to equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in technology-based businesses. Students accepted to this program can apply for the Dan Black Physics-Business Scholarship ($2,500/year for three years). General physics majors are considered for the Dan Black Physics Scholarship ($4,000).
Faculty and students at Brigham Young University-Idaho are engaged in a variety of research programs, from rocket dynamics and astronomical observations to wind energy and weather. Undergraduate students are encouraged to work with faculty mentors on these projects to develop hands-on skills that correlate to degree coursework. The school offers a Bachelor of Science in Physics and in Physics Education. Students are required to choose a minor to complement their degree or complete one of nine areas of emphasis, which include astronomy, biophysics, computational physics, and pre-med physics. A senior thesis that serves as a capstone to research experiences is required. In addition to university research projects, the school partners in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program to provide additional opportunities.
The Physics Department of City College of New York has a distinguished history and was home to three winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Today's faculty continues to be involved in cutting-edge research in topics such as biophysics, condensed matter physics, high-energy physics, and ultrafast spectroscopy. The department grants a Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and Ph.D. in Physics. Undergrads may concentrate in Standard Physics, Materials Science, Optics/Photonics, Biomedical Physics, or Secondary Education. The master's program is designed to be flexible and accommodate students who work in industry, teach secondary school science, or plan to pursue a Ph.D. The M.A. degree requires students to complete 10 courses, with six of them electives.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Hunter College has graduated two students who went on to earn Nobel Prizes in the past century. Undergraduates can major in physics, preparation for secondary school teaching, or biophysics, a field that combines physics with biology, chemistry, and computational tools. Exceptional students who plan to earn a Ph.D. in Physics may enter the B.A./M.A. program to earn their master's at an accelerated pace. Hunter College is also one of the four schools participating in the CUNY Ph.D. in Physics program. Facilities available to the Physics Department include a laser laboratory and an ultrafast optics and spectroscopy laboratory. Faculty research areas include quantum mechanics, experimental optics, and theoretical condensed matter physics.
The University of North Carolina in Charlotte offers both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in physics. Students follow a curriculum that includes courses in classical mechanics, modern physics, optics, electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and thermal physics. The physics program has two options - applied physics or a secondary teacher licensure for students who plan to teach physics after graduation. Qualified students can pursue dual degrees in physics and engineering. A Master of Science in Applied Physics degree is also available. Students accepted to this program can choose from two areas of concentration - applied optics or biophysics. Exceptionally gifted undergraduate and graduate physics students are considered for the NASA LARSS Scholarship, which is a paid, three-semester research internship program.
Brooklyn College grants bachelor's and master's degrees in physics. Undergrads who plan to go to graduate school to study physics, astronomy, biophysics, medical physics, materials science, or engineering can earn a Bachelor of Science in Physics. The college also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and a B.A. for teaching physics. The master's program also provides a Master of Arts for teachers and a research-focused M.A. in Physics. Graduate and undergraduate students frequently work on faculty research, which is generally in the areas of experimental condensed matter, theoretical condensed matter, environmental science, and materials modeling. The department hosts weekly colloquia during the academic term. Departmental scholarships include the Philip & Ida Klein Scholarship for undergraduate physics majors.
SUNY-Plattsburgh provides students with a solid background in science and math, preparing them for further education or for a career that requires analytical skills. In addition to a B.A. in Physics, Plattsburgh has a Physics Engineering option that allows a student to spend three years at Plattsburgh earning a B.A. in Physics before transferring to an engineering school to complete a B.S. in Engineering in another two years. Aspiring teachers can take the five-year B.A./M.S.T. program that results in a physics degree and a teaching master's degree plus teaching certification. Physics facilities at the school include an advanced physics laboratory, a dedicated optics laboratory, and Northcountry Planetarium, considered the best among SUNY schools.
The University of North Texas offers a Bachelor of Science in Physics, a Bachelor of Arts in Physics, a Master of Science in Physics, and a Ph.D. in Physics. Physics majors will study the laws of thermal physics (properties of heat and energy), mathemateical methods of physics, the laws of mechanics and how objects move them, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, principles of electricity and magnetism, and physics of the atom and nucleus. Students may join the Society of Physics Students. This group sponsors the Physics Olympics, an event for high school students each spring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Physics students may qualify for the Society of Physics Students Scholarship, the L.L. Miller Scholarship, and/or the Physics Chairman's Scholarship.
