Program Requirements and Opportunities
Published annually, the Course Catalog sets out the requirements of the academic programs--the majors, minors, and concentrations. Each Bryn Mawr student must declare a major before the end of the sophomore year. Students may also declare a minor or a concentration, but neither is required for the A.B. degree. Students must comply with the requirements published in the Course Catalog at the time when they declare the major, minor and/or concentration.
The Course Catalog also sets out the College requirements. Students must comply with the College requirements published at the time they enter Bryn Mawr College.
Students may complete a major or minor in Physics. Within the major, students may complete a minor in educational studies or complete the requirements for secondary education certification. Students may complete an M.A. in the combined A.B./M.A. program.
The courses in Physics emphasize the concepts and techniques that have led to our present way of modeling the physical world. They are designed both to relate the individual parts of physics to the whole and to treat the various subjects in depth. Opportunities exist for interdisciplinary work and for participation by qualified majors in research with members of the faculty and their graduate students. In addition, qualified seniors may take graduate courses.
Required Introductory Courses for the Major and Minor
The introductory courses required for the physics major and minor are PHYS 121 and PHYS 122 (or PHYS 101 and 102) and MATH 101 and MATH 102. Students are encouraged to place out of MATH 101 and 102 if that is appropriate. Although College credit is given for a score of 4 or 5 on the AP tests and for a score of 5 or above on the IB examination, the AP and IB courses are not equivalent to PHYS 121 and PHYS 122 and advanced placement will not, in general, be given. However, students with a particularly strong background in physics are encouraged to take the departmental placement examination either during the summer before entering Bryn Mawr or just prior to, or during, the first week of classes. Then, the department can place students in the appropriate course. Students are not given credit for courses they place out of as a result of taking this placement exam. It is best for a student considering a physics major to complete the introductory requirements in the first year. However, the major sequence is designed so that a student who completes the introductory sequence by the end of the sophomore year can major in physics.
The physics major provides depth in the discipline through a series of required courses, as well as the flexibility to choose from a range of electives in physics and related fields. This allows students to follow various paths through the major and thus tailor their program of study to best meet their career goals and scientific interests.
Beyond the two introductory physics courses and the two introductory mathematics courses, ten additional courses are required for the major. (Haverford courses may be substituted for Bryn Mawr courses where appropriate.) Five of the ten courses must be PHYS 201, 214, 306, and MATH 201, 203. In addition, either PHYS 331 or 305 is required as well as the half-credit Senior Seminar, PHYS 398 offered each fall. PHYS 331 and PHYS 305 are Writing Intensive courses and by completing at least one of them, students can meet the Writing Requirement in the major. The remaining three courses must be chosen from among the other 300-level physics courses, one of which may be substituted with one course from among ASTR 342, 343, and 344, or a 300-level math course, with the approval of the major's advisor. Other substitutions from related disciplines such as chemistry, geology, and engineering) may be possible. Please consult with the major’s advisor to discuss such options.
Four-Year Plan meeting the minimum requirements for the major:
PHYS 121, 122
MATH 101, 102
PHYS 201, 214
MATH 201, 203
PHYS 306, 331 or 305, and one other 300-level physics course
Two 300-level physics courses, plus 398
The physics program at Bryn Mawr allows for a student to major in physics even if the introductory courses are not completed until the end of the sophomore year.
Three-Year Plan meeting the minimum requirements for the major:
MATH 101, 102
PHYS 121, 122
MATH 201, 203
PHYS 201, 214, 306, 331 or 305
Three 300-level physics courses, plus 398
The degree of Bachelor of Arts is awarded with honors in physics in recognition of excellence as demonstrated by both academic work and research. The award is made upon the recommendation of the department based on the following criteria:
distinction in undergraduate research and quality of a written senior thesis;
achievement of a major GPA of at least 3.4 and an overall GPA of at least 3.0.
For purposes of honors, the major GPA is computed from the following courses:
physics courses at the 200-level and above at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, excluding PHYS 380, 390, 398, and 403 at Bryn Mawr College and their analogs at Haverford College;
200-level courses in mathematics required for the physics major (MATH B201 and B203);
300-level courses in mathematics, astronomy (or in some cases another field) only if substituted for a 300-level course in physics with the approval of the major advisor.
Many physics majors participate in the College’s junior year study abroad program. Undergraduate physics courses are surprisingly standardized throughout the world. The Majors Adviser will work with you to design an appropriate set of courses to take wherever you go.
The requirements for the minor, beyond the introductory sequence, are PHYS 201, 214 and 306; PHYS 331 or 305; MATH 201, 203; and one additional 300-level physics course. The astronomy and mathematics courses described under "Major Requirements" may not be substituted for the one additional 300-level physics course.
