What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Physics?

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Physics?

If you’re a student who is considering getting a master’s degree in physics, make sure that you understand how that degree will serve you after graduation. What can you do with a master’s degree in physics? We explore the topic in depth.

Key Takeaways

  • Physics is the study of both the nature and basic properties of energy and matter.
  • Graduate students seeking a master’s degree in physics can choose between a master of arts (MA) and a master of science (MS).
  • You may be required to pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to qualify for admission to some master’s of physics degree programs.

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.

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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!

Graphic with physics statistics

Earning A Master’s in Physics Degree

Without a doubt, physics stands apart from the other sciences in a special way. In keeping with the discipline’s position as the fulcrum of science, the Nobel Prize in Physics is given out first. Theoretically, it approaches pure mathematics, data analysis, scientific research, and and even philosophy as great minds consider universes that exist beyond our current space-time continuum and between dimensions.

Departments of physics acquire a staggering amount of funding and resources, which attracts more and more students. But the problem most students worry about is financing a graduate degree.

Financing a Physics Master’s Degree

The average cost of tuition and required fees for in-state graduate students, according to NCES’ recent data, is $12,410 for public institutions and $26,597 for private institutions. Out-of-state cost of master’s programs vary in different academic institutions, but typically, non-resident students pay higher. Tuition and fees can be heavy for many aspiring physics students. Luckily, all graduate students pursuing degrees are eligible to apply for federal student funding.

Students are required to complete the FAFSA. Any degree can be paid for with federal and state financial aid, even an online master’s degree in physics. Before applying for admission, research the school’s tuition rates. But remember, many colleges offer a ton of financial aid, which can help offset the base tuition figures.

Scholarships are frequently awarded based on either academic performance or financial need, or both. Grants are frequently given out based on financial need.

Internship Opportunities for Physics Graduate Students

Graduate students in physics have abundant internship opportunities from institutions, the government, and private institutions. The most famous source for internship and fellowship opportunities for physics students is the American Physical Society (APS).

The APS is the biggest nonprofit membership organization for professionals and students in physics. It provides ample resources, such as physics conferences, scientific meetings, research journals, outreach programs, international activities, and many more.

In addition to private organizations, students can also explore the Graduate Research Assistant Program. This educational program aims to provide physics graduates with practical experience in their chosen field of study to supplement their academic training. Students occasionally have the option to perform their master’s or doctoral thesis research at the lab. Both technical and professional positions are available for those who attended graduate school.

Physics masters’s degree holders snag the best jobs, including in the areas of aerospace engineering, postsecondary instruction or teaching in academe, chemical engineering, nuclear science, medical science, biochemistry, biophysics, information research, and astronomy! They also qualify for tech positions such as computer programmers.

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.

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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.
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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:

  • Astrophysics
  • Astrophysicists seek to understand the processes and physical matter of the solar system and other galaxies. They conduct research and develop theories on planets, stars, and astronomical phenomena.

  • Atomic Physics
  • Atomic physicists study atoms with the hopes of being able to control the states of individual atoms or have a better understanding of its energy states. Atomic physicists typically work in research firms, colleges and universities, or government positions.

  • Biophysics
  • Biophysicists combine their knowledge of biology and physics to study the physical principles of living things. Common topics biophysicists study include cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

  • Computational Physics
  • Computational physicists combine their knowledge of physics, computer science, and applied mathematics to predict trends and identify patterns. These physicists are trained to analyze numbers and test quantitative theories and can seek a career in fields such as oceanography, finance, or material science.

  • Geophysics
  • Geophysicist combine geology and physics, studying the Earth and examining natural phenomena. They do this using gravity, electrical, magnetic, and seismic methods.

  • Medical Physics
  • Medical physicists specialize in applying the principles of physics to medicine, working with medical imaging and radiation therapy equipment to ensure they are working properly. Physicists in this area might also study how radiation effects the body, develop new safety procedures, and research new treatment options.

  • Mathematical Physics
  • Mathematical physicists apply mathematical ideas to physics concepts, such as the movement of objects. They work in statistical mechanics, atomic and molecular physics, and quantum field theory.

  • Optical Physics
  • Optical physicists works with lasers, lenses, and other optical devices. Typically, those specialized in handling this sort of machinery work in medical imaging or telecommunications.

  • Science Communicator or Writer
  • Once physicists have a deep understanding of their subject matter, they can write articles, host educational programs, or produce documentaries, working in media to inform the public of complex scientific ideas.

  • Thermodynamics
  • Thermodynamic engineers use their knowledge of thermodynamics to improve and develop products and systems, examining the relationship of heat with other energy forms. Typically, thermodynamic engineers work in aerospace to ensure missiles, aircraft, and spacecraft function properly.

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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
  • Astronomy
  • Applied Mathematics
  • General Field Theory
  • Astrophysics
  • Quantum Computing

It is also important to note that a master’s in physics is a research-heavy degree. This means that the majority of classes will have at least some sort of research element to them. Students should be prepared for this and understand that they will have to be self motivated and use their analytical skills to complete and excel in the research component of their degree.

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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).

Career Outlook for Students with Physics Degree

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Degree Level: Master's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $12,782
  • Avg. Expenses*: $17,779
  • Avg. Starting Salary*: $100,836
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $110,485
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 4 years
  • Job Growth: 1.41%
  • Number of Jobs: 1,195,900
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Natural Sciences Managers4.87%$122,066
Physics Teachers, Postsecondary3.70%$90,850
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education1.03%$61,619

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 North Carolina11% higher than average$133,162
#3 Missouri16% higher than average$120,559
#4 Pennsylvania5% higher than average$133,969
#5 New York5% higher than average$145,155
#6 Wisconsin7% higher than average$129,025

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Natural Sciences Managers$122,066
Physics Teachers, Postsecondary$90,850
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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 specialize in the mechanics, computing systems, and technology that make flight possible.
  • Postsecondary Teachers provide education in physics and related natural sciences at the college and post-graduate levels.
  • Chemical Engineers study and develop applications for chemical processes in areas like manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, industrial design, and more.
  • Nuclear Technicians oversee the technology, computing systems and facilities used to create, harness and distribute nuclear energy.
  • Medical Scientists conduct research and develop applications for health and wellness through technology, medicine, life saving procedures, and more.
  • Biochemists and Biophysicists produce research and innovations in areas such as medical technology, food production, pharmaceuticals, and more.
  • Computer Programmers and Information Research Scientists develop and design advanced applications in computing, network infrastructure, business analytics, and more.
  • Physicists and Astronomers conduct advanced research and consult on policy in areas like space exploration, climate change, renewable energy, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if a physics degree is right for me?

If a student is interested in fields similar to physics, such as chemistry or engineering, a degree in physics might be a great option. For those thinking about pursuing a master’s in physics, make sure to evaluate what classes you liked and did well in during your bachelor’s degree and let that help guide your decision. It might also be worth looking into what degrees potential employers look for if the student has a particular job or career path in mind.

How much scientific research are physics graduates expected to complete?

Research is required in many, if not all, physics master’s programs. Because of this, students should make sure to prepare for the rigor of these research courses in their undergraduate degree by taking as many research classes as possible. These research opportunities will also prepare students who wish to further study and obtain their PhD.

What kind of skills will I learn in a physics master’s program?

Those pursuing a physics degree can expect to gain problem solving skills and analytical skills as they learn the scientific principles that will help them succeed in their careers. Other skills include writing code, gaining laboratory skills, and data analysis.


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.

And if you’re still shopping for the right college, be sure to bookmark our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

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