Best Research Universities for Physics Degrees

The best physics research universities are those with rich histories of influence, proven through the work produced by the program’s faculty and alumni. Beyond demonstrating scholarly impact in the field, the best physics degree programs maximize your opportunities to interact with outstanding physics faculty.

Best Research Universities for Physics Degrees

A bachelor’s degree in physics is an excellent starting point for a career in engineering, alternative energy, space exploration, and a host of other exciting and rapidly innovating fields. As a physics major, you’ll study subjects such as calculus, mechanics, and thermodynamics. Your degree will incorporate a variety of branches within math and physics, including astrophysics, biophysics, and quantum physics. The best schools for physics are those which are regionally accredited, which offer a full array of physics concentrations, and which give you the chance to work with the best and most influential professors and classmates.

Frequently Asked Questions About Physics Bachelor’s Degrees

Earning a bachelor’s degree in physics can open numerous professional doors, particularly in the field of engineering. A physics degree can help prepare you for work as an engineering technician, data scientist, or geologist. It’s also a great starting point if you plan to eventually pursue a license to be a professional engineer (PE), or if you intend to continue into an advanced degree program and become a research scientist, physicist, or astronomer. The best schools for physics will put you in a position to become an innovator and a leader in this exciting and challenging field.

Today, top influencers in physics are breaking new ground in Mathematical Physics, Quantum Field Theory, Theoretical Physics, and much more.

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Physics is a great major because it can serve as the starting point for a number of well-paying careers. For instance, physicists and astronomers earned a median of $122,220 per year in 2019; geoscientists earned a median salary of $92,040; and industrial engineers saw a median of $88,020 in the same year. A bachelor’s degree in physics gives you the chance to choose between these and a wide range of other pathways where salaries and the rate of job growth are much higher than the average for all professions.

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Once you’ve declared your major in physics, you will likely be required to complete a set of core courses in a number of STEM-related subject areas. While your concentration will give you a chance to choose from a wide range of highly-specialized physics electives, there are several common courses that most physics majors will be required to take, including:

  • Classical Mechanics
  • Modern Physics
  • Calculus
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Differential Equations
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Waves and Optics
  • Statistical Physics
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Atomic Physics

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Earning a degree in physics can qualify you for a number of well-paying jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for physicists and astronomers is expected to grow at a rate of 5% by 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations. For industrial engineers, that rate is even higher, at 10%. Depending on your concentration, a degree in physics could help you make the jump into one of these high-growth sectors. The following are among the most popular jobs for physics majors:

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Best Research Universities for Physics Degree Programs

Frequently Asked Questions About Research Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Online Colleges

In pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you will need to choose between three kinds of schools: research universities, liberal arts colleges, and online colleges.

Research universities are colleges and universities whose faculty are active in research and publishing. These schools offer a wide array of doctoral programs, especially in the sciences. They tend to be big, with tens of thousands of students.

Do you prefer a larger university setting, such as largest public university in your state? Research universities are typically big, offering degrees in many different disciplines. Is a big high-powered research environment the thing for you. If not, you should think about a liberal arts college. In deciding on an undergraduate institution, ask yourself what sort of environment will best help you to be happy and excel.

  • Consider whether you are self motivated enough to be a face in the crowd for some classes and largely unknown on campus at a large university. Of course you can find clubs and friends at a large university, but often liberal arts colleges have a more personal quality to them. If you want the community feel, a research university may not fit you well.
  • Are you interested in STEM fields? Research universities have that name for a reason – real research is happening there. This can create an exciting atmosphere for students interested in STEM. Attending a research university can give you a better chance of getting into better programs for graduate degrees, although a lot of that depends on your performance.

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Often referred to as “teaching colleges” liberal arts colleges put a premium on undergraduate studies and offers a broad range of subjects for students to study. A college of liberal arts typically provides smaller class sizes, more direct engagement with professors, and, most importantly, the opportunity to sample a wide range of subject areas on the way to a bachelor’s degree.

  • Do you want your professors to know you? Liberal arts colleges strive to cultivate campus cultures that encourage tight bonds between professors and students. Professors at these schools will typically conduct original research. Yet the best of these schools offer their faculty reduced teaching loads so that they can both be productive researchers and still have plenty of time for students (both in and outside the classroom).
  • Do you want to feel like you know everybody? One of the most enticing features of a liberal arts college is that in very little time, you can feel like you know who’s who, which can create strong friendships, but also more pleasurable walks across campus. While your sports teams may never be on ESPN, it’s more likely that you’ll know the athletes as your peers. Beyond student and faculty relationships, it’s not unusual for the school president and other administrators to learn who you are. When faced with problems with your student account or the need to switch classes, this can be comforting during a stressful moment.

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Online colleges are typically the same colleges and universities you could attend in-person, but for certain degree programs the college or unviersity has made the degree programs available to be completed online. For over 5 million students, online degree programs allow students to earn their degrees in the most flexible format available. Online degrees are as respected as the on-campus degress you could earn from the same schools. There’s usually no disctinction between the two degrees, and your degree and transcript will not say that the degree was earned online. Online degree programs are offered by a vast majority of colleges and universities, and the number of offering continues to grow. Whehter you are searching for an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate, there’s a good chance you can earn your degree online from a respectable online college.

