Maybe you want to be the next Isaac Newton… or maybe you just want to teach high school chemistry. Either way, you have to admit that as physics majors, it seems as if the discipline gets overshadowed by the other STEM subjects, leaving you unsure of where to start when it comes to applying for college. Not to worry though, College Magazine has your back. Why should these schools make every future physicist’s list? Combine affordable tuition, notable faculty, high graduation rates, graduate starting salaries and scientifically (and student) approved clubs for the perfect physics journey.
Look no further than these top 10 universities with a winning formula for aspiring physics majors!
10. Kenyon College
Kenyon’s graduation rate and student to faculty ratio should get you jumping up and down with excitement: 90% and 9:1, respectively. Just keep in mind that starting salaries average out at $39,000… and paying $58,000 a year will certainly make your wallet ache. Nevertheless, the luxury of attending a liberal arts college sure warrants the hefty price tag.
Their senior capstone in physics and observatory, along with small class sizes, make the physics community at Kenyon close-knit and ready to help any student interested in research. Even their introductory courses wade deep into the subject. Enroll in PHYS 102 and take a field trip to a nuclear facility, or explore theories about light in PHYS 100. Going to this school will certainly prove an immersive experience like no other. What more do you expect from the alma mater of a Crash Course co-creator?
Rose-Hulman has an interesting reputation as its statistics do impress, but it often finds itself in the ‘underrated’ section of many college ranking lists. Graduation rates reach over 80% and the student to faculty ratio hovers at about 11:1. As a school that charges $51,000 every year, this should come as no surprise.
“I am majoring in Engineering Physics as well (and Math, a triple major). If you are not familiar with it, we learn about device physics, which is most applicable to the study of semiconductors and micro/nanotechnology. This leads to me spending a significant amount of time inthe MiNDS (Micro and Nanoscale Devices and Systems) lab, which is directed by Dr. Scott Kirkpatrick,” said senior Nathan Fried said.
If you hate the idea of being a small fish in a big pond, then this midwestern hidden gem might just prove the perfect fit for you. Less than 600 students entered the 2018 freshman class, and the alumni fresh out of Rose-Hulman have incomes 20% higher than the average college graduate. Not many schools can say that their average starting salary breaks $70,000. That fact alone should make you think twice about Rose.
8. University of Maryland (UMD) College Park
Known as the number one public university in the state of Maryland, it shouldn’t come as a shock that over 15 on-campus research facilities call UMD home. Some of their centers’ research takes a completely physics-focused route, while others take a holistic approach to the sciences. If that doesn’t impress you, then just look at the numbers. An 18:1 student faculty ratio, a 50k starting salary and a 85% graduation rate? The fact that it costs only 10k to attend should be considered criminal.
“UMD has one of the largest physics departments in the country, so there are many labs to look at to join. My favorite class has been PHYS 475/675 Introduction to General Relativity and Cosmology. It’s taught as a combination undergrad and graduate class,” senior Isaac Pliskin said.
On top of all these research opportunities, you also have OStem, an organization that aims to assist STEM students under the LGBT umbrella.
7. San Jose State University (SJSU)
Located right in Silicon Valley, SJSU reigns supreme as the Bay Area’s highest revered California state university. It lands near the national mean starting salary statistic with an average of $47,000. It also boats a cheap institution rate, charging just $7,800 yearly. Offering a B.A. in Physics, a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Physics Education, the institution proves that its care for the program goes above and beyond. While their 62% graduation rate and 27:1 student to faculty ratio won’t turn heads, their Materials Characterization and Metrology Center remains a choice place for physics students to begin their research journeys.
As the home of a FEI Quanta 200 scanning electron microscope and Agilent Technologies’ 5500 Atomic Force Microscope, the center hosts research focused on nanotechnology and photovoltaics. SJSU also has much-needed organizations dedicated towards uplifting STEM students of different backgrounds. Among them include the Black Alliance of Scientists and Engineers (BASE), the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) and the Society of Latino Engineers and Scientists (SOLES). SJSU clearly establishes itself as a strong STEM-oriented CSU, committed to paving the way for our future researchers and teachers within physics.
6. Santa Monica College (SMC)
If you call yourself an Angeleno, then you definitely know about SMC. Their Spotify and radio ads constantly talk about the famed SMC Promise, which entitles any California high school grad to waive that 1k tuition. Santa Monica College’s popularity has spiked over the years, which doesn’t happen often with community colleges. More than 9,000 degrees were awarded by the college in 2019. And since most Santa Monica transfers end up at University of California schools, you’ll probably find yourself making $40,000 as your starting salary.
Some of their statistics might make you question why SMC consistently scores so high on college rank lists, especially when examining their 30:1 student faculty ratio or the 17% graduation rate. However, you should remember that this trait remains characteristic of community colleges, especially those located in big cities. You have many adults with full-time jobs attending classes with you so of course not everyone will graduate within a two-year period. In fact, these statistics won’t hurt your chances of transferring at all.
With their Science and Research Initiative and their joint program with UCLA, known as CCCP STEM Site, you’ll find yourself living a physics student’s dream. Saving money and getting the education of a lifetime? Sounds like heaven, especially during this COVID-19 induced recession.
