Best Physics Schools

Updated on January 5, 2024

Physics is a fascinating and complex field that attempts to understand the fundamental workings of the universe. From tiny subatomic particles to the enormous scale of astrophysics, physics encompasses a huge range of phenomena. Studying physics prepares students to tackle some of the biggest unsolved mysteries in science.

The best physics programs provide excellent teaching and research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. Factors like faculty expertise, research funding, facilities, and career outcomes for alumni all contribute to the quality and reputation of physics departments.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is world-renowned for excellence in physics education and research. MIT Physics has a rating of 9.5/10 and an exceptionally low acceptance rate of 7.9%. The middle 50% SAT score range for admitted students is 1490-1570. Annual tuition and fees currently stand at $55,870. After graduating from MIT, physics majors earn an average early career salary of $76,800.

The MIT Department of Physics features over 130 faculty members and cutting-edge research facilities like the Research Laboratory of Electronics and the Center for Theoretical Physics. Students can pursue Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees with a focus on quantum physics, astrophysics, or nuclear and particle physics. Over 40% of undergraduates at MIT major in physics, electrical engineering, or computer science.

Website: http://web.mit.edu/physics/

Stanford University

Located in Stanford, California, the physics program at Stanford University is ranked one of the best in the world. Stanford Physics has a rating of 9/10 and an ultra-competitive acceptance rate of 4.3%. Middle 50% SAT scores are 1470-1570, while annual tuition and fees are $57,699. After graduating from Stanford, physics majors earn an average early career salary of $83,600.

Stanford’s Physics Department emphasizes original research and lab work starting early in the undergraduate physics curriculum. There are nine Nobel laureates on the physics faculty. Undergraduates can participate in research at facilities like the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). Stanford also offers state-of-the-art physics graduate programs in areas like quantum physics, condensed matter physics, and particle physics.

Website: https://physics.stanford.edu/

California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), located in Pasadena California, is home to outstanding physics research and education. Caltech Physics has a rating of 9/10 and an ultra-selective acceptance rate of 6.7%. Middle 50% SAT scores range from 1530-1580, while annual tuition and fees are $57,198. After graduation, physics majors earn an average early career salary of $76,600.

Caltech’s Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy division features cutting-edge facilities like the LIGO laboratory and Heritage Flight Science Center. Undergraduate students work closely with faculty and are encouraged to participate in innovative research very early in their academic careers. The graduate program includes acclaimed Ph.D. programs in quantum physics, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics and astrophysics.

Website: https://pma.caltech.edu/

University of California, Berkeley

As part of the prestigious University of California system, UC Berkeley offers exceptional physics programs with a rating of 8.5/10. It has an acceptance rate of 16.8% and middle 50% SAT score range of 1340-1530. Annual tuition and fees are $44,046 for out-of-state students. After graduation, physics majors earn an average early career salary of $72,800.

Berkeley’s Physics Department joins theory and experiment with cutting-edge research in areas like astrophysics, biophysics, and condensed matter. Undergraduates have access to advanced research facilities and work closely with faculty members. Berkeley also has highly-ranked graduate programs in physics, with pioneering research conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Website: https://physics.berkeley.edu/

University of Chicago

Located in Chicago, Illinois, the University of Chicago’s physics program earns a rating of 8.5/10. It has a competitive acceptance rate of 6.2% and middle 50% SAT score range of 1480-1570. Annual tuition and fees are $61,971. After graduation, physics majors earn an average early career salary of $69,100.

The University of Chicago Department of Physics offers a rigorous physics education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Researchers are making critical contributions in condensed matter physics, cosmological physics, particle physics, and quantum engineering. Undergraduates build critical thinking skills and conduct original research projects, while often co-authoring scientific publications with faculty.

Website: https://physics.uchicago.edu/

Harvard University

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts has an exceptional physics department, rated 8/10. The acceptance rate is very competitive at 5% and middle 50% SAT scores range from 1460-1580. Annual tuition and fees are $55,950. After graduation, physics majors have an average early career salary of $72,600.

Harvard Physics emphasizes fundamental research in areas like particle physics, quantum physics, astrophysics and nanoscience. There are state-of-the-art research facilities including the Center for Nanoscale Systems cleanroom. Undergraduates take advanced courses and can participate in faculty research groups. The graduate program includes world-class Ph.D. programs in physics and astronomy.

