Theoretical Physics Degree Programs

You can study theoretical physics while completing a physics degree program. Read about physics programs, online offerings and employment options in this field. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Degree Programs Can I Find in Theoretical Physics?

If you're interested in theoretical physics, you can enroll in a bachelor's degree program that encompasses both philosophy and physics. Additionally, master's or doctoral degree programs exist in physics that include courses that teach theoretical concepts. Most graduate programs divide coursework into experimental and theoretical approaches, and you're usually offered the flexibility to focus your studies in theoretical physics through electives and directed research.

Before applying to a program, most undergraduate and graduate physics programs require you to take prerequisite classes in entry-level physics and calculus. For graduate programs, you'll usually need to hold a bachelor's degree in a physical sciences major and meet a GPA requirement. Graduate programs also might ask you to submit a statement outlining your research goals prior to admission.

How Will I Learn?

During a physics program, much of your learning involves lab assignments and experimentation, but you'll also explore the theoretical principles behind laws and occurrences of physics. A doctoral degree program typically requires you complete a year of coursework before advancing to doctoral candidacy and beginning your specialized dissertation work. Master's degree programs give you the option of writing a thesis or taking additional coursework with a comprehensive exam. As a graduate student, many schools allow you to participate in teaching assistantships that can provide you with experience if your career goal lies in academia or offers you financial assistance while you pursue your studies. Some common topics you'll study in a physics program include:

  • Principles of physics
  • Modern physics
  • Theoretical physics models
  • Quantum physics theories
  • Problems in theoretical physics
  • Mathematical physics

Is Distance Learning Possible?

Online options in the field of theoretical physics are extremely limited. If you're interested in a career in education, you can enroll in an online physics education bachelor's or master's degree program. These programs combine physics knowledge with education and teaching strategies and might include a few electives in theoretical physics.

To complete the laboratory work, schools either mail you a science kit so that you can conduct experiments from home or require you to attend some campus-based labs. You'll receive online exercises and study guides to test your knowledge on your own. You can collaborate with other students through chat rooms, discussion boards and Webinar sessions. You might need to complete a supervised teaching component before graduating or attend summer sessions at the campus.

What Job Options Are There?

With a bachelor's degree, you could find jobs working as a physicists' assistant or technician, and a graduate degree in physics often qualifies you for positions as a theoretician or physicist. You can find work at schools, government-funded research centers, health care organizations or in private industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that physicist jobs were expected to rise 16% from 2008-2018 ( However, the BLS stated that you might experience competition for research positions because of funding cuts in some industries. According to BLS figures, physicists averaged annual salaries of $111,250 as of May, 2009, with the highest paid working at doctors' offices, hospitals and oil companies.

If you're interested in a career in education, you can work at the college level with a doctoral degree in the physics field. Postsecondary physics teachers earned an average wage of $83,320 per year, according to May, 2009 BLS data. Full-time, tenured teaching positions were expected to be more difficult to find, but the BLS stated that non-tenured positions should increase due to high retirement rates.

If you earn your bachelor's or master's degree in physics with some educational training, you can also enter the teaching field as a secondary school physics teacher. The BLS stated that secondary school teachers made an average annual salary of $55,150 as of May, 2009, and demand was projected to grow 13% between 2008 and 2018. You'll need to secure a teaching license through your state to work as a public school teacher, which typically requires you to pass a state-approved skills test and complete some teaching experience.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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