5. Amherst College
Amherst College knows how to let students get close to their professors with a capital ‘C.’ Fear not about making research connections with faculty because that 7:1 student to faculty ratio will prove such a lifesaver. The $58,000 price tag might deter some applicants, but at the end of the day, the quality Amherst provides can’t be matched. When a school’s graduation rate exceeds 90%, then you know the professors did something right.
Equally notable proves the $62,000 starting salary, although that hardly scratches the surface of what this esteemed college has to offer. The connections and people you meet at this small liberal arts college might just become your greatest secret weapon as a physics student. The Amherst STEM network, even if you don’t think of yourself as the networking type, will kick start your success at Amherst as well.
Equipped with a podcast, event calendar and a multitude of articles written by STEM students themselves, the Amherst STEM network has it all. Amherst knows how to cater to students who want that extra attention— if you crave that close-knit private school life, don’t hesitate for a second!
4. Ohio State
Oh, hi Ohio! Ready for the clincher? OSU breaks 80% with their graduation rate. Sure, their average starting salary of $42,000 won’t land this school in any record books, but their $11,000-a-year university built up a reputation as an accessible state flagship.
As the third largest campus in America, the 19:1 student to faculty ratio ensures that you get an immersive college experience. Ohio State get the physics freshmen and transfers hyped for their future coursework before the semester even starts. Their URSA Program runs for two weeks, has a residential component and allows for students to familiarize themselves with faculty and other students studying astronomy and physics. Their mission revolves around prepping first-years for their transition into college, and part of that includes engaging in a team-building project over the course of the program. Besides URSA, the Polaris Mentorship Class built quite the reputation as well. This year-long one to two credit course pairs you up with a student taking upper-division physics classes.
“Definitely get in contact with the Society of Physics Students. They have weekly meetings here, with anything from guest speakers to just fun games of Skribbl online. Especially during COVID, they are very helpful by staying in contact with peers in similar classes, as well as creating opportunities beyond the physics class,” freshmen Ryan O’Donnell said.
Don’t arrive at the assumption you’ll have nothing to do at Ohio State. Check out their physics honor society Sigma Pi Sigma and the Society for Women in Physics while you delve deeper into the major.
3. San Francisco State University (SFSU)
No other four-year schools in San Francisco come at such a bargain. Yes, you heard that correctly. The Frisco college experience can be yours for under $8,000 for California residents. Bonus: their graduation rate reached 79%, which beats both Sacramento State University and Long Beach State University.
While their $42,000 starting salary and 22:1 student faculty ratio sounds typical, what makes it stand out the most from other universities has to be their commitment to uplifting women studying physics. One look at their Women in Physics and Astronomy (WIPPA) Instagram page and you’ll quickly see that many of these women have gone on to graduate schools to continue their research.
“I actually really enjoyed the program. I really appreciated the diversity for the most part and I loved how supportive some of the faculty could be especially when it came to inclusion and understanding that times get stressful,” SFSU astrophysics alumnus Cecilia Noemi Molina said.
A school in the Bay Area would be this inclusive! A shunner of gender stereotypes coupled with reasonable tuition, San Francisco State continues to be that school.
2. University of Colorado (CU) Boulder
CU Boulder stands as tall as its state’s geography with it’s mountain-high graduate starting salaries. Clocking in at $43,000, everything else it offers its physics students comes as a shock to nobody given the opportunities for mentorship, research and it’s physics program gender diversity.
No need to fear its large public university status; you won’t lack guidance or lose out on close connections even though the student faculty ratio is 18:1. CU Prime fosters mentorship between graduate students and first years and runs a semester-long class aimed at introducing collegiate level science to new students. The weekly colloquia also help foster community for new physics freshmen.
“I enjoy attending the weekly colloquia where every week they have some speaker come and talk about a new physics topic. The speakers come from a bunch of different universities and speak about their research at a graduate student’s level,” sophomore Saurabh Totey said.
With a graduation rate of 69% and tuition rates set at $12,000 a year, CU Boulder proves that its physics department has both affordability and academic prowess.
1. The State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook
In-state tuition doesn’t go above $11,000 at this SUNY school and their physics department won’t disappoint. With a $43,000 starting salary and a student faculty ratio of 19:1, this Stony Brook University (SBU) proves that its biggest strength lies in the accomplishments of its professors. Many faculty and graduates go on to receive awards for their research; most recently, the New Horizons Prize in Physics went to Professor Rouven Essig. It makes perfect sense that their graduation rates beat 70%! On top of all that, SBU possesses a highly involved Society of Physics group.
“Our Experimental Nuclear Physics group is probably the most well-known, especially with the Electron-Ion Collider planned to be built just a car ride away at Brookhaven National Lab. We also have the Simon’s Center for Geometry and Physics, the CN Yang Institute and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science,” Society of Physics Students President Max Podgorski said.
Basically, you know you’ve set yourself up for success if you’ve committed to SBU.
“The physics department has many experienced and fantastic professors, along with ample research opportunities to explore and develop your interests in physics. The Laser Teaching Center is great for getting experience in optics research as an undergrad, and for the physics classes I have completed so far, Professor Reijssenbeek was great for Intro Honors Physics,” sophomore Paul Murdoch said.
Make sure to include this university in your Common App, especially if you reside in New York.