Best Physics Degrees

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Are you ready to find your fit?

Want to explore the building blocks of life? Start by attending one of the best bachelor’s programs in physics.

The field of physics digs into the age-old questions of our very nature. How did we come to be? What are we made of? Who else is out there?

If these kinds of questions get you excited, then a bachelor’s degree in physics is perfect for you.

Physics deals with the tiny particles of the universe—atoms, neutrons, and electrons. But it also tackles the massive inner workings of the universe—galaxies, black holes, and dark matter.

The best physics programs tend to be schools that are well-ranked nationally. Check out our ranking of the Best Colleges and Universities.

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Top 10 Best Physics Degrees

Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
3 Stanford University Stanford, CA
4 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA
5 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
6 Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME
7 Brown University Providence, RI
8 Princeton University Princeton, NJ
9 Columbia University New York, NY
10 Cornell University Ithaca, NY

What kind of bachelor’s degree in physics should you get?

Even though physics draws on fundamental truths, not all physics degrees are the same. For example, some schools emphasize classical physics, while other push toward the future with modern physics and cosmology.

Do you love astronomy? Then you should check out Stanford, UC Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, or Carleton College on our list. They cater their programs specifically toward students who want to do groundbreaking research in the world beyond.

Are you a math whiz? Then Harvey Mudd, CalTech, or Yale might be good options for you. These schools let you specialize in mathematical physics.

How much money do people make with a bachelor’s degree in physics?

There’s good news, and there’s bad news—oh wait, there’s just good news! Physicists and astronomers enjoy a hefty salary post-graduation. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average annual salary for a physicist is $115,870. The average salary for an astronomer isn’t far behind at $104,740.

Even more, by the time you graduate there will be jobs waiting for you. From now until 2024, the employment rate for physicists and astronomers is projected to increase by 7%.

What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in physics?

Talk about a versatile degree! The great thing about a bachelor’s degree in physics is that you can apply your skills pretty much anywhere. A large percentage of graduates go on to pursue a doctorate in physics. Some join think-tanks. Others dive into other business sectors like the medical field or the military. Physics majors go on to become researchers, high school teachers, scientists, astronomers, engineers, or cosmologists.

Here’s the bottom line: all employers are looking for sharp-minded individuals who can solve complex problems. That’s you!

What are the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in physics?

Lucky for you, there aren’t a lot of hoops you need to jump through to start your undergraduate degree in physics. However, the schools on this list are some of the best in the world. Let’s just say, it won’t be a cakewalk to get in!

Most of the programs on this list heavily emphasize undergraduate research. The more you can to do familiarize yourself with research concepts and laboratory procedures, the better. A strong application that shows off your research skills will make you stand out from the rest.

Best Bachelor's in Physics Badge

What are the best bachelor’s degrees in physics?

Here at College Choice, we’ve boiled down the 25 best bachelor’s programs in physics from a list of over 250 schools. We’ve considered not only the quality of the education, but also the affordability, the return on investment, and each school’s reputation among other institutions.

Our methodology draws from our own data experts, the excellent resources at US News & World Report, and the number-crunching wizards at Payscale.com. A rewarding career in physics and astronomy awaits—now go get it!

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    It’s virtually impossible to top a school like Harvard University. Founded in 1636, Harvard is known as one of the best universities in nation—and the world! Its academic reputation, return on investment, and research opportunities for undergraduate physics students earn it the top spot on our list too.

    Program Highlights

    Harvard’s undergraduate program in physics is unique in its flexibility. Students can combine other science concentrations with the major for joint degrees like Physics-Mathematics, Physics-Astronomy, and more. First-year students also get the chance to be mentored by their older peers, and participate in extracurriculars like regular “Cool Physics” meetings, and research projects. Some of the classes you’ll take are:

    • Applied Mathematics
    • Astronomy
    • Applied Physics
    • Statistics

    Notables

    The physics department at Harvard usually takes on around 50-60 new students a year. The cohorts are known to be close-knit. Students in the program have a front-row seat to the best teaching, too; three of the faculty members have been recipients of the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize of the Harvard Undergraduate Council.

