Program Description

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers the following five undergraduate degree programs and three undergraduate minor programs:

Program Requirements Map Flowchart
BS in Physics Requirements
BS in Physics-Astronomy* Requirements
BS in Applied Physics Requirements
BS in Physics Teaching Requirements
BS in Teaching Physical Science Requirements  
Minor in Astronomy Requirements
Minor in Physics Requirements
Minor in Physics Teaching Requirements

*This is the official title of the Astronomy major, not a double major in Physics and Astronomy.

The requirement webpages and MAP documents above list the formal requirements for successfully completing each program. The flowcharts above are an excellent graphical representation of this information which show prerequisites and help you understand the sequence in which you should normally complete these requirements.

BS Physics

The Physics degree provides a solid grounding in physics as needed for contemporary applications of physics or further study of physics or astronomy. This is the degree students should pursue if they desire to continue with graduate study in physics, or if they desire to work in a research environment requiring a broad-based education in physics with significant depth in the principal subfields. This degree is also appropriate for those who want a solid foundation in a research science before pursuing professional study in business, law, medicine, or other areas.

BS Physics and Astronomy

The Physics and Astronomy degree provides a solid grounding in physics with an emphasis in astronomy. It is a strong physics degree which prepares students for graduate study in astronomy or astrophysics. It also provides a good background for graduate study in physics or for professional study in business, law, medicine, or other areas, while satisfying a strong undergraduate interest in astronomy.

BS Applied Physics

The Applied Physics degree provides the basics of the discipline of physics while leaving great flexibility in the schedule for particular student interests in applied areas. It includes a student-selected, advisor-approved set of elective courses, 12 credit hours, that may be taken inside or outside the Department of Physics and Astronomy, tailored to individual student interests in applied physics. It is an excellent degree for those who may continue study in law, business or medicine, computer/information technology or in an engineering or another science area after the BS. It is also appropriate for those who wish to work in a science or technical area at the BS level in industry or government. It is also an attractive degree for those undergraduates who have a clear vision of individual educational goals in physics and wish to take advantage of the flexibility in this program. These 12 hours must consist of a coherent set of courses with an identified educational goal. Up to three of the 12 hours can be from 200-level classes, the remaining hours must be upper division (300-level or above).

You have a great deal of flexibility when choosing your elective emphases: technology, business, life sciences, pre-professional, etc. As soon as possible, meet with your faculty advisor to define an emphasis and choose 12 hours of electives in this emphasis. Here are a few possible areas of emphasis; for many examples of actual tracks which have been approved in recent years see

  • Acoustics: Phscs 461 and 561; and choices from Ec En 301, 380, 487; Me En 312, 535.
  • Aerospace Engineering: choices from CE En 203, Me En 312, Me En 340, Me En 415, Me En 422, Me En 426
  • Biophysics: biochemistry, PDBio 568
  • Business: courses to prepare to work in a high-tech business or for MBA school.
  • Computer Science/Computer Engineering: CS 235, 236, or 240; and other courses in computer programming, information technology, networks, numerical analysis (math), computer engineering that fit your career goals.
  • Electrical Engineering (graduate school preparation): EC En 320, 324, 380 and 400 level courses
  • Law (especially patent law): courses to broaden technical background in one or more areas, prepare for law school
  • Linguistics: Phscs 461; Ling 310, 440; COMD 421
  • Materials Science (graduate school preparation): choices from Phscs 360, 451, 452, 581; Me En 250, 321
  • Medicine (including Medical Physics): Courses required to prepare for these professional schools.
  • Microelectronics/Semiconductor Devices: Chem 105, Ch En 381, Phscs281 or 581, EC En 450 or Phscs 587, Stat 361.
  • Neuroscience: Neuro 205, 360, 380, 480, 481
  • Nuclear Physics (power generation for industry or Navy): Phscs 360, 451, 452, Me En 422.
  • Optical Communication Engineering: Phscs 471, 571, EC En 380, 555,562.
  • Optical/Laser Engineering: Phscs 442, 471, and/or 571, EC En 466, 555, and/or 562.

BS Physics Teaching

The Physics Teaching degree is designed for those who plan to teach physics at the secondary level. It includes courses for teacher certification as well as a substantial array of physics courses designed to provide fundamental understanding of the discipline and perspective on science and its role in the modern world.

Please visit early with our Teaching Majors Advisor to help you make the most of your teaching preparation here.

Teacher certification requirements are different in each state and many states offer several paths to certification. See to find out where to get the latest information on certification requirements in the states that interest you.

Note: Some teaching students prefer to put in more effort and get the B.S. Physics degree while completing the education courses required for certification.  Another option is to get the B.S. Applied Physics degree, and select the education classes as your emphasis.  This gives you the option to teach, continue to graduate school, or work in industry. It is not necessary to get a teaching degree to teach.

Culminating Experience

Each of the Physics degrees requires you to participate in one of the following culminating experiences:

  • A senior thesis for the BS in Physics and BS in Physics and Astronomy
  • A capstone project or senior thesis for the BS in Applied Physics
  • A student teaching internship for the BS in Physics Teaching

The opportunity to actually do physics in your research project, in addition to learning about physics in the classroom, will greatly enhance your understanding of physics and your excitement about your discipline. Your advisor, the department Undergraduate Research Coordinator and the Capstone Coordinator can help you find faculty mentors who can supervise a research project that fits your interests and needs. You can also do research in other departments or during an internship to fulfill these requirements.

Major Field Test

We require seniors in the Physics, Physics-Astronomy, and Applied Physics majors to take the Major Field Test prior to graduating. The MFT is a 70 question, 2 hour timed exam written by ETS, the same people who do the GRE. It's an assessment exam which we use to evaluate our students' physics knowledge and compare to our past students as well as to students at other universities. You will take it in the Testing Center in the semester in which you plan to graduate. You should receive more information via email after you file for graduation.

Strongly Recommended Courses

Because physicists can choose among so many different careers, we can’t require all the classes that you might need to take. Based partially on experiences of what alumni wished they had taken, we suggest you consider the following classes, regardless of which physics major you choose.

  • Experimental and applied physicists: Stats 201 Statistics for Engineers and Scientists

  • Theoretical physicists: Consider Math 352, Introduction to Complex Analysis or Phys 601, 602 Mathematical physics

  • All physicists: Learn programming skills and numerical methods beyond what you are taught in our computational physics courses, in computer courses or on your own.  Consider Math 410 Numerical  Methods,  and Mech Eng 373 Introduction to Scientific Computing and Computer-Aided Engineering.

  • Astronomers: If you're going on to graduate school in astronomy, instead of only the required two courses from Phys 360, 442, 452, 471, consider taking all four.  Gain statistics and computer programming skills beyond what you get in this major by taking courses such as Statistics 201, (Statistics for engineers and scientists) and choosing among Physics 430 (Computational physics 3), or Mechanical Engineering 373 (Intro to scientific computing). If you are interested in planetary or exoplanetary science, consider taking Geology 109 (Geology of the Planets).

Next: Information about physics careers