Physics Major and Minor

Haverford’s Physics major and minor bring together students and faculty interested in investigating the physical principles that animate the natural world. Our rigorous programs provide significant opportunities for first-hand experimental and theoretical investigations and a solid foundation in the basic principles of the discipline.

Our program is especially flexible, allowing majors to pursue a range of allied interests—among them, astrophysics, biophysics, chemical physics, computing and engineering.

Curriculum & Courses

Students can opt for a traditional physics major or an interdisciplinary major. Those interested in attending graduate school in physics follow the traditional major. Our interdisciplinary major is designed for students who are eager to explore physics along with a focused study of a different field. With fewer requirements than the traditional major, it allows more flexibility in course selection.

Students pursue a curriculum that includes coursework in mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, and special relativity. Required classes also cover waves and optics, introductory quantum mechanics, and lab work in electronics and wave physics. Majors must take Calculus III and and additional math course in addition to other upper-level courses in core areas of physics. Our Senior Seminar and the associated senior talk and thesis are also required.

Minors pursue a curriculum that includes coursework in mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, and special relativity. Required classes also cover waves and optics, introductory quantum mechanics, and lab work in electronics and wave physics. They must also enroll in at least one of our 300-level core theoretical courses.

Extraordinary teachers and mentors, our faculty also work at the cutting edge of a wide range of areas—including astroparticle and early Universe physics, soft condensed matter and granular physics, extragalactic astronomy, biophysics, and nanoscience—creating exceptional research opportunities for majors. Those opportunities, as well as others beyond campus, are enhanced by our robust funding and placement system.

  • Major

    Physics offers three distinct programs: a traditional major, an interdisciplinary major designed to accommodate a focused plan of study in a different field, and a minor.

    Traditional Physics Major Requirements

    • PHYS 105 (or 101 or 115), 106 (or 102), 213, 214, 211, and 301 (or Bryn Mawr equivalents). Students may take the last two concurrently with 213 and 214.
    • MATH 121 (or 216) and 215 (or one of: MATH 222, the Bryn Mawr equivalent of MATH 215, another 200-level mathematics course with permission).
    • Six upper-level courses from the Physics and Astronomy departments at Haverford or Bryn Mawr.
      • One of these must be a laboratory course such as PHYS 326 or Bryn Mawr 305.
      • Majors must take three of the four core theoretical courses: PHYS 302, 303, 308, and 309.
      • One of the six upper-level physics courses may be a 400-level research course.
      • Majors may count either PHYS 459 or 460 among the six upper-level courses.
      • Majors must take one course outside physics, at a level consistent with the student’s background, in astronomy, biology, computer science, chemistry, engineering (at Penn or Swarthmore) or mathematics (beyond those courses required for the major). (This requirement is waived for double majors.)
    • PHYS 399, including a presentation and senior paper based on independent work, and attendance at senior colloquia and distinguished lectures hosted by the department.

    Students may replace two of the six upper-level courses by upper-level courses in a related department, with the approval of the major advisor. (The department asks students to prepare a brief written statement explaining the relationship between the proposed courses and the physics major.)

    Students considering graduate study in physics should take four of the following five courses by the end of their junior year: 302, 303, 308, 309, and 326 (or their Bryn Mawr equivalents).

    Interdisciplinary Physics Major Requirements

    We encourage students with multiple academic interests who are not likely to undertake physics graduate study to consider the interdisciplinary physics major, with a slightly abbreviated set of requirements students can complete in three years. The interdisciplinary major differs from the traditional physics major by offering more flexible course choices and by coordinating the physics courses with the student’s work in another field. In the version requiring the fewest physics courses, this major requires 8.5 instead of 12 physics courses, while both majors require 2 math courses, and 3 courses in a related field.

    Students can discuss this track—which can also facilitate a concentration, an engineering option, or a minor in another department—with any member of the department.

    The requirements are as follows:

    • Either PHYS 105 (or 115) and 106, or PHYS 101 and 102.
    • PHYS 213 and 214 (our sophomore lecture course sequence) and PHYS 211 (sophomore-level laboratory course).
    • MATH 121 (or 216) and 215 (or one of: MATH 222, the Bryn Mawr equivalent of MATH 215, another 200-level mathematics course with permission).
    • Three 300-level physics lecture courses, two of which must be drawn from these core courses: PHYS 302, 303, 308, and 309.
    • An upper-level laboratory course in the natural or applied sciences, such as PHYS 301, ASTR 341A, BIOL 300A or B, or CHEM 301 or 302. (Alternately, the student can request the substitution of an advanced laboratory course in another area of science or applied science.)
    • Two other courses, at the 200 level or higher in a related field, that are part of a coherent program, which the student proposes and the major advisor must approve.
    • Senior Seminar (PHYS 399) and the associated senior talk and thesis.
  • Minor

    • PHYS 105 (or 101 or 115) and PHYS 106 (or 102); PHYS 213, 214, 211 and PHYS 301 labs (or Bryn Mawr equivalents).
    • MATH 121 (or 216) and MATH 215 (or one of: MATH 222, the Bryn Mawr equivalent of MATH 215, another 200-level mathematics course with permission).
    • One of the four “core” 300-level lecture courses in physics at Haverford or Bryn Mawr: PHYS 302 (Advanced Quantum Mechanics), 303 (Statistical Physics), 308 (Advanced Classical Mechanics), or 309 (Advanced Electromagnetism and Modern Optics).
    • Participation for two semesters in the public lectures and seminars hosted by the department.

Research & Outreach

Student research culminates with our required two-semester Senior Seminar. In it, majors develop, draft, and present a scientific paper, based on original research performed with a faculty member or on existing research on a particular topic. Students also explore ethics and other conventions of the discipline, learn about career options and graduate programs, and interact with an array of visiting scientists as well as our vibrant alumni/ae community in this discussion-driven class.

After Graduation

We are invested in the long-term success of our students and are committed to developing the skills and perspectives—as well as the relationships—that will enable our majors to thrive as grad students at top programs and in a range of careers.

Nearly half of our majors pursue graduate study at the Ph.D. level in physics or astrophysics. Others go on to graduate programs in areas such as mathematics, engineering, materials science, climate science, and computer science, while still others pursue careers in medicine, engineering, law, public policy, and teaching. Many continue to enrich the physics program long after graduation by mentoring current students and by providing input on program development.

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You can find detailed instructions and information on the Application Instructions page. If you need to contact us directly, please send an email to admission@haverford.edu.

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