Physics Advising Guide
What is Physics?
Physics is the natural science that studies the structure and behavior of matter and energy from the smallest subatomic particles to the whole universe. It is the basic science of how our universe works.
Physics is divided into several fields:
- Particle (or High Energy) Physics—the study of the four fundamental forces of nature and of the fundamental particles like quarks and electrons that make up all matter in the universe.
- Cosmology—the study of the history and structure of the universe.
- Astrophysics—the study of the basic physical processes in planets, stars, galaxies, and other astronomical bodies.
- Nuclear Physics—the study of the structure and interactions of the nuclei of atoms.
- Atomic/Molecular/Optical Physics—the study of the structure and interactions of atoms, molecules, and light.
- Condensed Matter Physics—the study of solids, liquids, gels, and the like. The electrical, magnetic, and thermal properties of different materials are often of interest in this field.
Career Opportunities in Physics
A bachelor’s degree in Physics equips a person to take a broad perspective to solving problems and to employ a wide variety of powerful analytical tools. This combination of creative thinking and mathematical skills makes a bachelor’s degree in Physics a good foundation for careers as diverse as Engineering, Computer Science, Law, Finance, Medicine, Journalism, Astronomy or Biology.
More than half of our students go on to graduate study leading to a master’s degree or doctor’s degree in Physics, Material Science, or Engineering.
Salary Trends in Physics
According to statistics compiled by the American Institute of Physics, typical starting salaries for bachelor’s degrees in Physics in 2008-09 ranged from $40,000 to $65,000 and were similar to salaries for Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Computer Science. Salaries for master’s degrees in Physics and doctor’s degrees in Physics are proportionately higher.
Unlike more vocationally-oriented majors, such as majors in business, engineering, or the health professions, A&S majors tend to study a greater range of topics outside of their immediate major area. This greater breadth provides an interdisciplinary perspective that complements the more linear education in the student’s major area.
As a result, A&S majors are compatible with a wide-range of career options. A large 2012 survey of employers found that 81% of employers will consider any degree, so most employers do not require a specific degree. So A&S majors typically find post-graduate employment at rates comparable to more vocationally-specific degrees, Furthermore, longitudinal studies which have followed college graduates over time have shown that Arts and Sciences graduates' rates of salary growth often exceed those of more vocationally-specific majors. For example, a 2010 longitudinal survey of college majors after graduation found that:
“Occupationally specific degrees are beneficial at the point of entry into the labor market but have the lowest growth in occupational status over time. Students earning credentials focusing on general skills, in contrast, begin in jobs with low occupational status but subsequently report the greatest growth.”
Another longitudinal study concluded that:
"Employment across educational fields is almost identical for individuals aged 35-44, and beyond age 45, humanities graduates actually have higher rates of employment than those in other fields. After age 45, humanities and social science majors’ salaries overtake those of counterparts in other fields."
Finally, A&S majors have on average the highest rates of increase from starting to mid-career salary, with Math, Philosophy, International Studies, Physics, Political Science, Chemistry, and Journalism all scoring in the top 10 among all majors in rate of salary growth to mid-career.
High School Preparation
Physics is a mathematically rigorous major, so a strong background in high school mathematics is desired. Taking high school chemistry and physics are also strongly recommended.
How to Major in Physics
There are no special prerequisites to be admitted into the Physics program at USA. Students are welcome to declare their major in Physics as early as desired. However, many upper division Physics courses have prerequisite courses in Mathematics (MA 125, 126, 227, and 238) and introductory Physics (PH 201 and 202), so students are encouraged to take those courses as soon as possible.
Study Abroad Opportunities
Studying abroad is an exciting and meaningful experience that will contribute to your academic and personal development. Participating on a study abroad program can be one of the most profound decisions of your college life, and can lead to many new and interesting opportunities. It can help develop your critical thinking skills, sense of independence, and confidence. When you depart on your study abroad program, you will go with excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty about the world and your place in it. When you return home, your deep connection and affection for your host culture will be overwhelming, and will only be matched by a newfound respect and appreciation for your home.
Study abroad is the opportunity for USA students to spend time in a different country while earning credit towards your degree through taking classes, interning, volunteering, and more. There are many different types of study abroad available to you at USA. They include faculty-led programs, international exchange programs, and direct-enroll and affiliate programs.
Students on faculty-led programs will travel as a group led by USA professors and take classes in various locations. All courses taken on these programs are USA courses and offer USA credits that will apply to your degree. International Exchange programs are partnerships with specific universities around the world with which USA has a special, reciprocal relationship. Students enroll directly at the host university, and students from the host university attend USA. USA affiliate programs allow students to enroll at a partner university or program through a third-party provider. GPA requirements vary by program.
You should think of the Study Abroad Office as a one-stop shop for information related to your study abroad experience. The Study Abroad (http://www.southalabama.edu/studyabroad/) team is excited to assist you as you navigate through the process of choosing a program, and will help you from the advising stage until you return from your program. You can get started by coming to meet with an advisor during Walk-In Advising hours. During an advising session, you can gain general information about the many programs available, how the application process works at USA and general guidance on where to begin.
Be sure to visit the OIE Study Abroad website at http://www.southalabama.edu/studyabroad/ to begin your research. The website contains information on how to get started, financing your program, and a comprehensive list of pre-approved study abroad programs and partners. While researching a passport or visa programs, consider the following: eligibility requirements, location, course offerings, and costs. You should also meet with your faculty advisor for assistance in selecting a program based on courses related to your degree.
Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university career, giving you wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow you to grow both academically and professionally. Where will you study abroad?
Following an academic plan will help you stay on track to graduate in four years.
To see sample academic plans, please see below. Degree plans provide only a suggested schedule; make sure to meet with your academic advisor to find the actual schedule that is right for you.
For additional degree information for Physics, visit the undergraduate bulletin.
For More Information
For more information on this program, visit the department's website
You can find us on campus at:
Department of Physics
411 University Blvd. North
Instructional Laboratory Building (ILB), Room 115
Mobile, AL 36688