Website: https://www.physics.harvard.edu/

Princeton University

Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University is home to the top-rated Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Princeton Physics has a rating of 8/10 and an extremely selective acceptance rate of 5.8%. Middle 50% SAT scores are 1460-1570, with annual tuition and fees at $57,910. After graduation, physics majors have an average early career salary of $74,800.

The Princeton Department of Physics provides outstanding physics education for undergraduates and graduate students. More than 70 faculty work on research problems like fusion energy, quantum computing, and string theory. Undergraduates take advanced courses and conduct research with faculty mentors. The graduate program includes highly-ranked Ph.D. programs in physics and astrophysical sciences.

Website: https://www.princeton.edu/physics

Yale University

Yale University, located in New Haven, Connecticut, is home to prestigious physics programs earning a rating of 8/10. The acceptance rate is competitive at 6.1% with middle 50% SAT scores of 1460-1570. Annual tuition and fees are $62,250. After graduation, physics majors have an average early career salary of $72,900.

The Yale Physics Department is at the forefront of quantum information science and cosmology. Researchers utilize advanced facilities like the Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory and the Yale Quantum Institute. Undergraduate students take high-level physics courses and can participate in summer research. Graduate students conduct Ph.D. research in condensed matter physics, astrophysics, biophysics and other areas.

Website: https://physics.yale.edu/

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia, offers acclaimed physics programs rated 7.5/10. It has a highly competitive acceptance rate of 8.4% and middle 50% SAT scores ranging from 1470-1560. Annual tuition and fees are $64,864. After graduation, physics majors earn an average early career salary of $72,800.

Penn’s Physics and Astronomy Department emphasizes cross-disciplinary research in areas like nanotechnology, photonics, and quantum computing. The undergraduate program provides advanced lab coursework and research opportunities. Graduate students can earn Ph.D.’s in subjects like condensed matter physics, particle physics, and cosmology while utilizing cutting-edge facilities.

Website: https://www.physics.upenn.edu/

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Frequently Asked Questions

Which school is the best for physics?

Based on factors like faculty expertise, research funding, facilities and career outcomes for graduates, MIT and Stanford are generally considered the top physics programs in the world.

What GRE scores are required for physics graduate programs?

Many top physics Ph.D. programs have average GRE score ranges from 160-170 on both the quantitative and verbal sections, or the equivalent on the new GRE scale. A strong math background is essential.

Can I get into physics graduate school with a low GPA?

While GPA cutoffs vary by program, a GPA of 3.5 or higher is usually required for admission to top physics graduate programs. Strong GRE scores, research experience, and excellent letters of recommendation help offset a lower GPA.

What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in physics?

While most physics careers require an advanced degree, those with a physics bachelor’s can find positions in education, finance, computer programming, engineering, data analysis, consulting, and more – especially if they supplement with additional coursework.

What jobs are there in physics besides research or teaching?

Physics majors can use their strong analytical and problem-solving skills to build careers in engineering, data science, software development, patent law, medical physics, defense technology, aerospace, renewable energy, finance, and many other sectors.

Should I double major in math and physics?

While demanding, double majoring allows you to gain an interdisciplinary science background. This opens additional job opportunities in data analysis, cryptography, AI research, investment banking, and other math-intensive fields.

Is experimental or theoretical physics better?

This depends on your talents and interests. Theoretical physicists rely more on conceptual analysis and mathematics, while experimental physicists conduct hands-on research – both have integral roles advancing physics discoveries.

How much do physics professors make?

Salaries for physics professors vary by seniority and school, but the average is between $80,000-$130,000 at most colleges and universities. Professors at elite research institutions tend to fall within the higher end of that range.

Can physicists make a lot of money in industry jobs?

Yes, many companies hire physicists for high-paying roles in engineering, data science, software development, aerospace, renewable energy, and defense technology. Median pay for physicists in industry jobs is around $100,000-120,000.

What is the job outlook for physicists?

Employment for physicists and astronomers is projected to grow 7 percent over the next decade, faster than the average across all occupations. Job prospects should remain good for those with advanced degrees working in applied research.

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