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Physics, General

Program Description

Just the Facts

Physics, General. A general program that focuses on the scientific study of matter and energy, and the formulation and testing of the laws governing the behavior of the matter-energy continuum. Includes instruction in classical and modern physics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, mechanics, wave properties, nuclear processes, relativity and quantum theory, quantitative methods, and laboratory methods.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:

Related Careers

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Additional Information

Physics programs focus on the study of matter and energy and their interactions. Because of the complexity of the work, you'll often need a master's and even a PhD to work as a physicist.

In the U.S., there are more than 500 universities and colleges that have bachelor's programs in physics.

Typical courses include mathematical physics, astronomy, astrophysics, thermodynamics, mechanics, quantum mechanics and optics.

"We tend to do a quick first pass over all the topic areas in the first two years," says A. John Mallinckrodt, a physics professor at California State Polytechnic University. "Then, into the junior year, we start dealing with more specific subject matter."

As students progress through the program, they spend less time in the lab for coursework and more time in the lab doing research for a professor.

Depending on the size of a university's physics department, many of the faculty conduct research outside of the classroom and hire upper-level students to assist them. This can be very exciting.

That's one thing you should consider when choosing a school, says Mallinckrodt. "At large universities, there are opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in research," he says. "Also, because most physics departments are small, you can expect the students to be a cohesive group."

Another good indicator of the strength of a university's physics program is if it has an active student chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS).

Incoming physics students must have a strong aptitude for mathematics, because a large degree of the coursework revolves around math and mathematical theories.

According to Mallinckrodt, high school physics classes are good preparation, but math classes should take priority.

"I think the primary thing is to take as many math classes as possible. Specific class exposure to physics isn't as critical as is math," he explains.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Physicists and Astronomers

Fun with physics -- see how much you already know


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