Undergraduate Info

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The Physics Honors Program and Senior Thesis (PHYS499)

The department encourages students to enter the honors program.  This program augments the regular major with the requirement 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 involves an interesting element of risk.

To graduate with Honors in Physics, a student must achieve a GPA of at least 3.3 in their major courses, must enroll for 2 c.u. of PHYS 499 (Senior Honors Thesis) in the Fall and Spring of their senior year, and must write a thesis describing the research.

To enroll in PHYS499, students need to identify a faculty member preferably in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who is willing to serve as the 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.  The student will be registered manually for PHYS499.  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 Masters (MS) degree.

Spring 2022 Graduates: Up to 4 of these can double count with your BA degree and can be any course listed or cross listed at the 500+ level (e.g., PHYS361, PHYS401, PHYS411).  The other 4 courses must be pure graduate-level PHYS/ASTR classes that are not cross listed with a lower number (e.g., PHYS500, PHYS503, PHYS516, PHYS531, etc), and they can appear only on your graduate transcript.  Students must apply before the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester.

Spring 2023 and Later Graduates: All 8 courses must be at the pure graduate level.  Specifically, the requirements are a) 2 core grad courses (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 between October and December when the graduate application opens.

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 (13.5 cu)

  • MATH 104
  • MATH 114
  • MATH 240
  • MATH 241
  • PHYS 150/170 (1.5 cu)
  • PHYS 151/171 (1.5 cu)
  • PHYS 230
  • PHYS 250 (1.5 cu)
  • PHYS 351
  • PHYS 361
  • PHYS 362
  • PHYS 411

Concentration Requirements

  • Physical Theory/Experimental Technique (4 cu)
    • PHYS 401
    • PHYS 364/414
    • PHYS 412
    • PHYS/ASTR 300+ Elective
  • Chemical Principles (5 cu)
    • PHYS 401
    • CHEM 101
    • CHEM 102
    • CHEM 221/241
    • CHEM 222/242
  • Computer Techniques (5 cu)
    • PHYS 401
    • PHYS 364/414
    • Computer Elective1
    • Computer Elective
    • Computer Elective
  • Astrophysics (6 cu)
    • PHYS 401
    • PHYS 364/414/ASTR 250
    • PHYS 364/414/ASTR 250
    • PHYS 503/505/526/530
    • ASTR 211
    • ASTR 212
  • Business and Technology (6 cu)
    • PHYS 364/414
    • Computer Elective1
    • Business Elective1
    • Business Elective
    • Business Elective
    • Business Elective
  • Biological Sciences (7 cu)
    • PHYS 401
    • PHYS 280
    • BIOL 121
    • BIOL 204/205
    • 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.