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Can a non-physics major pursue graduate physics program?

  1. Jun 20, 2012 #1
    I am a computer science graduate with a good command of mathematics. However, I have been highly attracted towards theoretical physics in the last few years. Is there anyway I can join graduate programs in theoretical physics? If so, how should I plan to achieve this?
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 20, 2012 #2
    Easiest way: change your major to physics. Or declare a double major in physics.
  4. Jun 20, 2012 #3
    When I was in a similar situation, I started taking physics courses at my local state university through their "open university" program. After I had taken the upper division mechanics, electromechanics, and quantum mechanics courses, they admitted me to their MS program.

    So the short answer is that there is a considerable amount of coursework you need to catch up on, but it is possible.
  5. Jun 20, 2012 #4
    Your situation sounds very familiar. My first degree was Computer Science. I actually went back to get an undergrad in Physics before going on to grad school. It took four semesters because of the class sequence (I also picked up a math degree while I was at it).

    In my school, IF one achieves a good enough score on the Physics GRE, you can start taking graduate courses immediately. Doing well on the Physics GRE (at the time) was a matter of knowing a lot of undergrad physics equations. The core stuff includes: Electromagnetism, Thermodynamics, Classical Mechanics (Hamiltonian and Lagrangian style), and Quantum Mechanics. A command of calculus would be required to do well.

    BUT there is the problem of the admissions committee. Accepting someone without a physics (or similar) degree is probably rare unless that GRE score and associated recommendation letters are top notch.

    Personally I'm glad to have gone through the undergrad courses.
  6. Jun 20, 2012 #5


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    Gold Member

    The following thread is relevant to your interests:


    Best of luck to you!
  7. Jun 21, 2012 #6
    If you are in school, and have no/little time constraints, switch your major to physics or declare a major in physics.

    If you are in school, with severe time and financial constraints (that's what I was in) take as many physics classes as you can, take the PGRE and ace it, and apply for medium tier schools PHD programs and any MS programs only programs (get your MS then decide if you want to go to industry or try for a top tier PHD). Do well, then either work in industry, or get a PHD. Once in the MS program, they will usually ask you to take grad versions of whatever classes you've finished, while making up the classes you haven't finished at the BS level. This is useful: a MS is pretty employable, you can get publications in, there's little risk, you get paid for it at some universities or you can get your employer to pay for you, and you'll get to know your professors for them to recommend you to top tier PHD programs. Once in, you'll have an advantage over those who went straight from the BS in that you've already done everything once and can either test out and start research directly, or if you're forced to retake everything, at least you'd have gone through it before while others get "grad school shock" and burn out. This assumes you do well in your MS.

    If you have already graduated and are in industry, self study the PGRE, apply for a MS, do well, get promoted in your industry job or go for your PHD.

    After your PHD, have no illusions about academic work. You work in computer science - be prepared to go back to the same job you're working now, since theoretical physicists directly compete in your field for programming jobs.
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