Unraveling the secrets of the universe may be a mystery, but for the physics major, choosing courses does not have to be. Whether your interest lies in the minuscule world of subatomic particles or the enormity of the most distant pulsar, you must begin your journey in the undergraduate coursework of a physics major.
While there is variation between program requirements among colleges and universities, the basic coursework is fairly standard. According to the American Institute of Physics, students should expect to take general physics courses on the topics of electromagnetism, optics, mechanics, astrophysics, geophysics, thermodynamics and relativity. These courses generally have laboratory sessions in which students perform experiments, gather data, analyze the results and draw conclusions. While you will concentrate on physics, courses in other sciences such as chemistry and biology will be required.
Hopefully you enjoy mathematics and computer sciences because to obtain skills needed to work problems and analyze data, every physics major is required to complete courses in statistics, calculus, linear algebra and perhaps upper-level theoretical mathematics courses or those specialized for engineers. Computer science is an integral component in a physics education, so expect to learn higher-level programming languages as well as the specialized software designed to solve physics problems.
It takes more than differential equations and quantum mechanics to prepare a physics student for entry-level jobs or an advanced degree. Colleges and universities require a minimum level of general education coursework outside your major to ensure a breadth of skills and knowledge. Courses in arts and humanities, social science, physical education as well as language studies may be required to earn a degree. Taking adequate communication classes is critical to hone the verbal and written skills that any professional needs.
When your basic courses are complete, you can choose a specialty. If you have a specific career in mind, take specific advanced courses. For example, MIT -- named world's best university for physics and astronomy by "U.S. News and World Report" -- offers many areas of specialization. A specialty in computational physics requires courses in computation structures, introduction to numerical analysis and mathematics for computer science. For nanotechnology, you would need to complete the physics of solids, microelectronics processing and nanostructure fabrication. Select a university that has the resources to help you further your particular interest.
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