What Are the Best Schools with Physics Degree Programs?

Review the typical characteristics of a school with a strong physics program. Read about three schools with nationally ranked physics programs, and explore the undergraduate and graduate degree programs they offer. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What are Some Characteristics of the Best Schools with Physics Degree Programs?

The best schools have histories of Nobel laureate faculty, prize-winning students and outstanding research laboratories with worldwide reputations. They've made major contributions to pure and applied science, partnering with government and other organizations and garnering substantial funding for research initiatives. Even as an undergraduate in these highly selective schools, you'll be encouraged to participate in active research projects.

What are Three of the Best Physics Degree Programs?

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena

Caltech had the Academic Ranking of World University's fifth-ranked physics program in 2015 (www.awru.org). Caltech offers programs in physics and applied physics.

As a physics undergraduate, you'll have a chance to participate in active research through laboratory courses or extracurricular projects. As a physics graduate student, you might pursue a research assistantship with any of 16 research projects, such as Neutrino Physics or the Laboratory of Interfacial & Small Scale Transport.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech has produced spacecraft ranging from Mariner 1-2 in 1962 to the more recent Kepler Mission tasked with exploration for planets similar to Earth. Caltech is also known for the Palomar and W.M. Keck Observatories. Caltech's graduate program admits only doctoral candidates, although a master's may be earned at the discretion of the university. The university also hosts National Science Foundation-funded centers or institutes for materials science, neuromorphic systems and quantum information. Available degree programs include:

  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physics or Applied Physics
  • Master of Science (M.S.) in Physics
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Physics or Applied Physics

Harvard University in Cambridge, MA

Harvard was ranked third in the physics program category by the Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2015. Harvard's physics program and faculty are world-renown and have historically won ten Nobel Prizes in physics. 50 to 60 students graduate from the undergraduate program each year; undergraduate research opportunities are available every summer. Some honors students can pursue a joint bachelor's and master's degree. Students are able to cross-register for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Many physics graduate students engage in interdisciplinary research projects and take courses offered through other schools at Harvard, like the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The Jefferson Laboratory at Harvard was the first physics laboratory established in the country. Harvard's many laboratories and research centers include the Center for Nanoscale Systems, the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering and the Laboratory for Particle Physics and Cosmology.

Harvard has access to laboratories like the federal Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerated Laboratory and those of collaborating institutions like Stanford and Cornell University. The physics library holds over 30,000 volumes. The staff of facilities like the Electronic Instrument Design Lab can assist researchers with software requirements and custom-designed electronic instruments. The following degrees are available:

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Physics
  • B.A./Master of Arts (M.A.) in Physics
  • M.A. in Physics
  • Ph.D. in Physics

Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA

Stanford was the Academic Ranking of World Universities' sixth-ranked university for physics in 2015. Stanford offers programs through its Department of Physics as well as its Department of Applied Physics. You could participate in an honors program or summer research program as an undergraduate, either at Stanford or through an affiliated program elsewhere. The Department of Physics undergraduate degree options include physics, engineering physics and physical science instruction.

Although not available as a degree option, Stanford's astronomy program offers courses through the Department of Physics. A master's degree is offered by the Department of Applied Physics; the Department of Physics may award a master's degree upon completion of work toward a doctoral degree. Doctorates are available through both departments.

Representative physics research projects include particle physics and astrophysics at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and relativity experiments like Gravity Probe B. Research centers include the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory and the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Applied physics research areas, each with their own laboratories, include nanoscience and quantum engineering, lasers and accelerators, condensed matter physics and experimental and theoretical biophysics. Facilities also include the Varian Physics Machine Shop, where students can construct and modify laboratory equipment. Degree programs include:

  • B.S. in Physics
  • B.S. in Engineering Physics
  • M.S. in Physics
  • M.S. in Applied Physics
  • Ph.D. in Physics
  • Ph.D. in Applied Physics

Ten Other Schools with Top Physics Programs

College/UniversityInstitution TypeLocation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology4-year, PrivateCambridge, MA
Princeton University4-year, PrivatePrinceton, NJ
University of California, Berkeley4-year, PublicBerkeley, CA
Cornell University4-year, PrivateIthaca, NY
University of Chicago4-year, PrivateChicago, IL
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign4-year, PublicUrbana, IL
University of California, Santa Barbara4-year, PublicSanta Barbara, CA
Columbia University4-year, PrivateNew York, NY
University of Michigan4-year, PublicAnn Arbor, MI
Yale University4-year, PrivateNew Haven, CT

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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