Undergraduate Info

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The Physics Honors Program and Senior Thesis PHYS 4998 (PHYS499)

The department encourages students to enter the honors program. This program augments the regular major with the requirement (2 additional credits) that the student plan and carry out an individualized research project under the guidance of a faculty member. Research experience of this kind is invaluable to a future scientist: research is very different from course work, in that the latter is well-defined and bounded, while the former requires careful pre-planning on the part of the student and always involves an interesting element of risk.

To graduate with honors in physics, a student must achieve a GPA of at least 3.3 in major-related courses, must enroll for an additional 2 c.u. of Physics 4498 Senior Thesis Research (PHYS 5598 if you are submatriculating), and must write a thesis describing his or her research. The addition of these two courses means that the minimum requirement increases by 2 c.u., e.g. depending on the concentration from 17 1/2 c.u.  to 19 1/2 c.u.

To enroll in PHYS 4998 (PHYS 499), students need to identify a faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy or other related departments, who is willing to serve as the research advisor during their senior year.  A 1-page proposal must be submitted to the UG chair before the end of the Course Selection period in the Fall in early September.  The proposal should describe the topic, science, scope, and expected outcome of your research.  A 3-5 page progress report, approved by the advisor, must be submitted at the end of the Fall semester.  A final 15-page thesis must be submitted at the end of the Spring semester.  Students are expected to put in 1 credit worth of effort at approximately 8 hours per week over two semesters.  The final write up is typically ~15 pages and is “journal style” with an abstract, introduction, main body, conclusions/discussion, and references.

The Master's Program in Physics

Advanced students may enroll in the Physics submatriculation program.  A total of 8 courses are required for the Master of Science (MS) degree.

All 8 courses must be at the pure graduate level.  Specifically, the requirements are a) 2 from the core grad courses PHYS5500/5516/5531/5532/6611 (PHYS500/516/531/532/611) with a B or better in each course, b) 2 PHYS/ASTR 500+ level courses, c) 4 electives, which can include relevant non-PHYS/ASTR courses as well as 2 credits for the Senior Honors Thesis.  College students can also use up to 4 of these courses as a College electives - i.e., the minimum cu requirement for the BA+MS is 40 rather than 44.  Students must apply during the Fall of their junior year in the graduate application system. 

Students must achieve a minimum GPA of 3.0 in their master's courses.  The application form from can be picked up from the Physics Academic Office on the 2nd floor of DRL (or can be emailed to you electronically).  Courses must be approved by both the Undergraduate Chair and the Graduate Chair.

Physics Major Requirements

Core Requirements (12.5 cu)

  • MATH 1400 (MATH 104)
  • MATH 1410 (MATH 114)
  • MATH 2400 (MATH 240)
  • MATH 2410 (MATH 241)
  • PHYS 0150/0170 (PHYS 150/170) (1.5 cu)
  • PHYS 0151/0171 (PHYS 151/171) (1.5 cu)
  • PHYS 1230 (PHYS 230)
  • PHYS 1250 (PHYS 250) (1.5 cu; Bio conc can take PHYS 1240)
  • PHYS 3351 (PHYS 351)
  • PHYS 3361 (PHYS 361)
  • PHYS 3362 (PHYS 362)
  • PHYS 4411 (PHYS 411)

Concentration Requirements

  • Physical Theory/Experimental Technique (5 cu)
    • PHYS 3351 (PHYS 351)
    • PHYS 4401 (PHYS 401)
    • PHYS 2260/3358/3359/3364/4414 (PHYS 260/358/359/364/414)
    • PHYS 4412 (PHYS 412)
    • PHYS/ASTR 3000+ Elective
  • Chemical Principles (6 cu)
    • PHYS 3351 (PHYS 351)
    • PHYS 4401 (PHYS 401)
    • CHEM 1101 (CHEM 101)
    • CHEM 1102 (CHEM 102)
    • CHEM 2221/2241 (CHEM 221/241)
    • CHEM 2222/2242 (CHEM 222/242)
  • Computer Techniques (6 cu)
    • PHYS 3351 (PHYS 351)
    • PHYS 4401 (PHYS 401)
    • PHYS 3364/4414 (PHYS 364/414)
    • Computer Elective1
    • Computer Elective
    • Computer Elective
  • Astrophysics (7 cu)
    • PHYS 3351 (PHYS 351)
    • PHYS 4401 (PHYS 401) or ASTR3392 (ASTR392)
    • 2 of PHYS 2260/3358/3359/3364/4414/ASTR2250 (PHYS 260/358/359/364/414/ASTR250)
    • PHYS 5503/5505/5526/5530 (PHYS 503/505/526/530)
    • ASTR 2211 (ASTR 211)
    • ASTR 2212 (ASTR 212)
  • Business and Technology (7 cu)
    • PHYS 3351 (PHYS 351)
    • PHYS 2260/3358/3359/3364/4414 (PHYS 260/358/359/364/414)
    • Computer Elective1
    • Business Elective1
    • Business Elective
    • Business Elective
    • Business Elective
  • Biological Sciences (7 cu)
    • PHYS 4401 (PHYS 401)
    • PHYS 2280 (PHYS 280)
    • BIOL 1121 (BIOL 121)
    • BIOL 2204/2205 (BIOL 204/205)
    • BIOL 2221 (BIOL 221)
    • Biology Elective1
    • Biology Elective

Print/download Physics Major Requirements checklist (PDF).

1See Undergraduate Chair to confirm selected electives and visit physics.upenn.edu/undergraduate/physics-astronomy-major for more information.

Educational and Career Opportunities

What do you do with an undergraduate degree in physics?  There are job opportunities across the nation and across the economic spectrum.  The Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics collects and disseminates data on the physics community, including employment trends in physics, astronomy, and related fields. For a state-by-state searchable listing of many employers who have recently hired physics bachelor's into science and engineering positions, see  http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/states/state.html.

To find the latest data on what physicists do throughout the economy at different degree levels, see http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/emptrends.html

For many other pieces of statistical information on physics, astronomy, and those trained in these disciplines, see http://www.aip.org/statistics.

If you are looking for summer research experiences, check out the National Science Foundation web site for Research Experiences for Undergraduates across all disciplines supported by the NSF - http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp.

Physics Minor

The Physics Minor consists of six distinct PHYS/ASTR classes (not c.u.).  Up to two of them can be at the 100 level and at least one 300+level course is required.  Contact the Undergraduate Chair to declare the minor.