  • Are you a self-driven student? Perhaps the hardest aspect of obtaining an online degree is whether you will be disciplined enough to manage your time and course demands. Many online students report that online college made them more disciplined in all areas of their lives, but the flexible, self-paced learning that makes online colleges attractive can often be the same qualities that make it difficult. If you tend to be a procrastinator, you need to be honest with yourself. You can change your habits and propensities, or you can throw money down the drain.
  • Do you need the flexibility of an online degree program? Most online students study online because of time demands balancing work and life, or becuase the online colleges afford them the chance to attend a better school without moving. If you are serious about earning your degree for career advancement, online colleges make it possible. The most flexible options among online degrees are those that are aynchronous, meaning you don’t have scheduled times to meet with your class online. However, many students seek synchronous online degree programs so that they have some structure – set meeting times, scheduled exams, etc.
  • The good news is that attending an online college doesn’t mean you will miss out on getting to know your professors and classmates. In fact, many online students who have experienced both online and on-campus courses report having easier access to their professors. Since most communication with your professor is expected to be in text – via email or your class learning management system – it makes asking your questions easier. The same students also report that they got to better know the thoughts of their classmates. While in-person course conversations can be dominated by a few extroverts, online courses that require online discussions make it so that you see all of your classmates’ thoughts and questions.

If you interested in an online bachelor’s degree, check out what the best online colleges offer, or search our online degrees for the exact program that interests you. In either case, you will find well respected colleges and universities that offer online degrees.

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If you think a liberal arts college may be a better fit for you, see our ranking of the best liberal arts colleges for a bachelor’s in physics.

How do we determine the best physics research universities?

Methodology

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Influence”.

The influence of a college or university is based on the schools’ top academic influencers related to the discipline in this ranking. We track the influence of faculty and alumni affialiate with these school counting not only the publicaitons and citations of the school’s affiliated people, but we also consider the overall web presense of the faculty and alumni. The greater the citations, authority of web links, web searches, and pageviews, the greater the individuals’ influence. Those combined make up the departments’ influence in the field of study. We believe tracking the academic influence of the people affiliated with a school is the best indicator of academic excellence.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching, and whether their graduates themselves are advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence. Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and misuesed performance metrics. Influence, as measured by our InfluenceRanking engine, provides a ranking that is more insulated from manipulation, and more reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Best Research Universities for Physics Degrees

  1. #1

    Harvard University

    #1 institution's historical influence
    #2 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    5%

    Graduation

    98%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1515/34

    Cambridge, MA

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    What is Harvard University known for?

    Harvard University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Law
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    Harvard University Physics Majors

    • Joint concentrations Physics-Mathematics
    • Physics-Astronomy
    • Physics-History of Science
    • Chemistry-Physics

    Source

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  2. #2

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    #9 institution's historical influence
    #3 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    14K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1540/35

    Cambridge, MA

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    What is Massachusetts Institute of Technology known for?

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Economics
    • Biology
    • Business
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  3. #3

    Princeton University

    #11 institution's historical influence
    #5 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    6%

    Graduation

    98%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1515/34

    Princeton, NJ

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    What is Princeton University known for?

    Princeton University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • Physics
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    Princeton University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

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  4. #4

    Stanford University

    #10 institution's historical influence
    #1 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    5%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/33

    Stanford, CA

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    What is Stanford University known for?

    Stanford University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Economics
    • Physics
    • Law

    Most Influential Alumni

    Stanford University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics
    • BS in Engineering Physics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  5. #5

    California Institute of Technology

    #30 institution's historical influence
    #9 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1545/35

    Pasadena, CA

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    What is California Institute of Technology known for?

    California Institute of Technology’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Earth Sciences

    Most Influential Alumni

    California Institute of Technology Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  6. #6

    University of California, Berkeley

    #6 institution's historical influence
    #29 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    43K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/33

    Berkeley, CA

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    What is University of California, Berkeley known for?

    University of California, Berkeley’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Chemistry
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of California, Berkeley Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  7. #7

    University of Chicago

    #7 institution's historical influence
    #8 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    13K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1535/34

    Chicago, IL

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    What is University of Chicago known for?

    University of Chicago’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Law
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of Chicago Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

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  8. #8

    Columbia University

    #3 institution's historical influence
    #6 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $61K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/34

    New York, NY

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    What is Columbia University known for?

    Columbia University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Law
    • Philosophy
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Economics
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

    Columbia University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  9. #9

    Cornell University

    #15 institution's historical influence
    #14 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1480/33

    Ithaca, NY

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    What is Cornell University known for?

    Cornell University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Medical
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    Cornell University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  10. #10

    Yale University

    #5 institution's historical influence
    #4 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    16K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1515/34

    New Haven, CT

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    What is Yale University known for?