  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    A hub for research in physics and engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the top-ranked schools in the country. Faculty members in the physics department have won eight Nobel Prizes. MIT is highly regarded (4th in the nation), though also highly selective, only welcoming 8% of its applicants.

    Program Highlights

    Students in the Bachelor of Science in Physics program choose between the Focused or Flexible Option. Focused-track students prepare for a career in physics, and Flexible-track students typically choose a related field when they graduate. Regardless, you’ll sample classes from astrophysics, biophysics, management, law, and more. Some of those courses include:

    • Physics of Solids
    • The Early Universe
    • Quantum Physics
    • Computation Structures

    Notables

    Student groups like Society of Physic Students and Undergraduate Women in Physics keep MIT undergraduates involved with the larger department. The Cambridge/MIT Exchange program gives students the chance to travel abroad to England for a semester. Lots of opportunities await at MIT!

  3. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Over on the west coast, Stanford University is a private research institution located in the Silicon Valley. It consistently ranks in the top 5 schools in the nation, and has recently been called “America’s ‘it’ school” by The New York Times. Even more, seven of its faculty members have won Nobel Prizes in physics.

    Program Highlights

    At Stanford University, you’ll decide between a BS in Physics and a BS in Engineering Physics. You can also add on a minor in Astronomy if you’re interested in astrophysics. Stanford features a Physics Honors Program as well as a Senior Thesis project. Some of the classes in the program include:

    • Electricity and Magnetism
    • Partial Differential Equations of Mathematical Physics
    • Quantum and Thermal Physics
    • Mechanics and Special Relativity

    Notables

    Stanford University is decked out with the latest physics technology. In the Ginzton Laboratory for Advanced Materials, you’ll have access to optical systems, advanced lasers, quantum electronics, and more. Stanford also has a hand in the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

  4. Harvey Mudd College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Specializing in science, engineering, and mathematics, Harvey Mudd College is a small, liberal arts school in Claremont, California. It enrolls only around 800 undergraduates each year. Its unique science focus, however, gives students an advantage in the field of physics.

    Program Highlights

    The BS in Physics program at Harvey Mudd encourages flexibility in order to meet students’ needs. In addition to the standard physics degree, you can specialize in chemical physics, education, mathematical physics, biophysics, and more. Some of these focus areas include classes like:

    • Dynamical Systems
    • Complex Variables and Integral Transforms
    • Electromagnetic Fields
    • Quantum Mechanics

    Notables

    Because of the small enrollment size at Harvey Mudd, the student to faculty relationship truly can’t be beat. Professors have an open-door policy with their undergraduates, and typical class sizes for physics courses are around 18 students. This one-on-one attention at the undergraduate level is rare!

  5. California Institute of Technology
    Location

    Pasadena, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    California Institute of Technology (or Caltech) was founded in 1891 as a scientific vocational school. It is now an elite leader in the academic world of applied sciences. Known for its rewarding return on investment (2nd in the nation), graduates of Caltech are successful leaders in the world of physics and mathematics.

    Program Highlights

    Caltech boasts an interdisciplinary approach to their physics undergraduate program, especially in the area of research. For example, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program gives you all the tools you need for a successful career in physics research: programming, computational physics, electronic design, and mathematics. Other core classes include:

    • Waves, Quantum Physics, & Statistical Mechanics
    • Statistical Physics
    • Classical Physics
    • Advanced Physics Laboratory

    Notables

    As a school, Caltech has an extremely active research program, and the physics department is no different. Physics undergraduates have the chance to work with faculty on cutting-edge work in theoretical elementary particle physics, observational astrophysics, and gravitational wave science with LIGO, just to name a few!

  6. Bowdoin College
    Location

    Brunswick, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in gorgeous Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College is a private school that stands tall among other liberal arts colleges in the nation (6th overall). Home to almost 2,000 undergraduates, Bowdoin delivers 33 majors, with a few unique joint programs with Dartmouth College, Caltech, and Columbia University.

