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    Physics Major Overview

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 11th, 2024
    Physics Major Overview

    Physics is a fascinating field of study that covers everything from the atoms in our bodies to the stars that fill the night sky. As a physics major, you’ll study the fundamental laws that govern the universe and learn about the properties of matter and energy. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about majoring in physics. 

    Also read: Top 15 college majors for the future

    What is a physics major?

    Physics majors learn how the universe works, from the microscopic to the macroscopic level. That means students in this field study everything from the behavior of subatomic particles to the gravitational forces that keep planets in orbit. The ultimate aim of physics is to find a unified set of laws that bring together and explain all these different phenomena. 

    Of course, much progress has already been made toward this goal. Students learn about the theories of historical thinkers like Plato, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, along with the work of modern physicists such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Throughout their studies, students hone their problem-solving skills and learn to approach complex topics from a variety of perspectives. 

    Coursework to expect

    Physics majors should expect a heavy dose of math, including coursework in calculus, differential equations, and algebra. Introductory courses cover fundamental topics such as Newton’s laws of motion, kinematics, and rotational motion. In advanced classes, students can explore the different branches of the discipline. Some examples include nuclear and particle physics, astrophysics, atomic physics, biophysics, meteorology, and engineering physics. Some schools offer both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree options. 

    Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a chemistry major:

    • Foundations of Mechanics
    • Astronomy and Astrophysics 
    • Electricity and Magnetism 
    • Quantum Mechanics 
    • Thermodynamics
    • Vibrations, Waves, and Optics
    • Mathematical Methods for Scientists
    • Ordinary Differential Equations with Linear Algebra
    • Integral Calculus
    • Biological Physics 

    Opportunities after graduation 

    Job opportunities vary between physics majors. Graduates with a BS in physics may pursue work as software engineers, research scientists, and mechanical engineers. A BA in physics usually leads to science-related jobs in data analysis, education, communications, and management. Some students choose to double major and study engineering or computer science to expand their career possibilities. Other students choose to pursue graduate work in physics or a related field, which we’ll touch on later. 

    Jobs you can get with a physics degree

    Physics majors can pursue jobs across a variety of fields. The most popular industries include engineering, healthcare, and technology, but graduates can also explore job opportunities in education, meteorology, and business. Below are some popular professions for physics majors, along with median annual salaries according to the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    1. Natural sciences manager 

    Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including physicists, chemists, and biologists. They direct research activities and coordinate product development projects. They’re employed in a variety of fields, including research and development, manufacturing, government, and consulting. 

    2022 Median Pay: $144,440 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 5% (Faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    2. Physicists and astronomers

    Physicists and astronomers conduct experiments to test theories and study the interactions of matter and energy. They typically work in academia and research and are employed by colleges and laboratories. Significant employment growth is expected throughout the coming years. 

    2022 Median Pay: $139,220 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 5% (Faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

    3. Physics college professor

    Physics professors teach at four-year colleges and universities. Along with teaching, most professors conduct research and publish academic papers and books. A PhD is typically required to teach physics at the college level. 

    2022 Median Pay: $80,840 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 8% (Faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

    4. Software developer

    Software developers design computer applications and programs. They analyze user needs, develop software to meet those needs, and ensure that programs continue to function throughout maintenance and testing. 

    2022 Median Pay: $124,200 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 25% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

    5. Mechanical engineer 

    This line of work involves designing and building a variety of products ranging from batteries to automobiles. Some mechanical engineers design power-producing machines like electric generators and internal combustion engines. Others may design escalators, elevators, refrigerators, and conveyor belt systems.

    2022 Median Pay: $96,310 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 10% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

    6. Clinical laboratory technician

    Also known as medical lab scientists, these professionals collect and analyze samples of tissues, fluids, and other bodily substances. Nearly half of lab techs work in hospitals, while others work in laboratories, physicians’ offices, colleges, and outpatient care centers. 

    2022 Median Pay: $57,380 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 5% (Faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Read more: What are the fastest growing careers?

    Advanced degrees you can pursue with a physics degree

    A bachelor’s degree in physics can also serve as a pathway to an advanced degree. A master’s degree in physics can be completed in two years. A master’s degree can lead to jobs in computer programming, information technology, engineering, aerospace, data analysis, and more. A doctoral degree in physics can be completed in 5-6 years and can lead to management and postsecondary teaching positions. Graduates may also pursue advanced degrees in engineering, computer science, or business. 

    How do I know if this major is right for me? 

    If you’re considering a major in physics, ask yourself the following questions: 

    • Do you enjoy math?
    • Are you curious about how things work, especially in the natural world? 
    • Are you passionate about problem solving? 
    • Do you enjoy lab work and experimentation? 

    If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a physics major could be right for you!

    Also read: How to choose a major

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    Frequently asked questions about the physics major

    Do you have to be good at math to be a physics major?

    Physics involves a lot of math that intensifies as one enters the major. While some people who are weak in math might graduate with a physics major, they are rare.

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