Top Ten Ranked Physics Colleges

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December 3rd, 2009 in Rankings

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Physics is often regarded as the most difficult major in college. It involves fairly mind bending conceptions of the universe, not to mention high level mathematics and equations. No matter what school you go to, it is important to understand that physics is going to be challenging, yet with the right effort, highly rewarding.

If you are looking for a world class physics education from one of the best physics departments in the world, consider any of the following:

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Physics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a long history as a leader in the discipline. The dynamic program has earned its ranking as the top program in the nation due to its progressive study of physics and their world renowned faculty members. The department provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the field of physics while instilling within their students the premise that no individual will ever have the privilege of knowing all. Research is a major component of the physics department with faculty members involved in projects across the globe. Undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to participate in one of the ongoing research projects at the institution. Students have the option of participating in undergraduate physics activities through the society of physics students or undergraduate women in physics.

Students have the opportunity to pursue undergraduate and graduate degree programs at MIT. The undergraduate curriculum provides a foundational understanding of the physics field while preparing graduates for positions in one of the multitude of professions in the discipline or to continue with their study in graduate school. Two undergraduate options are offered; the focused option or the flexible option. The focused option is specifically intended for students who plan to attend graduate school. The flexible option provides a strong background in the physics discipline while permitting students to tailor the program for their particular career goals. Both curriculums provide students with the full requirements for the physics degree with varying electives. Students following the flexible option can choose to focus in computational physics, science and technology policy, premedical or law, management, astronomy and more.

2. Stanford University

The Department of Physics at Stanford University was initiated in 1891 as one of the first departments at the university. Stanford University has a long history as a pioneer in the field of physics in terms of academics and research. Research is an integral aspect of the physics department at Stanford. The research efforts of the university’s faculty members have yielded the discovery of the reflecting X-ray optics and holography as well as the invention of the laser. The various degree programs are designed to meet the needs of students with varying educational motives; for students who intend to teach in the field or those who expect to become professionals in a physics related field. Stanford prides itself on its flexible programs, distinctive interdisciplinary curriculum and their renowned expert faculty. Among their faculty members include three Nobel Prize winners and Nobel Laureates.

The undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the Physics department are characterized by their versatility and flexibility. Undergraduate students have the option of pursuing a major or minor in physics and of selecting a concentration within the physics discipline. The concentrations, which include applied physics, biophysics, astrophysics, geophysics and theoretical physics, allow students to focus on the area of physics which they intend to pursue in graduate school, in their future career or just due to a specific interest. Students pursuing degrees with a major in physics are permitted to take advantage of the expertise of faculty members from other departments. Master and doctorate degree programs at Stanford are exceptional programs. Teaching assistantships are offered as part of the program as are research, advanced placement programs, and the scientific research society known as Sigma Xi.

3. Harvard University

Since 1884, Harvard University’s Department of Physics has subscribed to the idea that both academic instruction and research are essential to the thorough investigation of the field. It is the mission of the department to advance the knowledge and to continue to gain a deeper understanding of the discipline; striving to investigate the underlying problems of the physics field through their cutting edge research and exceptional academic instruction. Throughout the long history, the department of physics has succeeded at both. The Jefferson Physical Laboratory at Harvard University was one of the first such facilities developed for the exclusive purpose of exploring the field of physics at which important scientific advancements and discoveries have significantly contributed to the field. Among the prestigious physics faculty members are ten Nobel laureates. Harvard University physics program graduates have also continued on to make important contributions to the field.

The degree programs within the Department of Physics include undergraduate, master and doctorate programs. The program introduces students to the fundamental physics laws and develops a thorough understanding of these governing rules within their students. Students are afforded the benefit of flexibility in the program when electing to pursue a concentration. The curriculum doesn’t require a substantial number of specific credits within the major which would absorb much of the time which might be devoted to a focus. Due to the flexibility, many students choose to pursue a dual concentration. A Plan of Study must be developed and approved by either the director or assistant director within the department. Faculty members continuously update the curriculum to ensure students are provided the most current information available in the field. Summer research opportunities and the Society of Physics Students provide additional learning opportunities to the students.