    Program Highlights

    The Bachelor of Science in Physics curriculum at Bowdoin centers around four foundational physics interactions: electromagnetic, gravitational, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear. As a student, you’ll master these concepts, as well as gaining valuable skills in problem-solving, research, and programming. You can look forward to some of these classes:

    • Physics of Musical Sound
    • Modern Electronics
    • Accident Reconstruction
    • Atmospheric and Ocean Dynamics

    Notables

    Bowdoin offers a unique hybrid degree in its Interdisciplinary Physics and Education major for students who are more interested in teaching than research. This program makes it easy to get both a thorough understanding of physics as well as a foundation in educational methods.

  7. Brown University
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    An Ivy League school based in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University was established in 1764. It is the 7th oldest university in the country, and has a long history of a strong engineering and physics program. Brown students also receive a high rate of Fulbright scholarships—30 this year alone!

    Program Highlights

    You can choose between a B.S. in Physics or a B.A. in Physics at Brown, depending on your interests. The B.S. in Physics lets you specialize in mathematical physics, biological physics, or astrophysics. The B.A. in Physics track typically incorporates more humanities classes in the curriculum. However, both degrees share some of the same classes:

    • Electricity and Magnetism
    • Quantum Mechanics
    • Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics
    • Modern Physics

    Notables

    Unique to physics students at Brown, you could get the chance to travel to the University of Cantabria in Spain to study abroad for a semester. This program is specifically physics-focused, and does not require you to know or speak Spanish beforehand. It’s a great way to experience a culture and dig deeper into physics!

  8. Princeton University
    Location

    Princeton, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    A touchstone for Ivy League schools, Princeton University is one of the best in the country. Based in New Jersey and home to around 5,400 undergraduates, Princeton has a history that spans back to 1747. The Department of Physics also holds historical significance; it has been around since the early 1800s.

    Program Highlights

    Independence is the name of the game at Princeton University. Through the physics undergraduate program, you’ll get the chance to flex your academic abilities to their limits; the program includes a junior- and senior-year research paper. The curriculum dips into a wide range of related fields, from astrophysics to electrical engineering. Here’s a sample of some courses:

    • Classical Mechanics
    • Thermal Physics
    • Stars and Star Formation
    • Condensed-Matter Physics

    Notables

    Similar to other programs, Princeton features a number of study abroad programs. Usually physic students travel in their sophomore or junior year. You have the option of spanning the globe by living in Oxford, Cape Town, or Moscow.

  9. Columbia University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in bustling Manhattan, Columbia University is known as one of the oldest and most respected schools in the United States. It consistently ranks in the top five schools nationally. The Department of Physics at Columbia played a big part in the development of atomic and nuclear physics.

    Program Highlights

    The physics undergraduate program at Columbia has a number of things going for it. For one, it encourages a close connection between the faculty and students. The program begins with an introductory seminar in Contemporary Physics and Astronomy. Then, students take upper level physics courses, such as some of the following:

    • String Theory
    • Solid-State Physics
    • Physics for Poets
    • Thermodynamics, Electricity, and Magnetism

    Notables

    The faculty at Columbia are involved in an impressive roster of academic research. This includes projects in astrophysics, atomic, molecular, and optical physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and theoretical physics. Even more, the Columbia Society for Women in Physics promotes gender diversity in the program.

  10. Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Cornell University is based in Ithaca, New York, though it has branch campuses throughout New York and in Qatar. Cornell boasts a land grant classification, and runs a number of land management programs throughout the state. Similarly, its physics program is well-connected with other major research centers, like the Department of Energy and NASA.

    Program Highlights

    The curriculum for Cornell’s undergraduate physics program is catered toward individual plans. After a required three-course introductory sequence and some core physics classes, students branch out into concentration areas in or out of the field. Some students pursue a concentration in law or public policy; others focus on mathematics or astronomy. Some highlight courses include:

    • Modern Experimental Optics
    • Electronic Circuits
    • Solid State Physics
    • Waves and Thermal Physics

    Notables

    Cornell University offers a number of options for high-achieving physics students. The program gives out three awards annually—The Yennie Prize, Kieval Prize, and Hartman Prize—for promising research students. It also features an honors program and the option to double major.

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