Physics addresses the material universe at its most fundamental levels. Physical laws apply from subatomic to cosmological scales. The goals of physics are to push to ever deeper levels of understanding of the physical world, and to push upward, extending our understanding to more complicated systems, including molecules, fluids, solids, galaxies, and living things.
Concentrating in physics will not only teach you about the structure of physical law; it will allow you to take part in its discovery. In the process you will acquire universally valuable skills, including problem-solving, methods of estimation and approximation, and reasoning both inductively and from first principles. And you will build your intuition for how the physical world works, from electricity to phases of matter to energy to the quantum.
Physics concentrators are prepared not only for a career in physics, but many other fields as well. Physics alumni may be found in academic and industrial physics research positions as well as consulting, medicine, law, teaching, biotechnology, university leadership, and engineering.
The Physics Department section of the Undergraduate Announcement includes an overview of the undergraduate program as well as the official requirements for concentrating in physics. Physics concentrators and prospective concentrators may also want to refer to our pages on choosing courses, junior papers and senior theses, as well as student run activities. Many research opportunities are available in the department; summer research is a particularly useful and immersive experience.
The undergraduate program committee oversees the undergraduate physics program as a whole. In AY 2020-2021, the committee members are, William Jones (chair), Waseem Bakr and Silviu Pufu. The program committee is assisted by Karen Kelly, the Undergraduate Administrator.
During the spring of your sophomore year, during a designated time frame, you will schedule an appointment with a member of the undergraduate program committee. Before the meeting, be sure to indicate in University systems that you are a prospective physics concentrator, so that your Princeton transcript and proposed courses for junior fall will be visible to us during the appointment.
Although there is no official way to declare yourself a physics concentrator with the Registrar's Office before the spring of your sophomore year, you can declare your concentration with the department as early as you want by talking with the chair of the undergraduate program committee. As an early concentrator, you can take advanced courses as a sophomore, and you can write a JP during your sophomore year. You will be included in the department mailing list and be informed of departmental events that might be of interest to you. You still will need to officially declare your concentration in the spring of your sophomore year, following the regular procedure for declaring as a physics concentrator.
The Princeton Society of Physics Students (PSPS) organizes talks and activities for physics students. Princeton University Physics Competition (PUPC) is a physics competition for high school students organized by Princeton undergraduates. Undergraduate Women in Physics (UWiP) organizes events and communication among students, post-docs, and faculty to promote inclusiveness.
You may request approval in advance to take a physics course at another institution for Princeton credit. The first step is to fill out the pre-approval form available from the Office of the Dean of the College. Please deliver this form in hardcopy to the Undergraduate Administrator, along with all the attachments that it describes; in particular, these attachments must include a detailed description of the course. Turnaround time in the department is approximately eight business days, and when a decision is made you will receive an e-mail notification from the Undergraduate Administrator so that you can come and pick up your form. Questions about course approvals should be directed to the Undergraduate Administrator.
We recommend summer courses at Berkeley, Caltech, the University of Chicago, Columbia, CUNY, Harvard, NYU, Rutgers, Stonybrook, UCLA, UIUC, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Washington.
Outside courses in physics are usually not approved as prerequisites for the physics major; however, exceptions can be made to accommodate study abroad.
Study abroad works well for physics majors in their sophomore or junior year. We recommend study abroad at Oxford, the University of St. Andrews, the University of Cape Town, and Math in Moscow. If you plan to go as a junior, please note that the Physics Department permits one but not both junior papers (JPs) to be written as part of a study abroad program. If you do write a JP abroad, you must have a second reader / co-advisor with a full-time faculty appointment at Princeton University and their primary appointment in the Princeton Physics Department. To get started planning your study abroad, start with this page at the Office of International Programs.