Each Physics major takes a set of required courses common to all pathways (described under “Core Program Requirements” under Degree Requirements), and an additional six courses in one of eight defined pathways (described under “Depth in Discipline” under Degree Requirements): Astrophysics, Biophysics, Computational Physics & Data Science, Geophysics, Mathematical Physics, Physics Education, Quantum Science & Information, or the Core pathway, which is the recommended starting point for students considering applying to Ph.D. programs in Physics. The Writing in the Major requirement is satisfied by PHYSICS 191 (Scientific Communication in Physics).
The mission of the undergraduate program in Physics is to provide students with a strong foundation in both classical and modern physics. The goal of the program is to develop both quantitative problem-solving skills and the ability to conceive experiments and analyze and interpret data. These abilities are acquired through both coursework and opportunities to conduct independent research. The program prepares students for careers in fields that benefit from quantitative and analytical thinking, including physics, engineering, teaching, medicine, law, science writing, and science policy, in government or the private sector. In some cases, the path to this career will be through an advanced degree in physics or a professional program.
Physics is concerned with a rigorous, mathematical understanding of the fundamental laws that govern our universe and everything in it. The Physics major provides students with a foundational understanding of the pillars of modern physics: mechanics, electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics. The major is designed around a range of pathways that allow students the flexibility to explore a particular interest in more depth, including but not limited to astrophysics, biophysics, computational and mathematical physics, education, geophysics, and quantum information science.
Physics majors have gone on to pursue careers in basic or applied research, teaching, and policy, as well as in many parts of the private sector as engineers, consultants, and founders of startups. Others have combined the Physics major with a minor or major in the humanities and pursued careers in the arts.
Physics majors often pursue advanced degrees, including coterminal Master's degrees in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Applied & Engineering Physics, Statistics and other fields, and Ph.D. programs in physics or other fields.
All prospective physics majors should take the Physics Placement Diagnostic to get sound advice on which introductory physics sequence will be sufficiently challenging without being overwhelming, and where to begin in that sequence. During their first year at Stanford, prospective Physics majors are encouraged to take, each quarter, the highest level Math course (among Math 19, 20, 21, and the 50 series) for which they satisfy the prerequisites. Prospective majors, especially those who are beginning the major during sophomore year, can contact the undergraduate program coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange an advising appointment. Students who have had previous college-level courses should make an advising appointment for placement and possible transfer credit. For additional information on Advanced Placement, see the Registrar's Website. You can view the BS in Physics approval form here.
Physics Placement Diagnostic
All students: You must take the Physics Placement Diagnostic if you intend to enroll in either PHYSICS40 or PHYSICS41 or PHYSICS45 or PHYSICS61 and you have never taken an entry-level Physics course at Stanford -- i.e., you have not taken at least one of PHYS 21, 23, 25, 41, 41A/E, 43, 45, 61, 63, 65.
For more information, see the department's Physics Placement Diagnostic page.
Course plans for the Start of the Physics Major
See these sample plans for the start of the Physics and Engineering Physics majors for students matriculating in Autumn 2022 or later. Since incoming students have a wide range of backgrounds in math and physics, six different plans are provided; each plan assumes a different starting point in math (MATH 19, 20, 21, or 51 or 61) and/or in physics (PHYSICS 41, 43, or 61). You will receive advice on the best starting point for you when you take the Placement Diagnostics for Math and for Physics.
How to Declare the Major in Physics
To declare a major in Physics, see the Physics Department website on How to Declare.