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PHYS-BS - Physics (BS)

Physics Undergraduate Matriculated BS - Bachelor of Science

Program Overview

The undergraduate program in Physics aims to provide students with a strong foundation in classical and modern physics. The program develops 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. Sometimes, 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 knowledge 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 pursued 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 PhD 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 beginning the major during sophomore year, can contact the undergraduate program coordinator ( 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, see the Registrar’s Office webpages on External Test Credit (e.g., AP or IB) and Transfer Credit.  To petition for a waiver or substitution, use this form.  

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, 71 (formerly 65), 81 (formerly 63).

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 starting the Physics and Engineering Physics majors for students enrolling 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 when taking the Placement Diagnostics for Math and Physics.

Course plans for pursuing different Physics pathways are provided below the sample plans for the start of the major.

Preparing for the Major

To declare a major in Physics, see the Physics Department website on How to Declare. 

Suggestions for Students Interested in Pursuing a Ph.D. Program in Physics or Closely-Related Fields

Physics research is roughly divided into fields that include astrophysics, atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, and particle physics. Physics research at Stanford includes computational, experimental, observational, and theoretical work in these fields. It can be helpful to consult with faculty in each research area you might be interested in pursuing in graduate school since recommendations for preparation often vary by field. See the Physics Research Areas webpage to get started.

The above requirements are the minimum for the Physics major; they are intended to provide a foundation in math and physics that prepares students for the wide range of careers pursued by Physics majors. However, if a student is considering pursuing a PhD in Physics, the department recommends completing more than the required Math and Physics courses in a pathway. In particular, they should take PHYSICS 110, 121, 131, 134, and 171, which are necessary elements of undergraduate Physics in preparation for PhD programs.

The department also recommends acquiring laboratory experience, e.g., courses such as PHYSICS 100, 104, 105, 106, 107, or 108, or research experience in an experimental laboratory. It also recommends completing additional Physics and Math courses based on the student’s interests and the advice of faculty in their field(s) of interest. In addition, they should pursue research in physics, e.g., through the Undergraduate Summer Research program in the Physics department or through research opportunities outside Stanford.

The department strongly recommends that students consult with their Physics major advisor (and faculty in any research area in which they are interested) for recommendations on courses and research or internship opportunities and attend the faculty-led group advising meetings held near the end of autumn quarter on applying for summer research and in the autumn and spring quarters on thinking about advanced degrees.