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Physics Major

Undergraduate degrees and requirements

Physics Major

Undergraduate degrees and requirements

A customizable program that will take you anywhere

Students who earn an undergraduate degree in physics have a wide variety of career opportunities. Some go on to pursue graduate study in physics or related fields, including astronomy, mathematics, computer science and engineering. Many others find employment in research and development in industries such as electronics, materials science, aerospace, acoustics and computer science. Students can choose to pursue a graduate degree in education to become high school teachers. Our undergraduate programs allow students to choose courses that will enhance their opportunities for graduate education or employment. Several standard programs are available, but students are encouraged to work with their advisor to design personalized plans of study if a different area of specialization is desired. All programs are flexible, and some variation is possible within each, with the approval of the advisor and the Department Head.


The physics major is nominally a four-year program. In the first two years, most of the coursework for the major is introductory physics, chemistry and mathematics (similar to most other science and engineering majors). For the last two years, students take courses that study aspects of physics in great detail. In 1997 the OSU Physics Department implemented a total revision of the upper-division courses. The restructured curriculum represents a departure from the traditional one that is firmly rooted in courses of equal difficulty devoted to particular subfields of physics. Our new approach attempts to teach physics as physicists think about it, namely in terms of concepts that broadly underlie the various subfields: energy, symmetry, wave motion, and so forth. These Paradigms courses, taken typically in the junior year, are followed by senior-year Capstone courses in each of the major sub-disciplines.

Careers of our recent graduates

  • Camera Hardware Engineer at Apple
  • Assistant Professor at Troy University
  • Graduate students at Princeton, Stanford, Brown, UT-Austin
  • Quality Engineers at Crane Aerospace & Electronics, Mentor Graphics
  • Advanced Development Engineer at KLA-Tencor
  • CEO & Founder of PVBid
  • Emergency Medicine Resident at the University of Central Florida
  • Process Engineers at Intel, SkyWater Technology Foundry
  • Research Scientist at Saint Gobain Crystals
  • Postdoctoral Fellow at Berkeley Lab

What will you do as a physics major?

As a physics major, you will study our nationally recognized Paradigms in Physics curriculum which has reinvented the way students learn physics. Through the upper-division Paradigms curriculum, you’ll develop expertise in sub-fields of physics such as electromagnetism, thermal and statistical physics, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. You will gain interdisciplinary, computational, core and applied physics knowledge and skills through a cutting-edge physics curriculum and acquire hands-on experience working in our laboratories. Eight options, from applied physics to geophysics, within the physics major will prepare you very well for competitive graduate programs as well as jobs in a wide variety of technical and related fields. You will have the freedom to explore and select a course of study that aligns with your academic interests and career goals. You will also write a physics thesis project to deepen your learning and enhance your problem-solving and technical skills in the field.

The flexible physics major offers both a B.S. and a B.A. in physics. The B.S. in physics is appropriate for those interested in careers in physics or a related area or in preparing for graduate study. In addition to required courses, students pursuing a B.S. in physics will complete 22 credits of required and elective courses.

The B.A. degree requires fewer physics courses but more courses from the College of Liberal Arts; in addition, second-year proficiency in a foreign language is required for the B.A. degree.

    Preparing to major in physics

    Setting yourself up for success in physics starts early! You will probably find the material in your first-year chemistry and physics classes more familiar if you have taken the courses in high school, but you shouldn't hesitate to take these university courses even if you lack a high school background. Your math background is much more important; you should be ready to start calculus (MTH 251) at the beginning of your freshman year. However, if you must complete one term of math (MTH 112) before starting calculus you can do so without delaying your physics curriculum; if more than one term of pre-calculus math is needed, it will delay your entry into the physics curriculum. If you lack an adequate math background, you will find it helpful to use the summer before you start at OSU to strengthen your background, perhaps by taking courses at your local community college. Placement in the math courses is governed by the ALEKS placement test.

    Degrees offered

    B.S. in Physics

    The B.S. is appropriate for those interested in careers in physics or a related area or in preparing for graduate study.

    With an option

    To allow students the opportunity to specialize in a related field, several degree options are available. With these options, available only with the B.S. degree program, several general physics courses are replaced by a selection of courses from the related field. To graduate under one of these options, the student must have a plan of study approved in advance by a departmental advisor. Completion of the option is indicated on the student's transcript, which will read "Awarded Bachelor of Science in Physics with Option in...." The options available are: Applied Physics, Biological Physics, Chemical Physics, Computational Physics, Geophysics, Mathematical Physics, Optical Physics, and Physics Teaching. For information about the requirements for these options, see the OSU General Catalog.

    B.A. in Physics

    The B.A. degree requires fewer physics courses but more courses from the College of Liberal Arts; in addition, second-year proficiency in a foreign language is required for the B.A. degree. There is no foreign language requirement for the B.S. degree.

    Sample courses

    • Static Fields
    • Physics of Contemporary Challenges
    • Electronics
    • Computational Physics
    • Quantum Fundamentals

    Undergraduate research in physics

    Nearly all physics’ students participate in undergraduate research internships at OSU and in labs all over the United States and the world. Our undergraduates have engaged in significant research projects in physics labs at OSU and at numerous other institutes such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Intel, Stanford University, General Atomics, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Weizmann Institute in Israel. These immersive and rigorous research experiences are pivotal to the professional success of our students after they graduate.


    Registration for the Fall term requires a PIN number, so all Physics majors must meet with the Head Advisor in Spring term to get the PIN and to discuss which courses to take. These meetings are to help you make acceptable progress toward completing your degree and to see that you don't overlook any departmental or university requirements. In this Spring term meeting, we will make sure that your curriculum planner in MyDegrees is up to date with the courses that you need to take for the following year. If you wish, you may also meet in other terms to discuss your curriculum. Advising appointments for registration are typically held in weeks 5-7, before registration opens. An email will describe how to sign up for these meetings. For other meetings, send an email to to arrange a time.

    All variations from the required departmental curricula must be approved by the Head Advisor. College or university requirements can be changed only through academic petitions to the College of Science or the Registrar's Office respectively.

    Accelerated Master's Platform in Physics

    The Accelerated Master’s Platform (AMP) in Physics allows current OSU Physics majors to take graduate classes in Physics, apply those credits to their current undergraduate degree, and also transfer them to the MS graduate program at OSU. Up to twelve graduate credits will count towards a bachelor's degree and transfer to the Physics Master's program. With careful planning, students could complete a master’s degree within 1 year of finishing their bachelor's degree.

    Meet our students and alumni

    From a construction job to Hewlett Packard, a physics major takes an unconventional path to reach his goals

    Rohal Kakepoto valued the expertise of the faculty and the intimate and supportive atmosphere of the physics department. Like many of Oregon State physics graduates, Kakepoto landed a job as an engineer at Hewlett Packard in Corvallis, which he will start right before graduation.

    Succeeding in physics with determination and focus after a nontraditional start

    If there is one thing that Mai Sakuragi has learned during her time at Oregon State University, it is that, with passion and hard work, even seemingly impossible goals can be achieved.

    Oregon State alum plays integral role in Perseverance landing

    2005 physics alumna and planetary geologist Briony Horgan's research was key to determining the location on Mars for the Perseverance rover to explore. Explaining the challenge her team faced, she said, "“If we had to choose just one spot on Earth to gather all the data about the entire history of the planet — well, where would you go?”

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