Students admitted to the Bachelor of Science in Physics program at Stanislaus gain a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals as well as the modern applications of physics. Coursework includes classical mechanics, thermal and statistical physics, analog and digital electronics, experimental physics, and modern physics and quantum mechanics. There is also a Bachelor of Arts in Physics degree available that is designed for students preparing for careers that require a moderate training in physics. By completing additional requirements in mathematics and science, Physics majors can add a concentration in Environmental Sciences to their degree. Physics is also offered as an area of concentration for Liberal Studies majors as well as students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Physical Sciences program.
The core requirements for the Bachelor of Arts in Physics degree at Grinnell College includes the following courses: general physics (I & II), modern physics, mechanics, electromagnetic theory, optic wave phenomena, and advanced laboratory. A majority of physics majors complete an independent research project during their stay at Grinnell. Students have access to the Grant O. Gale Observatory, a state-of-the-art facility with a computer-controlled 24-inch research quality telescope, which has imaging and spectroscopic capabilities. Along with Columbia University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Washington University, and the California Institute of Technology, Grinnell College participates in the 3-2 engineering program. This program allows a Grinnell physics graduate to earn an engineering degree from a participating institution at the end of the fifth year.
The physics program at Cal Poly Pomona provides students with ample opportunities to engage in undergraduate research in several areas, including solid state physics, optics, astrophysics, and physics education research. Students take courses in elementary modern physics, quantum mechanics, fundamentals of mathematical physics, and thermal physics. As part of the CSU Nuclear and Particle Physics Consortium (NUPAC), Cal Poly Pomona has the option of giving qualified CPP physics majors the opportunity to work on the ATLAS Experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland in the summer. Students can apply for the Vincent & Jessie Parker Scholarship or the Boeing Company Scholarship, both of which award $1,250 to qualified applicants. The Boeing scholarship prefers students from under-represented groups or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
An associate’s degree in physics is a 2-year undergraduate program focused on giving students a broad introduction to the subject. You’ll find a variety of associate programs at community colleges, junior colleges, and universities. A high school diploma or GED is required to apply.
Since it’s very difficult to find an entry-level job with an associate’s degree in physics, most students use it to earn credits for a BA or BS. If you’re interested in this option, make sure your associate-level course credits can be transferred to the bachelor’s program of your choice.
The curriculum for an associate’s degree in physics will have general education requirements (e.g. communication, composition/English, computer science, etc.), core math and science courses (e.g. calculus, linear algebra, chemistry, geometry, etc.), and classes on specific areas of physics (e.g. general physics, geology, astronomy, etc.). A lot of schools will expect you to participate in lab work during your degree.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many career opportunities for graduates with an associate’s degree in physics. Most jobs specifically related to physics require a master’s degree or higher. However, physics provides excellent training for analytical jobs, which means you may be able to find support-level positions in fields such as IT, business, and manufacturing.
A bachelor’s degree in physics is a 4-year undergraduate program that covers both the theory and practical applications of physics. Bachelor programs can be found in a wide range of regionally accredited universities, colleges, and schools. A high school diploma or GED is required to apply.
Because physics is a complicated subject, many students use the BA or BS as a step towards graduate work in science, engineering, or a related field. Some graduates choose to look for jobs outside of the science sector (e.g. government, military, IT, etc.). Others take up a career in K-12 science teaching. If you fancy this option, look for schools that combine a bachelor’s in physics with a teacher training program.
You may also come across schools that offer a “theoretical physics” option and a “practical/applied physics” option. The theoretical option is targeted at students who want to earn a graduate degree and become theoretical physicists. The practical option can be a useful foundation for careers outside of physics.
A lot of universities will give you the chance to pick a major or electives in a specific field of physics. We’ve listed a few common concentrations below, but there are more to explore. Chat to your academic adviser if you’re unsure about your options.
