Undergraduate degrees and requirements

Students who earn undergraduate degrees in physics have a wide variety of career opportunities. Many go on to graduate study in physics or related fields (astronomy, mathematics, computer science, engineering), while others find employment in research and development in industry in areas such as electronics, materials science, aerospace, acoustics, and computers. Some students choose to pursue a graduate degree in education to become high school teachers. Our undergraduate programs are designed to permit students to choose courses that will enhance their opportunity 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.

1. Overview of the curriculum

The Physics major is nominally a four-year program. In the first two years, most of the course work for the major is introductory physics, chemistry, and mathematics that is similar to other science and engineering majors. In 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.

2. Background

Your high-school background should include math at least through pre-calculus. It is helpful if you complete chemistry and physics courses in high school, but they are not required. 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 the 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.

3. 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. The B.S. in Physics is the degree program described in this handout.

B.S. in Physics with Option: To allow students the opportunity to specialize in a related field, several degree options are available. Under these options, available only with the B.S. degree, several 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.

4. Advising

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 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.

5. Degree requirements

University requirements are summarized in the Academic Catalog. You should check in particular the grade point averages required to remain in good standing and to graduate.  Courses required for the physics major may not be taken under S-U grading. Grades of C– or better must be attained in all courses required for the Physics major. Courses in which a lower grade is received must be repeated until a satisfactory grade is received.

You must satisfy the requirements of the Baccalaureate Core. Note that the physical science requirement can be satisfied by either your introductory physics course (PH 211, 212, 213) or chemistry course (CH 221, 222, 223). It is not necessary to complete another physical science course for the Baccalaureate Core. You must, however, complete at least one term of biological science as required for the Baccalaureate Core.

In order to satisfy the Writing Intensive Course (WIC) requirement of the OSU Baccalaureate Core, Physics majors are required to write a senior thesis on a research project. Students must enroll in PH 403 (Thesis) for one credit in each of the three terms of the senior year (or the year of graduation, for those in a five-year program). This course meets weekly and the three total credits satisfy the OSU WIC requirement. For more information, please visit the WIC Thesis Information page.

The following physics courses must be completed as part of the basic degree program:

Introductory Physics

PH 211, 212, 213, 221, 222, 223

Computational Physics PH 365, 366, 367
Intermediate Physics PH 315, 335


PH 422, 423, 424, 425, 426, 427


PH 431, 441, 451, 481

Electronics Labs

PH 411, 415 or 464

Electives: choose two from these or consult the advisor for other possibilities: 

PH 415, 455, 464, 482, 483, 495, 562, 575, 585, 591

Research & Thesis (WIC) PH 401, 403

Some of these courses are replaced under the various degree options.  Other requirements are:

Chemistry: CH 231, 232, 233, 261, 262, 263
Mathematics: MTH 251, 252, 253 or 264/265, 254, 255, 256, 341

6. Transfer students

Students who intend to transfer to OSU from another institution should arrange to speak with the Head Advisor at the earliest possible time. Community college transfers should speak with the advisor before planning the community college curriculum, if possible.

Students who plan to enter OSU after two years of previous work and to graduate in two additional years should complete courses equivalent to PH 211, 212, 213; MTH 251-256; and CH 231, 232, 233, 261, 262, 263. Failure to complete these courses, especially the physics and math courses, will almost certainly add a full year to your studies at OSU.

Further details for transfer students are here.

7. Sample Curriculum

Examples of four-year curricula are available for the B.S. physics major and the B.S. physics major with an option.  Your particular set of courses and the sequence in which you take them may differ from these samples. 

8. 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.