Advice to Incoming Students Interested in Physics

The Physics department offers both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Both majors offer training in the fundamentals of physics, from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics. The B.S. is specifically designed for students interested in staying in the field after graduation while the B.A. is more flexible for preparing for pursuing affiliated fields such as engineering.

We strongly recommend students begin either major with General Physics I (PHYS 231) and Calculus I (MATH 121) as early as possible.  Ideally, you should take these two classes in the Fall of your first year, because it takes four years from the beginning of the General Physics sequence to complete the requirements for the Bachelor of Science degree.

Please note that General Physics I is offered during only the Fall semester, so a student would have to wait an entire year for it to be offered again. Also, only one section is offered (MWF 11-12:20 plus a choice of lab times). If this conflicts with your current First Year Seminar, your advisor and the physics department chair, Martín Hoecker-Martinez, can work with you to determine whether changing seminars would be recommended. If the course is full when you register, email the instructor, Martín Hoecker-Martinez. We will do our best to accommodate all qualified students who are interested in the major.

Calculus I is a co-requisite for General Physics I, but if you've placed out of it, we strongly encourage you to enroll in the highest calculus course for which you are qualified (Calculus II and III are required for General Physics II and III.) If you place into Integrated Calculus I (MATH 118) or lower, the soonest you could take General Physics I and II would be next year which would still allow you to complete the Physics BA (or you may take comparable summer courses.) Since the math placement exam evaluates your preparation to take Calculus by testing your algebraic skills, particularly those associated with Algebra II, we strongly encourage you to practice them skills over the summer.  There are many good sites that can help you review; for example Kahn Academy and ALEKS.

Suggested first-year courses for students interested in physics:

  • Fall

    • First-year seminar

    • General Physics I (PHYS 231) AND lab (PHYS 231L)

    • Highest possible Calculus class (at least MATH 121)

    • General Education

  • Spring

    • General Physics II (PHYS 232) AND lab (PHYS 232L)

    • Highest possible Calculus class (at least MATH 122)

    • General Education

    • Additional course of interest

Students are required to have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 in the General Physics (PHYS 231-233) and Calculus (MATH 121,122, and 221) sequences in order to declare a physics major.

In cooperation with Columbia University and Washington at St. Louis, the Physics department also supports engineering combined degrees. The advice to incoming students interested in engineering is similar.