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What Classes Do I Have to Take to Be a Physicist?

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A career in physics is typically spent in research related to all aspects of matter and energy or in developing devices and instruments that use principles related to the field, according to the Princeton Review. Physicists must study many complex subjects basic to the field, as well as specialized subjects related to their own areas of research.

Courses Other than Physics

All educational degrees in physics, like any other advanced degree, will include required courses in liberal arts. At Loyola University, for example, students must complete 50 hours in courses such as English composition, world history, philosophy, English literature and religious studies. Other courses that may be required in an advanced program include behavioral and social sciences and humanities. Electives are also usually necessary to meet the requirements for a degree. These may include learning a foreign language or another topic not directly related to education in physics.

Math is a Major Component

Degrees in physics are available at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels. Some subjects are common in all three degrees, but you will study them in much more depth as you progress through your education. Mathematics, for example, is integral to physics, according to the Princeton Review. Most aspiring physicists will have taken basic math courses in high school and will continue with mathematical study throughout their education. Typical baccalaureate-level courses include algebra, calculus and differential equations. Related mathematical topics include mathematical physics, numerical methods, statistical mechanics, statistical physics, computational methods and quantum mechanics.

Different Types of Physics

Each educational institution has its own specific requirements for physics degrees, many of which cover the actual topic of physics. The University of Texas at San Antonio baccalaureate program requires mathematical physics, thermal physics and two courses on physics for scientists with additional laboratory courses, unifying concepts in physics, astrophysics and materials physics. Since many physicists spend hours in research, the master's program at the University of Colorado at Boulder requires a course called “Introduction to Research in Modern Physics.” The University of California at Irvine requires chemistry for physicists in its doctoral program.

Other Important Topics

In addition to general courses on topics in physics and the closely related field of astronomy, students in a physics program can expect to study electricity, magnetism, electrodynamics, astrophysics and cosmology. Physicists work with lasers, which is another area of required study, as is relativity. Other courses include crystallography, nanotechnology, biophotonics, condensed matter theory and solar energy. In addition, physicists must be skilled in the field of computer science and may need to learn scientific programming. Physics students who are seeking a master’s degree must also complete a thesis and those seeking a doctorate must complete a dissertation.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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