Choosing courses

The list of regularly offered physics courses can be found in the Physics Department section of the Undergraduate Announcement; also useful is the Registrar's Course Offerings page, which shows what courses are offered in particular terms. 

Note:  We have changes in store effective the fall term of 2022/23: we are excited to offer Phy207 as an entirely new course, "From Classical to Quantum Mechanics", that together with Phy208, constitute the standard sophomore year physics sequence.   Phy205 will not be offered. In addition another new course, Phy303 "Advanced Dynamics" will be offered in the fall, which will satisfy the same departmental requirements as any other 300-level course.  If you have any questions please contact Waseem Bakr ([email protected]) or Karen Olsen ([email protected]).

See below under Related Documents the Physics/Astro Course Guide 2022.

Freshman and Sophomore year

If you are considering concentrating in physics, our main advice is: Take a physics course right away! Recommended sequences for the first two years include:

Term Start in 103 Start in 105 Start in ISC Start in 207 Start as sophomore
Freshman fall PHY 103, MAT 104 PHY 105, MAT 203 ISC 231/232, MAT 201 PHY 207, MAT 203 MAT 201
Freshman spring PHY 104, MAT 201 PHY 106, MAT 204 ISC 233/234 PHY 106/208, MAT 204 MAT 202
Sophomore fall PHY 207, MAT 202 PHY 207, MAE 305 PHY 207, MAT 202 PHY 305, MAE 305 PHY 105, MAE 305
Sophomore spring PHY 208, MAE 305 PHY 208, MAE 306 PHY 208, MAE 305 PHY 304, MAT 330 PHY 106, MAE 306

You can mix and match, e.g. start in ISC in freshman fall and then switch to PHY 104. It is possible to start in MAT 103 in freshman fall, but challenging because PHY 207 uses multi-variable calculus and PHY 208 uses linear algebra.

Here are some points to consider as you choose which physics course to take first in freshman fall (applicable equally to non-physics majors):

  • If you have a 5 on both the AP Physics C Mechanics and AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism exams (or an equivalent international background), then you should take PHY 105.
  • ISC 231 is interoperable with PHY 103 or PHY 105 but has more of an emphasis on chemistry, biology, and the specific areas of physics that relate to those subjects.
  • To start in PHY 207 without previously having taken 100-level physics at Princeton, you must pass an entrance exam given just before the fall term starts. Sign up for PHY 105, take the PHY 207 entrance exam, and if you pass it you can switch to PHY 207. PHY207 is a departmental prerequisite, and must be taken unless that prerequisite is specifically waived by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
  • If you do place into PHY207, you must still enroll in PHY106 in the spring term, unless otherwise granted permission from the PHY106 instructor and DUS.

We strongly recommend for prospective majors also to take one of the 200-level PDF courses: PHY 209 on computational physics, PHY 210 on experimental methods (more information here), or PHY 235 on contemporary physics research.

Junior and Senior year

In your junior year we recommend PHY 301 and 305 in the fall, then PHY304 and 312 in the spring, together with one analysis course, e.g. differential equations or complex analysis, taken in either term. This selection of courses in junior year is optimal for continuing on to graduate school in physics. If that is not your plan, you may prefer to replace PHY 305 and/or PHY 304 with 300-level courses closer to your specific interests. Students who would like to explore all of the offerings, or who start physics as a sophomore, will need to spread 300-level courses out into their senior year.

The detailed program requirements are explained in the Physics Department section of the Undergraduate Announcement, including a description of the courses that may be used as departmentals.

Physics majors take a wide assortment of advanced courses to complete the requirements for the major and to explore their own interests. We recommend to start with our own 400-level courses. Courses taken by special arrangement include reading courses and graduate courses (500-level). Normally students are limited to signing up for two courses by special arrangement in any given term. (Reading courses are somewhat rare and must be supervised by a faculty member who volunteers their effort for the term; start with this page at the Office of the Dean of the College.) Only courses taken for a letter grade (i.e. not PDF) can count toward departmental prerequisites and requirements.

Early Concentration

Students who complete the prerequisites for concentration before the end of sophomore year may declare early concentration in physics.  They may be offered an opportunity to undertake independent work during the spring term by writing the first junior paper.  Students interested in this option must do so with the advice and consent of the Physics Department and the residential college Director of Studies.