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If you're thinking maybe you want to major in physics, the information below might help answer some of your questions.

The Undergraduate Physics Program at Penn State

The American Institute of Physics

What is Physics?

Physicists study the world around us in order to discover the basic principles or laws which govern the natural world. As a physicist you can:

Developments in science and technology move very fast and a degree in Physics at Penn State provides you with the fundamental tools which you will need in order to attack the scientific and technological problems of the next millennium.

An undergraduate degree in Physics gives students a broad, deep, rigorous understanding of quantative problems which is useful to many different careers in computers, engineering, finance, etc. With the rapid and unpredictable pace and direction of technological advance, physics gives the undergraduate their most important skill, namely the ability to think clearly and rigorously about any technical problem which may arise.

To earn a bachelor of science degree in Physics, you must complete 125 or more credits, which include University General Education requirements (Gen Eds), requirements of the Physics major, and electives (which differ from option to option).

Comments from Undergraduate Physics Majors at Penn State

"The physics program at Penn State is one of the most challenging and rewarding courses of study available. Not only have I learned about the physical processes that are at the heart of all branches of science, I have also learned a new way of thinking and approaching problems of all kinds. The opportunities for undergraduate research at Penn State are incredible, and this experience is essential for a successful career in industry or continued study in graduate school."
Theodore Kisner (Class of 98) Senior, Physics major and University Scholar

"The physics department has provided a great environment for learning; both in and out of the classroom. During my third semester I began working as an undergraduate research assistant. In our lab, we study the electronic states associated with atomic layers. My research involves the use of a scanning tunneling microscope to image individual atoms. Working in the lab has provided me the opportunity to attend and present at physics conferences and work at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Moreover, it has given me a strong preparation and a clear focus for my graduate studies."
Timothy R. McWilliams (Class of 98) Senior, Physics and Philosophy major

"I started at Penn State as an Astronomy and Astrophysics major, but I am now majoring simultaneously in Physics and Astronomy. Having participated in research in both fields, I am currently working with the particle astrophysics group. Physics at Penn State has been a great experience for me. I joined the Society of Physics Students (SPS) as a sophomore and have been the president of SPS for the past two years. The research opportunities in physics are exciting and the education will prepare you for either graduate school or careers in other fields."
Jennifer Kozak, (Class of 98) Senior, Physics and Astronomy major and president of SPS

Opportunities after Graduation

Physics majors who have recently graduated from PSU with a B.S. in Physics have gone on to a variety of opportunities, including:

The Physics Major at Penn State

The Physics Department offers five options of study, each leading to a B.S. degree. Each option includes extensive study in physics, mathematics, and other science and technology areas as well as courses in the arts, humanities, and the social sciences, helping to provide you with one of the most well-rounded science educations available.

Other Advantages for Physics Majors

Physics majors at Penn State have the opportunity to conduct independent study and research with professors, postdoctoral research staff, and graduate students. Primary areas of research interest in the department include experimental, theoretical, and computatioanl work in condensed matter physics, particle astrophysics, elementary particle physics, gravitation physics, neuroscience, as well as atomic, molecular, and optical physics. With advanced planning, you can also participate in Penn State's COOP (Cooperative Education) program and/or in the University's Education Abroad Program. Both programs are available through the Eberly College of Science Career and International Education Office. Students who've excelled in their first two years can also enter the Schreyer Honors College, which requires an undergraduate research thesis. You also may join the very active local chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) which sponsors numerous outreach, professional, and social activities and has its own student lounge. The Physics Department also has a very successful NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, offered each summer.

Requirements for Admission into the Eberly College of Science

You must be a graduate of an accredited high school and have completed the required units of preparatory work, including four units of English, one and one-half units of algebra, one unit of plane geometry, one-half unit of trigonometry (a reorganized modern sequence in high school mathematics will be accepted in place of the traditional courses), three units of science, and at least five units of arts, humanities, and social studies. Two units of the same foreign language are recommended, but not required.

Once requirements are met for the Eberly College of Science, you are eligible for all majors in the college.


Physics advisors are full-time faculty member who teach courses as well as conduct research and are able to provide you with excellent guidance.

Career Opportunities in the Field of Physics

Penn State helps prepare you for research and development work in industry, for governmental agencies, and in academia. A recent survey (June 1996, Physics Today) noted that the earning power of a physics undergraduate degree can be substantial; the median annual income of those with physics bachelor degrees put them in the top five of all undergraduate majors.

You also may go to graduate school for master's or doctoral degrees in physics or other branches of physical science. There are often opportunities to study for a master's degree while working in industry or for the government. Most doctoral students receive a stipend and a grant-in-aid for tuition that is earned by teaching or doing research.

If you are planning advanced work in almost any branch of science or engineering, you may find that a bachelor of science degree in physics serves as an excellent starting point for technical and nontechnical fields such as aerospace, astronomy, computer science, medicine, law, business, and engineering. To teach physics in high school, you will also take education courses to become certified. You will need a doctoral degree to become a college or university professor.

Physics Job Resource Center hosted by

Financial Aid

Undergraduate scholarships and awards are available through the University, the Eberly College of Science, and each department within the college. For information about financial aid opportunities, please contact:

Associate Dean
Eberly College of Science
The Pennsylvania State University
428 Classroom Building
University Park, PA 16802-2112
Phone: (814) 863-0284

A number of grants, loans, work-study programs, and scholarships are available through Penn State University. To learn more about what is available and how to apply, contact:

Office of Student Aid
The Pennsylvania State University
314 Shields Building
University Park, PA 16802-1200
Phone: (814) 865-6301

Contact Information

If you have additional questions about the Physics program at Penn State's Eberly College of Science, please contact:

Prof. Richard Robinett
Assistant Department Head
Department of Physics
104 Davey Laboratory
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802-6300
Phone: (814) 865-7533

The University reserves the right to change the requirements and requlations listed here and to determine whether a student has satisfactorily met its requirements for admission or graduation, and to reject any applicant for any reason the University determines to be material to the applicants qualifications to pursue higher education. Nothing in this material should be considered a guarantee that completion of a program and graduation from the University will result in employment.

104 Davey Lab, University Park, PA 16802-6300, 814 865-7533
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