Preparation for Graduate School
The department has been very successful in preparing students for graduate school in physics, physical chemistry, materials science, engineering, and related fields. To be well prepared for graduate school, students should take, at a minimum, these upper-level courses: PHYS 302, 303, 308, and 309. Students should also take any additional courses in physics and allied fields that reflect their interests, and should engage in research with a member of the faculty by taking PHYS 403. (Note that PHYS 403 does not count towards the 14 courses required for the major.) Seniors can take graduate courses, usually PHYS 501: Quantum Mechanics or PHYS 503: Electromagnetism, to get a head start on graduate school.
Minor in Educational Studies or Secondary-School Teacher Certification
Students majoring in physics can pursue a minor in educational studies or state certification to teach at the secondary-school level. Students seeking the minor need to complete six education courses including a two-semester senior seminar, which requires five to eight hours per week of fieldwork. To earn secondary-school certification (grades 7-12) in physics, students must: complete the physics major plus two semesters of chemistry and one semester as a teaching assistant in a laboratory for introductory or intermediate physics courses; complete six education courses; and student teach full-time (for two course credits) second semester of their senior year. For additional information, see Education.
A major in physics can be excellent preparation for a career in the health professions. A recent (2010) study by the American Institute of Physics finds that “…as a group, physics bachelor's degree recipients achieve among the highest scores of any college major on the entrance exams for medical school…” In addition to one year of physics, most medical and dental schools require one year of English, one year of biology, one year of general chemistry, and one year of organic chemistry. Students wishing to pursue this path should consult the physics major’s advisor early in their studies as well as the Health Professions Advising Office to develop an appropriate major plan. For additional information, see Health Professions Advising.
A Physics Major With an Engineering Focus
Students interested in enriching their physics education by incorporating engineering coursework can do so through coursework in engineering at Swarthmore College or the University of Pennsylvania. Bryn Mawr students also have the opportunity to transition to an engineering program through a combined degree program. See below for a short description of the programs available through the physics major.
University of Pennsylvania 4+1 Program
Qualified students can earn a master’s degree in engineering following completion of four years at Bryn Mawr and one year at UPenn. A GPA of 3.0 in all courses and of 3.0 in science and math courses is required to apply. Contact Dr. Mark Matlin for more information regarding the program and learn more here.
University of Rochester 4+2 Master's in Optics
Earn a master’s degree in optics following completion of four years at Bryn Mawr and two years at The University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics. Contact Dr. Mike Noel for more information.
Dual Degree Programs
Caltech 3+2 AB/BS Program
Columbia 3+2 AB/BS Program
Students interested in earning a BS degree in engineering in addition to an AB degree can apply for either the Caltech or Columbia 3+2 program. A student in this program would complete three years of coursework at Bryn Mawr College and then attend Caltech or Columbia for the remaining two years, receiving both an AB and a BS at the end of five years total. The Caltech program requires an application. The Columbia program can offer guaranteed acceptance given a set of requirements including a minimum 3.0 GPA. Contact Dr. Mark Matlin for more information.
To earn an M.A. degree in physics in the College's A.B./M.A. program, a student must complete the requirements for an undergraduate physics major and also must complete six units of graduate level work in physics. Of these six units, as many as two units may be undergraduate courses at the 300 level taken for graduate credit (these same two courses may be used to fulfill the major requirements for the A.B. degree), at least two units must be graduate seminars at the 500 level, and two units must be graduate research at the 700 level leading to the submission and oral defense of an acceptable M.A. thesis.
Courses at Haverford College
Many upper-level physics courses are taught at Haverford and Bryn Mawr in alternate years as indicated in the listings of the specific courses below. These courses (numbered 302, 303, 308, 309, and 322) may be taken at either institution to satisfy major requirements. Haverford 335 and Bryn Mawr 325 are both topics in advanced theoretical physics and they also tend to alternate. In addition, 100- and 200-level courses at Haverford can be used to replace 100- and 200-level courses at Bryn Mawr but these courses are not identical and careful planning is required.
Introductory Physics Sequences
Students on a pre-health professions track wanting to take one year of physics should take PHYS 101 and PHYS 102. Some students on a physical sciences major track could take PHYS 121 and PHYS 122 and others might take PHYS 122 and PHYS 201. See your major adviser and carefully note the math pre- and co-requisites for these courses. PHYS 121/122/201/214 is a coordinated, four-semester sequence in physics. Students are encouraged to place out of MATH 101 and 102 if that is appropriate.
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