Choosing courses

CONTACT: Karen A. Kelly, Undergraduate Administrator
kkaras@princeton.edu, 208 Jadwin Hall, 609-258-4418

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. Additional course information can be found here.

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 205 Start as sophomore
Freshman fall PHY 103, MAT 104 PHY 105, MAT 203 ISC 231/232, MAT 201 PHY 205, MAT 203 MAT 201
Freshman spring PHY 104, MAT 201 PHY 106, MAT 204 ISC 233/234 PHY 208, MAT 204 MAT 202
Sophomore fall PHY 205, MAT 202 PHY 205 PHY 205, MAT 202 PHY 305 PHY 105, MAE 305
Sophomore spring PHY 208, MAE 305 PHY 208, MAT 330 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 205 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):

  • PHY 103 is the obvious choice for learning mechanics. Some BSE students may prefer EGR 191.
  • 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 205 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 205 entrance exam, and if you pass it you can switch to PHY 205.

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, or PHY 211 on theoretical methods.

Junior and Senior year

In junior year we recommend PHY 301 and 305 in the fall, then PHY 304 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 start physics as a sophomore will need to spread 300-level courses out more into 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.