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Undergraduate Departmental Honors in Physics

Why Choose Honors?

Do you love physics? 
Are you good at it?
Do you want to experience “being a physicist”? 
Do you need a portfolio for grad school or jobs? 
Do you have a physics idea you want to pursue? 

If you answered “YES!” to the above, you should pursue departmental honors.

Requirements for Admission to Departmental Honors in Physics

  1. Admission to the physics major (any degree option).
  2. Complete ≥15 graded credits in physics at UW with a number > 220 (≥6 cr within the past year)
  3. GPA ≥ 3.60 in physics courses with number > 220.
  4. Be at least three academic quarters from graduation.
  5. Apply here.

Graduation Requirements for Departmental Honors in Physics

  1. Complete ≥ 53 credits in physics (UW or elsewhere).
  2. GPA ≥ 3.60 in physics courses with number ≥ 220; UW GPA ≥ 3.30.
  3. Any two of Physics 485, 486, 487, and/or 498.
  4. PHYS 488, Senior Honors Thesis.


  • Quarter N-2: Take Senior Seminar or DRiP; Join Research Group
  • Quarter N-1: Take Senior Seminar or DRiP; Pursue Thesis Research
  • Quarter N: Take Phys 488: Write thesis, Prepare poster, Give talk on research.

Where N = the quarter in which you plan to submit your thesis. 

More details on the timeline are here.

Program Overview

Through the Physics Departmental Honors Program, students with a strong academic record in physics experience multiple aspects of being a professional physicist and receive recognition for their efforts. The Honors Program also provides community for students whose academic records are competitive for graduate school admission and who need to establish a research record to complete their portfolio.

The Honors Seminar (PHYS 485-6-7) introduces students to current research through investigating and presenting on research done by others, as well as learning from peers, including those presenting on their own research.

The Directed Reading in Physics (DRiP) program (PHYS 498) pairs undergraduates with a graduate student to explore academic literature in a specific topic, the crucial first step to starting a research project. It also provides students with a graduate student mentor and role model, important for students who are deciding whether or not to pursue graduate school.

The Honors Research Project (typically PHYS 499) and communicating its results (PHYS 488) is essential preparation for graduate work in physics, exposing students to the frontiers of knowledge, to the process of learning the unknown, and to communicating their discoveries to the scientific community.  

Completion of the honors requirements generally takes three academic-year quarters, although many students spend longer on their research, and a few may take PHYS 498 before enrolling in the program. 

Note that PHYS 485, 486, 487, 488 and 498 are NOT offered during summer quarter.  It is highly recommended that you spend summer quarter working on the research that you will include in your thesis. 

Regardless of which quarter you register for PHYS 488, it is recommended that you present your work at the Annual Mary Gates Symposium, for which the application deadline is in February, and the presentation is in May. 

Note that Departmental Honors is separate from Interdisciplinary Honors (known as “the honors program”).  It will be denoted on your transcript as “with Honors in Physics: [degree option]” if you are not in the Interdisciplinary Honors program and as “with College Honors in Physics: [degree option]” if you are (see UW Honors Information Page).

Honors Thesis

The Honors Thesis is the core of the Physics Honors Program.  Your thesis should demonstrate your ability to carry out an independent, physics-related research investigation and to present the findings in a clear and systematic format.  Details about the thesis are found here.

Where to Ask for Help or Questions about Departmental Honors in Physics

American Institute of Physics Publishing Guidelines:, including their Style Manual