    Yale University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

    Yale University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  11. #11

    University of Pennsylvania

    #16 institution's historical influence
    #10 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/34

    Philadelphia, PA

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    What is University of Pennsylvania known for?

    University of Pennsylvania’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Law
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of Pennsylvania Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  12. #12

    Johns Hopkins University

    #22 institution's historical influence
    #21 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Baltimore, MD

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    What is Johns Hopkins University known for?

    Johns Hopkins University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

    Johns Hopkins University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  13. #13

    University of Michigan

    #12 institution's historical influence
    #37 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Acceptance

    26%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1435/32

    Ann Arbor, MI

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    What is University of Michigan known for?

    University of Michigan’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Law
    • Philosophy
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of Michigan Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics
    • BS or BA in Interdisciplinary Physics
    • Teacher Certification in Physics

    Source

  14. #14

    University of California, Los Angeles

    #20 institution's historical influence
    #31 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is University of California, Los Angeles known for?

    University of California, Los Angeles’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Law
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of California, Los Angeles Physics Majors

    • BS in Astrophysics
    • BS in Biophysics
    • BS in Physics
    • BA in General Physics

    Source

  15. #15

    Rice University

    #117 institution's historical influence
    #15 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1520/34

    Houston, TX

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    What is Rice University known for?

    Rice University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Education

    Rice University Physics Majors

    • BA in Astronomy
    • BA in Physics
    • BS in Astrophysics
    • BS in Physics – Applied Physics
    • BS in Physics – Biological Physics
    • BS in Physics – Computational Physics
    • BS in Physics – General Physics
    • BS in Chemical Physics

    Source

  16. #16

    Duke University

    #27 institution's historical influence
    #12 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    8%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1525/34

    Durham, NC

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    What is Duke University known for?

    Duke University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

    Duke University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics
    • BA in Physics
    • BS in Biophysics
    • BA in Biophysics
    • Physics – Concentration in Astrophysics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  17. #17

    University of Texas at Austin

    #34 institution's historical influence
    #43 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    32%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1355/30

    Austin, TX

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    What is University of Texas at Austin known for?

    University of Texas at Austin’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Law
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of Texas at Austin Physics Majors

    • BS or BA in Physics
    • BS Physics – General
    • BS Physics – Computation
    • BS Physics – Radiation Physics
    • BS Physics – Space Sciences
    • BS Physics – Teaching
    • BS Physics – Physics Honors
    • BS Physics – Biophysics

    Source

  18. #18

    Brown University

    #33 institution's historical influence
    #7 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $61K

    Acceptance

    8%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/34

    Providence, RI

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    What is Brown University known for?

    Brown University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

    Brown University Physics Majors

    • Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Physics
    • BS Physics – Astrophysics
    • BS Physics – Biological Physics
    • BS Physics – Mathematical Physics
    • BA Physics – Mathematical Physics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  19. #19

    Georgia Tech

    #168 institution's historical influence
    #39 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    21%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    31K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1405/31

    Atlanta, GA

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    What is Georgia Tech known for?

    Georgia Tech’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

    Georgia Tech Physics Major Concentrations

    • Astrophysics
    • Physics of Living Systems

    Source

  20. #20

    University of Southern California

    #31 institution's historical influence
    #30 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    16%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    40K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1445/32

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is University of Southern California known for?

    University of Southern California’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of Southern California Physics Majors

    • BA or BS in Physics
    • Physics – Astronomy
    • Physics – Biophysics
    • Physics – Physics and Computer Science
    • Physics – Physical Science

    Source

  21. #21

    Northwestern University

    #29 institution's historical influence
    #24 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1495/34

    Evanston, IL

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    What is Northwestern University known for?

    Northwestern University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Law
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Economics
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

    Northwestern University Physics Majors

    • BS in Physics

    Source

  22. #22

    University of Washington

    #28 institution's historical influence
    #69 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1345/30

    Seattle, WA

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    What is University of Washington known for?

    University of Washington’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of Washington BS in Physics Major Tracks

    • Comprehensive track
    • Applied physics track
    • Biological physics track
    • Teaching physics track

    Source

  23. #23

    New York University

    #17 institution's historical influence
    #44 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $55K

    Acceptance

    21%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    49K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1440/32

    New York, NY

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    What is New York University known for?

    New York University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Law
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Medical
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

    New York University Physics Majors

    • BA and BS in Physics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  24. #24

    Carnegie Mellon University

    #37 institution's historical influence
    #35 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    17K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Pittsburgh, PA

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    What is Carnegie Mellon University known for?

    Carnegie Mellon University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Political Science

    Carnegie Mellon University Physics Majors

    • Major and Minor Physics

    Source

    REQUEST INFO
  25. #25

    Vanderbilt University

    #95 institution's historical influence
    #16 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    12%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Nashville, TN

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    What is Vanderbilt University known for?

    Vanderbilt University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Law
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

    Vanderbilt University Physics Major Tracks

    • Professional Physics Track
    • Astronomy and Astrophysics Track
    • Medical Physics Track
    • General Physics Track

    Source

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The Best Physics Schools in Your State

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