4. California Institute of Technology

The Division of Engineering and Applied Science at California Institute of Technology explores the fundamental principals governing the field of physics and explores the associated research issues which significantly impact the discipline. Also a pioneer in the area of physics, the department engages in revolutionary scientific exploration in the areas of DNA, solar research, and device invention intended to advance the field and address important issues. The state of the art laboratories facilitates successful and rewarding scientific discovery. The physics program is intertwined with engineering in order to effectively address technological matters. Graduates of the physics programs successfully attain leadership positions in their field as academics at other premier universities or in the professional realm.

The interdisciplinary physics degree programs offered at California Institute of Technology presents a comprehensive and dynamic curriculum which incorporates instruction on the related areas of chemistry and chemical engineering, astronomy and geological and planetary sciences. The department endeavors to offer a flexible curriculum intended to allow students to tailor the degree program to suit their interests and goals. Introductory courses are required of all students in the physics major with a range of elective courses to satisfy their interest in particular areas. Students are able to earn credit towards their degree through activities outside the classroom and can participate in research projects and fellowship opportunities managed by the department. The undergraduate program prepares the students for graduate study in the master or doctorate degree programs.

5. Princeton University

The Department of Physics at Princeton University boasts a history in physics which dates back to the 19th century and includes and association with such prominent figures in the discipline as Albert Einstein. Discovery has long been a chief concern for the department of physics which strives to instill the essential skills in their students so that they will be capable of ‘think(ing) like a physicist’. In addition to learning the foundational knowledge in physics provided to students, the individuals are trained in research skills. The university has always been and remains dedicated to superior academic instruction and exploration as evidenced by their superior faculty members. The faculty instructors are well-known experts in the physics field. Faculty members and alumni have earned more than twelve Nobel prizes for their work.

The physics degree programs prepare students for careers and further academic study. The curriculum includes classroom teaching ass well as independent study opportunities. Flexibility is a key goal of the program. Students are permitted to pursue certificate programs in quantitative and computational biology, biophysics, finance and engineering physics. The alternative integrated science curriculum program permits students to include courses in additional sciences instead of focusing solely on the physics courses. The curriculum can be customized to each student’s interests. Instead of concentrating mainly on science and mathematics, students can incorporate electives in the humanities and social sciences if they choose. Teacher preparation programs and pre-professional programs are also offered. Student activities and the study abroad option ensure students experience a rich full program

6. Cornell University

The Department of Physics at Cornell University has earned recognition for its exceptional and innovative program. The department strives to continue in their tradition of discovery and academic excellence. The university has long been considered and continues to be a pioneer in research from which has produced Nobel Prize award winning results in theoretical astrophysics and low-temperature physics. The unique and exceptional resources provide students with a comprehensive learning experience where they can experience first-hand many of the topics they explore through their academic experience. The university has research facilities located on the campus with a rare particle accelerator and numerous other advanced technologies not available on most university campuses from which students can learn.

The physics degree programs at Cornell University provide a curriculum designed to immerse students in the various facets of the discipline. Undergraduate and doctorate programs are provided at Cornell in the physics major. The MS degree is incorporated into the doctorate program and awarded to students at the appropriate point during their doctoral study. Students are strongly encouraged to pursue a broad program in physics prior to deciding to declare a concentration in one particular area of the field. Cornell emphasizes the importance of developing a comprehensive understanding of the field in order to attain a broad based knowledge of the field which will allow students to recognize the relationship between physics and all other disciplines. A broad range of student activities are offered at the university to enrich the students experience in the physics major.

7. University of California – Berkeley

The Department of Physics at the University of California Berkeley campus provides a comprehensive program which spans the breadth of the physics discipline. The department’s reputation as a pioneer in the discipline is due to relentless efforts to discover answers to the complex questions and problems of the field. The interdisciplinary program incorporates a broad theoretical exploration of the fundamental laws of physics with the practical application of the applied technological segment of the field. The University of California enjoys a long, productive history in physics characterized by influential achievements beginning in 1931. The university continues to make important contributions to the field which has resulted in advancements that continue to affect the course of the discipline today. Faculty members have been awarded nine Nobel Prizes due to their innovative work in physics.

