What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Physics?
Physics is a foundational natural science. As a physics master, you’ll study force, energy and motion and how these properties interact with matter, space and time. Physics promotes a better understanding of the world and universe around us. Because physics is a complex and challenging field, a great deal of emphasis is placed on meaningful educational experience. This underscores the value of a master’s degree in physics, which can enhance your knowledge, expand your skills, and heighten your qualifications in an area of specialization.
A master’s degree in physics can significantly improve your eligibility for advanced and specialized roles such as medical scientist, biophysicist, computer scientist, and more. Physics is a notoriously difficult field with many challenging branches, including quantum physics, mathematical physics, biophysics, astrophysics, and much more. But physics is also tremendously rewarding for those who put in the time and study. Earning a masters in this field will make you a more competitive candidate for research and leadership opportunities , and can provide you with highly valued skills in a specific area of specialization, whether you’re interested in contributing to the development of self-driving cars, innovations around renewable energy, heightened safety in public transportation, or any number of other exciting achievements that depend on our knowledge of the physical world.
Just getting started in the field? Check out our look at the physics major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in physics.
If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Physics.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a physics master.
Why Get a Master’s Degree in Physics?
Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a top influencer in the field of astrophysics. She is highly noted in the field both for her pioneering role as a woman in a male-dominated field and for her groundbreaking discovery of pulsars.
We had the chance to speak with her, and she offered some eye-opening stories about her time in the field. In addition to shedding some light on the struggle that women have endured to gain recognition in STEM fields, she also speaks to the excitement of being part of a dynamic academic community.
“Even today,” she tells us, “I am no longer actively researching myself, but I’m watching what goes on in the field, and being in Oxford University is fantastic for that because we have a lot of astrophysicists, a lot of talks, a lot of visitors, news and gossip going through the place. It’s very lively, it’s great.”
Check out our full interview with Dr. Joceyln Bell Burnell.
Dr. Burnell’s experience highlights the core elements of experimentation and discovery that make physics such an exciting field. Earning a master’s degree in physics could put you on track to contribute to a field brimming with innovation.
Learn more about Jocelyn Bell Burnell and other top experts in physics today!
How Can I Qualify To Get a Master’s Degree in Physics?
In the U.S., there is no standard, mandatory entrance exam for gaining admission into a Physics master’s program, though some programs may require you to complete a Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If the GRE is needed, your program may either require a general exam, or a GRE specific to the subject of physics. Some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one physics master’s program to the next.
If no GRE is required, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a physics master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally-accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally-accredited college or university. It’s also worth noting that if you plan to parlay your physics master’s degree into a career as a Professional Engineer (PE), your undergraduate and graduate degree must have been earned from a program which has been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).
Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!
For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.
If you’re still working on building your qualifications, check out our look at the criminal justice major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in physics.
What Kinds of Advanced Physics Degrees Are There?
As with most disciplines, the exact name of your physics master’s degree program may vary from one school to another. At the master’s level, variations include the traditional distinction between master of science (MS) programs and master of arts (MA) programs, with the latter adding humanities and philosophy courses to the core and specialization programs which typically comprise the former. Applied sciences degrees are also commonplace in physics, and heighten the focus on practical and professional skills.
- Master of Physics (MA or MS): A master’s in physics typically takes two years to complete and requires 30-45 credits. Students at this level develop advanced knowledge in specialized areas, such as biophysics, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, or atomic physics. Coursework includes topics such as electrodynamics, advanced calculus, differential equations, quantum mechanics, and statistical physics. Typically, students must also amass lab experience and complete a thesis project. Students with a master’s degree in physics are prepared for advanced and specialized roles such as medical scientist, biophysicist, computer scientist, and more.
- PhD in Physics: A PhD in physics is the most advanced degree you can earn in the field. This terminal degree will typically take three to five years to complete, and requires a combination of advanced coursework, a research project and dissertation, comprehensive exams, and lab or instructional work. At this level, you will already be well into your specialization area. Therefore, you may need to determine where to earn your doctoral degree based on how each school ranks for your specialization. Your PhD will qualify you for an array of high-level professions, including research work as a physicist, astronomer, astrophysicist, biophysicist, or tenured college professor.
What are Some Popular Physics Specializations?
Physics master’s degrees come in a wide range of specializations. You will likely already have honed in on a concentration as part of your undergraduate studies, and perhaps you’ve accumulated some professional experience in the field. Your concentration as a master of physics will depend largely on your professional goals. Top physics specializations include:
- Atomic Physics
- Medical Physics
- Mathematical Physics
What Courses Will I Take as a Physics Master?
Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a Physics major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as mechanics and laboratory research. Other common courses may include:
- Electromagnetism and optics
- Statistical and thermal physics
- Quantum mechanics
- Applied Mathematics
- General Field Theory
- Quantum Computing
Is a Master’s Degree in Physics Worth It?
Professionals with advanced degrees in physics are in high demand for a wide range of well-paying jobs. Many roles in the field are extremely specialized, which means that you could be on track for strong earning potential after completing a master’s degree in physics program. According to the BLS, a master’s degree in physics could put you on pace to become a Computer and Information Research Scientist (Median Pay, 2019—$122,840), Mathematician/Statistician(Median Pay, 2019—$92,030), or Physicist (Median Pay, 2019—$122,220).
What Are The Top Jobs With a Master’s In Physics Degree?
Mastering in physics opens up a diverse array of exciting and well-paying careers in science, technology and medicine. Your physics major can lead to a wide range of professional opportunities, including these top jobs:
- Aerospace Engineers
- Postsecondary Teachers
- Chemical Engineers
- Nuclear Technicians
- Medical Scientists
- Biochemists and Biophysicists
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
- Physicists and Astronomers
Curious how far you could go with a master in physics? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
Now that you know how to earn your master’s degree, check out The Most Influential Schools in Physics:
Check out the full list here and get started on your path to a physics master’s degree.