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Physics Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

Physics is the study and knowledge of properties and natural laws governing energy and matter. The scope is from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely large. It typically includes such classical topics as motion, force, resistance, electricity and magnetism. In addition, modern physics explores subatomic particles, quantum mechanics and other related topics.

Students may want to earn a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in physics, depending on their career aspirations. These programs are offered through the physics departments of many 4-year colleges and universities.

10 Physics Schools

Physics programs are widely available and students have many different schools to choose from. Here are just a few of the schools across the country that offer physics programs at various levels of study, with undergraduate tuition provided for the academic year 2015-2016:

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Undergraduate Tuition (2015-2016)*
American University Washington, DC 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's $43,103
Boston University Boston, MA 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $48,436
Emory University Atlanta, GA 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $46,314
Clemson University Clemson, SC 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $14,272 in-state, $33,190 out-of-state
Harvard University Cambridge, MA 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $45,278
Florida State University Tallahassee, FL 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $6,507 in-state, $21,673 out-of-state
Brigham Young University-Provo Provo, UT 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $5,150
Georgetown University Washington, DC 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $48,611
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $49,116
George Washington University Washington, DC 4-year, Private, not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $50,435

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics

School Selection Criteria

Students may want to consider the following when choosing a physics school:

  • Students should think about their career goals. Many positions in varying fields are available to those with a bachelor's or master's degree, whereas a doctoral degree is often required for management and independent research roles.
  • Research experiences such as work-studies and internships offered by a school can greatly benefit students, and can be a determining factor when choosing a school.
  • Students may want to take into account what concentrations and courses are available at the school in question.
  • A school's opportunities for continuing education may be of consideration for students looking to advance their knowledge.

Bachelor's Degree in Physics

Bachelor's degree programs begin with set general education courses that usually include mathematics, communications, humanities, social science, and a physical or natural lab science. Classes also combine a core curriculum in advanced mathematics with electives for specialization.

Master's Degree in Physics

Upon completion of a bachelor's degree with a major or minor in physics, students can apply for a master's degree in physics. Master's degree programs usually comprise additional courses in math and physics, along with seminars and advanced research projects. Students are often required to complete a graduate thesis or supervised research project. In addition to a high grade point average in an appropriate bachelor's degree with a major or minor in physics, admission to a master's degree program typically requires proper scores on a Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a personal letter of intent and letters of recommendation.

Doctoral Degree in Physics

The general purpose of the doctoral degree is to prepare students for a career in independent research. Like the master's degree program, doctoral degree programs in physics consist of courses in advanced physics, seminars and supervised research projects. Doctoral degree programs generally require an original thesis and dissertation, or an acceptable alternative independent research project. For a doctoral degree in physics, students should have to have completed a bachelor's and master's degree program in a related field that includes graduate courses in mathematics and physics, along with letters of intent and recommendation.

Students interested in studying physics should consider a number of things when applying to different schools, including a school's research and continuing education opportunities. These programs can be found at both the undergraduate and graduate level, with doctoral degree programs allowing students to pursue careers in academia and independent research.


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