As a physics major, you can expect a fair amount of theoretical coursework, physics research, and hands-on laboratory work. The first couple of years will follow the same trajectory as an associate’s degree. In addition to general education courses (e.g. composition/English, computer science, etc.), advanced math (e.g. calculus, statistics, etc.), and chemistry, you’ll be grounded in subjects like the history of physics, design of experiments, theoretical mechanics, and other “baseline” courses.
In your third and fourth years, you’ll have more time to focus on your major/concentration and electives. You may find yourself working on a senior research project, thesis, or capstone project, and participating in internships (e.g. working in a research lab) or co-op experiences. Internships are a fabulous way to explore your interests and gain professional contacts!
Here’s the straight story. If you’d like to work as a physicist, you’re probably going to need a PhD. Having said that, a bachelor’s degree in physics can set you up for a variety of jobs in other sectors, including manufacturing, energy, banking, telecommunications, engineering, the armed forces, and the government. Around 1/2 of baccalaureate holders in physics go straight into the workforce; the other 1/2 go to graduate school.
Sample job titles for BA and BS graduates include:
Talk to your academic adviser about your options. Thanks to their strong math skills, physics majors have more options than most when it comes to the job market.
A master’s degree in physics is a graduate-level program focused on research that usually takes 1-3 years to complete. Many students decide to earn a master’s in order to prepare for the PhD, expand their career options, or qualify for management-level positions. A bachelor’s degree in physics or a closely related field is required to apply.
Two things to remember:
Many schools divide their master’s programs into two categories. A professional degree program is intended to train you for the workforce. A traditional or theoretical degree program is intended to prepare you for PhD research.
Master’s programs in physics are a mix of traditional courses, independent research, and lab work. For example, you may be required to take classes in advanced topics in physics (e.g. quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, solid state physics, etc.) and math. However, you will also be allowed to choose an area of concentration and conduct your own research. As a condition of graduation, you will have to complete a thesis, a capstone project, or a comprehensive exam.
A master’s degree in physics can prepare you for a wide variety of careers. According to the Society of Physics Students, almost 90% of physics graduates work outside of traditional physics. With your strong skills in math, IT, and applied physics, you may well find yourself working as a hidden physicist.
Sample job titles for master’s graduates include:
A PhD in Physics is the highest academic credential you can pursue and often takes 3-6 years to complete. A master’s degree is generally required to apply, although some universities offer combined master’s/doctorate programs. This is the standard degree for professionals who wish to become physicists & physics professors.
During your first year or two of a PhD in physics, you may be required to take core courses in advanced physics (e.g. applied physics, kinetics, solid state physics, etc.) and a few classes in research skills and theory. After that, you’ll have more freedom to work on your own. At the end of your degree, you’ll be required to produce a piece of original research (i.e. dissertation) in your specific area of interest.
Graduates with a PhD in physics typically work as physicists and/or university professors. Some physicists conduct high-level research for governments, hospitals, and private companies. Others become highly paid business consultants, entrepreneurs, and inventors.
A certificate in physics is a non-degree program offered by many universities and colleges. These short, specialized programs introduce students to specific physics fundamentals and can take 6 months-1 year to complete. You may wish to gain a certificate in order to bump up your skills, train for a job, or earn academic credits for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. As a rule of thumb, always make sure your credits will be transferable to the degree program of your choice.
Physics certificates come in two major categories:
Overall, we recommend that your school has regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is a “seal of approval” granted to institutions (e.g. non-profit and public colleges and universities) by one of six regional accrediting bodies (e.g. New England Association of Schools and Colleges).
You can learn more about the difference between regional accreditation and national accreditation in Accreditation: Understanding the Difference Between Real Schools and Diploma Mills.
Attending a regionally accredited school can make it easier for you:
Regional accreditation only applies to a college or university, not the degree/program. Unlike other subjects (e.g. chemistry), there is no organization that specifically accredits or approves physics programs.
If you’re interested in becoming a K-12 science or physics teacher at a public school, you will need to earn a teaching license from your state. We talk more about licensure and teaching options in our article on K-12 Teaching. Thinking of teaching at a private or technical school? You may not need a state license, but you will probably need to provide proof of teaching/tutoring experience.