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.
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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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
Complex Variables and Integral Transforms
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!
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.
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
Advanced Physics Laboratory
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!
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.
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
Atmospheric and Ocean Dynamics
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.
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!
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
Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics
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!
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.
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:
Stars and Star Formation
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.
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.
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:
Physics for Poets
Thermodynamics, Electricity, and Magnetism
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.
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.
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
Solid State Physics
Waves and Thermal Physics
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.
A forerunner in the STEM field, the University of Michigan is known as the oldest university in the state. It is located in Ann Arbor, and enrolls close to 30,000 undergraduates every year. You’ll jump right into the research mentality at the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. It’s ranked as having “very high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation.
Undergraduate physics students at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor have lots of options. They can complete the B.S. in Physics, the Interdisciplinary B.S. in Physics, the Honors degree in Physics, or the Teacher Certification in Physics. Beyond the shared core classes in physics, students can take some of the following courses:
Waves, Heat, and Light
Introduction to Modern Physics
Students in this program also get a chance to set out on their own research. Funded by the National Science Foundation, students are given funding for summer research projects. The University of Michigan also hosts a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program.
Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is a public research institution in Atlanta, Georgia. It is ranked 7th in the United States among other public national universities. Georgia Tech especially excels in the STEM fields, physics being one of them.
Regarded as one of the largest undergraduate physics majors in the US, the program at Georgia Tech hosts around 123 students in the major. In addition to a B.S. in Physics, you can earn a Certificate in Astrophysics. The curriculum at Georgia Tech gets down to the basics of the field with classes like:
Electrostatics & Magnetism
Undergraduate research is a gem of this program. Currently, physics undergraduates are working on developing a position-sensitive cosmic-ray detector. Others are studying photon detectors for future gamma-ray instruments. The possibilities are endless!
A historical, Ivy League school, Yale University harkens back to 1701. It is the third-oldest university in the country and is recognized on a global scale. The Physics department at Yale ranks 11th in the nation, according to US News & World Report.
At Yale you’ll choose between the B.S. in Physics or the B.S. in Physics with an intensive major. This means you add on advanced study in a related subject like mathematics or engineering. Yale also has top-of-the-line lab equipment. Students have access to measurement tools like the 1 MeV Van de Graaff proton accelerator. Some classes in this program include:
Modern Physical Measurement
Gravity, Astrophysics, and Cosmology
Classical Physics from Newton to Einstein
Yale hosts strong student organizations in its Physics department. For example, the Yale Women in Physics hosts frequent symposiums and meetings. Every year, they participate in the Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics to connect with other women in STEM.
A Midwestern gem, the University of Chicago is located in one of the best cities in the country. With over 140 operating research institutes on campus, the school lives up to its status as a “high research activity” institution. The Enrico Fermi Institute is just one of the many research centers catered towards physics undergraduates.
The physics curriculum at the University of Chicago is designed around the B.A. in Physics. However, students can branch off into specialties, like astrophysics and advanced mathematics. This program takes particular care of its students; the Climate Committee is a group that tends to specific student needs. Some of classes you’ll take as an undergraduate are:
Paradoxes in Modern Physics
Matter, Energy, Space, and Time
Undergraduate research for physics students at the University of Chicago have access to amazing facilities and laboratories. Students in the past have pursued research in the following areas: condensed matter physics, soft matter, cosmology, particle physics, and more.
Recognized as a private, Ivy League institution, the University of Pennsylvania is also a historical pillar. It was founded in 1740—even before the American Revolution! This Philadelphian university ranks 8th in the country, according to US News & World Report.
At the University of Pennsylvania, the undergraduate curriculum combines physics and astronomy into a joint major. This gives you a strategic breadth of knowledge in the field. All physics students take a handful of shared core classes. Within the major, then, you can specialize in one of five concentrations:
Advanced Physical Theory and Experimental Techniques
Business and Technology
Through organizations like the Penn Physics and Astronomy Club, undergraduates find a sense of community. The program also hosts a number of seminars, colloquiums, and lectures within the department. Undergraduates at UPenn also get to research alongside the 37 faculty members.