The curriculum for the undergraduate and graduate degree programs in physics encompasses the range of essential areas of study. The university endeavors to provide an undergraduate program ensuring students are knowledgeable in all areas necessary to be successful in graduate study or in a professional position. Coursework includes study in every relevant topic from star formation and cosmic microwave background radiation to string theory and biophysics. Undergraduate students develop strong communication, analytical and laboratory skills and have a fundamental understanding of the laws of physics. Creativity is a main premise of the degree program as graduates will need this skill to be successful in developing new knowledge in the discipline. Graduate program students are encouraged to participate in one of the research projects at the university. Both programs produce graduates who become leaders in the field of physics.

8. University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

The Department of Physics at the University of Illinois strives to remain at the forefront of the physics discipline through innovative research, public outreach and excellence in instruction. Understanding the basic laws of physics has impacted the direction of every other science discipline from medicine to astronomy to environmental science. The University of Illinois strives to provide a basic understanding of these laws to their students in addition to encouraging the development and practiced application of advanced technology. Research is a chief component of the program. The department recognizes the importance of physics research in the development and future of technologies which influence contemporary life. Their faculty members are committed to both research and intellectual development.

The curriculum at the University of Illinois has evolved into a unique and innovative learning experience. The degree programs have evolved over the last decade to draw directly from the research being performed at the university and to utilize the most current and cutting edge technologies available in the field. The program stresses collaborative efforts between students, faculty, departments and majors. Boasting one of the biggest physics departments in the country, the university offers a broad educational program with world class research facilities and a wide range of courses which are offered each semester to ensure students are able to locate those suited to specific educational goals and interests. Four undergraduate curriculum programs are offered in physics which include a science and letters physics program, a specialized physics program, a teaching concentration and an engineering physics program. The graduate programs are exceptional and produce graduates prepared to enter various professional realms.

9. University of California – Santa Barbara

The Department of Physics at the University of California Santa Barbara location engages in a range of academic, research and community outreach programs for the purpose of advancing knowledge and technology in the discipline of physics. Small class sizes and expert faculty provide an intimate and exceptional learning experience. The campus resources in the physics department include a world class research facility which draws world renowned researchers from across the glob known as the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics, the Community Science Center which encourages independent exploration while providing state of the art equipment and a range of student programs. The faculty members include four Nobel laureates and several members of the National Academy of Science.

Physics majors at the University of California are able to pursue a range of degree options. Undergraduate students can choose to pursue either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree in physics as well as a minor in the discipline. Flexibility is a key benefit of the curriculum at the university. The BS program is geared towards individuals who intend to pursue careers in the physics field and offers three separate tracks of study; standard, advanced and honors. Independent study and participation in research projects are part of the curriculum. The BA allows students to complete courses within various departments and subjects to explore the interdisciplinary nature character of the physics field. Education abroad programs offer the option of studying in approximately two dozen countries. The graduate program is recognized for its substantial contributions in the field and provides a thorough educational experience.

10. University of Chicago

The Department of Physics at the University of Chicago is dedicated to providing an integrated interdisciplinary educational and research program. The department has a history which dates back to 1893 and boasts numerous influential contributions to the field which range from advancements in the measurements of X-Rays to exploration of the cosmic rays. The university has continued this trend of discovery and advancement throughout the department’s evolution. The faculty members have been characterized by award winning scholars and researchers, a number whom have won the Nobel Prize for their efforts. The physics program emphasizes the importance of experimentation and advanced understanding of the fundamentals of the field.

Students who choose to major in physics at the University of Chicago are offered a range of educational opportunities. Undergraduate physics majors are expected to complete a program which includes coursework in introductory and advanced physics and mathematics. A specialization in astrophysics is offered as an option to students. The minor in physics is offered to students who have an interest in the field. The graduate doctorate program is offered with a range of specializations in the experimental and theoretical physics disciplines. Though the university doesn’t offer a masters program, there is a specialization in the physical sciences department for physics. Graduate students are able to obtain positions as teaching assistants.

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