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Advice for Prospective Physics Majors

UW Physics students take many paths to their degree. These sample graduation plans illustrate several approaches reflecting different preparation, desired degree option, and post-graduation goals. Note that these sample paths only include courses directly related a physics degree; you will need to include additional classes to meet college distribution requirements. Most of these sample graduation plans assume students take Math 124 and Phys 121 at the same time. If you start with a higher level math class concurrent with Phys 121, simply substitute whatever math class you are ready for whenever there is a math option on the plan.

If you pursue a physics major, the first few quarters are independent of degree option; You must complete one year of introductory physics and one year of calculus before you can declare a physics major. (These sequences are both available at community colleges, and are offered every quarter at UW.) A strong performance in an AP, IB or A-level physics courses (or Phys 114), may serve as a substitute for Phys 121, possibly for Phys 122, and only very rarely for Phys 123. The honors introductory sequence Phys 141/142/143 is offered once each year, starting in the autumn, and assumes students are ready to learn rapidly and appreciate excursions into material not in the main textbook. The honors sequence may be a good option for students who completed a high school physics program with AP, IB or A-level credit, but who wish to reinforce that knowledge at UW.

Students who arrive on campus placing into Math 120 are encouraged to join the Freshman Interest Group that pairs Math 120 with Phys 101, which gives a conceptual introduction to physics. This could then be followed by Math 124 in winter, and Phys 121 paired with Math 125 in the spring, and then continue on one of the sample paths starting with Phys 122 or 123 the following autumn.

More information:

  • 2020 Admitted Students Presentation  Slides for prospective UW students describing the Physics major, information about why one might want to major in physics, which introductory courses to take, what makes a successful physics major, and career options for physics graduates.
  • So You Think You Want To Take Physics?  Presentation to pre-freshmen in the July 2018 Summer Bridge program, addressing what to expect in the Phys 121/122/123 series, as well as general information about succeeding at UW.
  • Orientation for new majors  Overview of major and available resources, plus advice on course and career planning.
  • Is Grad School right for me?  2020 presentation by Prof. Olmstead on factors to consider when deciding whether and when to attend graduate school in physics or astronomy, as well as advice regarding how to build a record (starting early!) that increases your chances of admission and information about how to navigate the application process.
  • MyPhys, UW Physics Department intranet with policies and information for enrolled students.
  • UW Physics Department fact sheet.
  • American Physical Society (APS) careers guide.
  • Society of Physics Students (SPS) national site, and local chapter.
  • SPS annual career panel presentations:

Last updated: 2/2021