Located in central Iowa, Grinnell College is a well-known liberal arts school. It has a fairly small student body, with 1,705 full-time students. Because of Grinnell’s small setting, it promotes close relationships between faculty members and students.
The B.A. in Physics at Grinnell College combines classical physics with modern research. If you’re interested in focusing your physics degree in engineering, you can take the 3-2 joint program. Or you could choose to focus in astronomy. Some of the shared core classes include:
Optics Wave Phenomena
Solid State Physics
The Universe and Its Structure
Over half of the student body at Grinnell take advantage of off-campus research opportunities. The program offers dozens of locations around the world, including London, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and more. Back on campus, Grinnell physics students also have great opportunities, like access to the Grant O. Gale Observatory and telescope.
A powerhouse school of the west, the University of California Berkeley (or UC Berkeley) is regarded as the 3rd best national university by US News & World Report. UC Berkeley excels in research and innovation. Its Physics and Astronomy department ranks 5th in the world by QS World University Rankings.
The physics program at UC Berkeley draws from a legacy of Nobel-Prize-winning faculty members. Students begin the curriculum with common core classes, and end with independent research projects. Some of the content that you can expect to explore covers the following:
Modern Atomic Physics
Relativistic Astrophysics and Cosmology
Quantum and Nonlinear Optics
UC Berkeley has a plethora of resources available to its physics students who are interested in research: the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics, the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and more.
Located on the border of Missouri and Illinois, Washington University in St. Louis is a 4-year research institution. Academic research is king at Washington University, with all faculty members active in their fields. The campus is host to NASA’s Planetary Data System Geosciences Node, a bonus for physics students.
The physics program at Washington University gives you lots of options—in every way! The major in Physics is a given, but they also offer a minor in Astrophysics, Astroparticle Physics, and Biophysics. Likewise, the four main research subjects at Washington University give you lots of room for exploration:
Astrophysics and Space Science
Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
Biological and Biomedical Physics
High Energy and Nuclear Physics
Because the physics department at Washington University is fairly small, students can easily join a tight-knit research group. These groups are made up of both faculty and students. Many research groups end up presenting their findings at the American Physical Society.
Carnegie Mellon University is one of Pittsburgh’s treasures. Founded at the start of the 20th century, it began as an institute of technology, specializing in the sciences. The Mellon College of Science hosts the Physics Department. It also is the site for new study in green chemistry, cosmology, and biophysics.
The undergraduate physics program at Carnegie Mellon covers everything from basic physics concepts to advanced theory. If you’re interested in cosmology, Carnegie Mellon is a perfect place. They recently launched the Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology. Here’s a smattering of other classes you can expect to take:
Matter and Interactions
Physics of Musical Sound
Extragalactic Astrophysics and Cosmology
Physics undergraduate students at Carnegie Mellon have proved their knowledge after graduation through their merit. Some have even gone on to win top honors like Goldwater Scholarships, Rhodes Scholarships, and more.
Carleton College is a top-ranking liberal arts school in Minnesota. Because of its small student body (around 2,000 enrolled) class sizes tend to be around 17 students. The Physics department has around 22 new students per year, and enjoy the expert instruction of its 8 faculty members.
At Carleton College, physics and astronomy are inseparable. The Goodsell Observatory, equipped with Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain LX200s, is an amazing resource for star-searchers. Students take a blend of physics and astronomy courses to fulfill their degree requirements:
Analytical Computational Mechanics
Observational and Laboratory Astronomy
The rate of students from Carleton who go on to get a Ph.D. in physics is quite high; in fact, Carleton ranks 1st in the country among other baccalaureate schools in that category. Carleton grads are also high-achievers in the working world, receiving Churchill Scholarships, National Science Foundation Graduate School Fellowships, and more.
Smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, New York University (NYU) is a vibrant research university with a lot to offer. With over 25,000 undergraduates, NYU reaches students across the globe. It has locations in Shanghai, Berlin, London, Sydney—just to name a few!
New York University offers physics aficionados with two degrees: a B.A. in Physics or a B.S. in Physics. In addition, if you have an interest in engineering, you can undertake the joint B.S./B.S. program for a double major. With a school as established as NYU, the options are truly endless. Here are some class you can look forward to taking:
Physics and Astronomy in the Renaissance
Sound and Music
Condensed Matter Physics
Classical and Quantum Waves
The NYU Society of Physics Students is a perfect way to not only dive into your field, but also connect with your peers. They host regular soirees and meetings, as well as the Undergraduate Lecture Series. Even more, the mentorship program connects upperclassmen with incoming first-years to make a smooth transition into the physics department.
One of the oldest public universities in the country, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) was established in 1789. The public research university is home to the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, which has been used for NASA trainings, student research, and public outreach.
The University of North Carolina’s status as a research hub gives physics students ample opportunity to dive into cutting-edge research. In fact, the school is ranked 8th in the country for research activity. Through the B.A. or B.S. in Physics at UNC, you’ll get the chance to explore core physics, mathematics, and astronomy concepts. Here are some course selections:
Experimental Techniques in Physics
Calculus of Functions of Several Variables
If you’re ready to jump right into research, UNC is the perfect spot for you. Last year, a record number of 8 faculty members won the National Science Foundation’s Early Career Development Award. Right now, students in the physics department are working on radioenvironmental studies with a pairspectrometer—that could be you!
The College of William & Mary is the second-oldest university in the country. Founded in 1693, it educated three presidents (Jefferson, Monroe, and Tyler). It excels in the STEM fields, and offers joint undergraduate programs in Scotland and Washington, DC.
At the College of William & Mary, research is king. Physics students cover atomic, computational, optical, condensed matter research, and more. The department also maintains a relationship with the NASA-Langley Research Center. You can earn either a standard physics degree or a pre-med physics degree. Some shared classes include:
Electricity and Magnetism
Experimental Modern Physics
The research opportunities at the College of William & Mary fall into five categories: atomic molecular and optical physics, condensed matter physics, nuclear and hadronic physics, high energy physics, and nonlinear physics. If you’re interested in lasers, magnets, or high-velocity telescopes, you’ve found the right school!
The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is a large public research institution that enrolls around 40,000 undergraduates annually. It operates the McDonald Observatory, and physics students get to use the telescopes, infrared spectra, and lunar laser technology that it offers. UT Austin is known for leading the country in physical science research.
The University of Texas at Austin takes a slightly different approach to their degree program. Within the Department of Physics, you can earn a Bachelor of Science degree in one of 7 areas: Physics, Computation, Radiation Physics, Space Sciences, Teaching, Physics Honors, or Biophysics. Some of the core courses include:
Modern Physics and Thermodynamics
Nuclear Reactor Operations and Engineering
UT Austin has a thriving undergraduate community within the Department of Physics. The Freshman Research Initiative gets underclassmen involved in research from the get-go. The Undergraduate Women in Physics Society meets weekly to promote gender equality in the STEM fields.
Colby College is a small, liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine. It may be small, but it makes big waves in terms of reputation. US News & World Report named it the 12th best liberal arts school in the country. Colby College promotes independent research as well as cross-cultural study.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Colby College delivers their undergraduate degrees in a number of different forms. Beyond the major in physics, you can minor in astrophysics or astronomy. Even more, if you’re interested in engineering, you can pursue the joint program in tandem with Dartmouth College and Columbia University. Some classes in the major include:
Electromagnetism and Optics
Galaxies and Cosmology
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
Experimental Soft Matter Physics
As a whole, Colby College encourages independent thought and research from its students. This is no different in the Department of Physics. Students can jump into research projects from the following areas: atomic, molecular, and optical physics, condensed-matter physics, theoretical physics, astronomy, and more.
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