What is Physics?

As the most basic of the natural sciences, physics helps us to understand phenomena in terms of fundamental principles, and to apply those principles to the solution of specific problems. In so doing, physics leads us to a deeper understanding of natural phenomena and to such technological advances as the use of lasers to heal the retina of the eye or restore a work of art. It guides us in making difficult decisions such as determining the best procedures for energy production now and in the future, or the best means for reducing the amount of pollutants produced by industries and industrial products.

The Department of Physics offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, a minor in Physics, and a minor in Astronomy and Planetary Science. The BS prepares students for graduate study in physics, other physical sciences, and engineering, and for laboratory research positions and careers in advanced technology industries. The BA, with fewer required physics courses and more physics, mathematics, science, and engineering electives than the BS, gives students a basic knowledge of the physical sciences that can be applied to careers in the natural, behavioral, and social sciences (such as economics), or in industry. It is excellent preparation for law and medical school.

There is great flexibility in paths to a degree in physics at UCSB. The standard program, which is in the College of Letters and Science (L&S), leads to either a BA or BS degree. The BS program is for those aiming for a career in physics, while the BA is a more flexible program allowing more courses from other areas. Within the BS program there are three possible schedules of courses - a standard track, an advanced track, and an honors track - leading to a degree in four years. These tracks include increasingly more electives and undergraduate research.

General Major Information

How Can I Tell If I Would Like Physics?

Lucky for us here at UCSB, our top ranked Department of Physics is backed up with some quality student advising. Career Services suggests you spend time on the physics site and also take a look at the text books currently assigned by the physics faculty. Pay attention to your own interest level as you review the courses and texts. Here’s a passage (with some editing) from their approachable website:

The BA in Physics has a lot of leeway in terms of letting you choose what courses should apply to your degree, of course, in consultation with a faculty advisor. The BA is sometimes appropriate for students who are not necessarily sure what discipline they want to pursue after college (i.e education, life sciences, etc.) This doesn’t mean students with a BA in Physics can’t pursue post-graduate work in the field. BA candidates have the ability to specialize in a particular field of Physics, by allowing you to put a program together that fits your tastes - i.e. you can take a lot of Astrophysics courses, or perhaps take courses in the Engineering Department.

The BS in Physics has a much more well-defined course curriculum. There are more required lower and upper division courses, with the exception of a few upper-division electives. The BS degree is usually appropriate for students who are more certain they want to go to graduate school for Physics or another closely related field, or for students interested in a career in Physics. The BS degree ensures a well-rounded Physics education in preparation for graduate level work.

What Are Potential Topics Within This Major?

Although the following list can provide students with topics that may be covered in this major, look at the UCSB catalog and consult with the Undergraduate Department Advisor for more detailed information about requirements and course offerings. Within the UCSB Physics Major, there are three tracks: standard, advanced, and honors. The physics department’s website does a fine job describing the tracks.
Methods of Theoretical Physics
Classical Mechanics
Quantum Mechanics
Thermal and Statistical Physics
The Practice of Science
Condensed Matter Physics
Analog Electronics
Stellar Structure and Evolution
Gravitation and Relativity
Galaxies and Cosmology
Observational Astrophysics
Biophysics and Biomolecular Materials

To learn more about whether you might enjoy this major, check with a peer in the Career Resource Room for details on:

- Focus 2 to explore college majors and careers.

- The Strong Interest Inventory®, an assessment that compares your interests against six broad categories of work. This assessment helps match your interests and suggests potential careers to explore.


What Can I Do To Make My Major More Marketable?

  • Pursue relevant work, internship, volunteer, and/or research experience.
  • Choose a complementary minor.
  • Specialize in an area; take courses in related fields.
  • Develop your computer skills.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Study abroad.
  • Join professional associations.
  • Get involved in student clubs.
  • Participate in community organizations.
  • Seek out leadership positions.
  • Research specific prerequisites for different positions.
  • Network with others in fields that interest you.


General Career Information

What Are Some Possible Career Options?

Note: On its own, your major does not dictate what your job will be. The following list provides only a handful of possibilities. Physics majors with a strong liberal arts background may pursue career options in hundreds of fields. Depending on experience, specialized coursework, and possible graduate study, options include:

Avionics Designer
Science Teacher
Health Physicist
Technical Salesperson
To learn more about these and other occupations, please visit:
O*Net Online
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Come visit the Career Resource Room to see our vast collection of career books and resources.
See what other UCSB alumni are doing with their major on LinkedIn

Graduate and Professional Schools

Rank and search 19,079 programs at 2,240 US universities based on your priorities. Data come from the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and the National Center for Education Statistics.
This is a comprehensive website that provides information about where graduate programs are offered throughout the nation.

This is a database to help find where graduate programs are offered throughout the U.S.

Come to the Career Resources Room to view the CHOICES lab version of graduate schools.

Experience Search Strategies

Who's Hiring Physics Bachelor's
While not a job listing site per se, this site provides a state-by-state listing of some of the employers who recently hired new physics graduates to fill technical positions.  These companies would be good ones to research.

Sonoma State University
Many thanks to our colleagues at Sonoma State who compiled these links to full-time employment opportunities in physics, astronomy, computers and many fields, plus part-time, temporary, and summer jobs for students.

American Astronomical Society
Career homepage, job listings, fellowships and student opportunities, summer employment.

Search for the latest jobs in Physics and Engineering.
The is a comprehensive physics and astronomy online education, research and reference web site. is a recruitment service that connects employers from different industry sectors with jobseekers who have a background in physics and engineering.
Physics Today Jobs is the online recruitment advertising website for Physics Today magazine, which is the flagship publication of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Physics Today is the most influential and closely followed physics magazine in the world, informing readers about science and its place in the world with authoritative features.
The APS Careers in Physics website is a gateway for physicists, students, and physics enthusiasts to information about physics jobs and careers. Find physics job listings, career advice, upcoming workshops and meetings, and career and job related resources. is a free web-based job board enabling federal job seekers access to thousands of job opportunities across hundreds of federal agencies and organizations
View info on opportunities for students and recent graduates to be considered for Federal employment.
Lab Support, a division of On Assignment, is an international leader in placing science and engineering professionals in contract, contract-to-hire, and direct hire opportunities.
Staffing service tailored to Physics.
Raytheon Company is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, security and civil markets throughout the world.
Indeed is the #1 job site worldwide, with over 140 million unique visitors per month.
UCSB Career Services “Job Links” section
Check out job links in the following categories: Local/CA, National, International, Industry Specific, UCSB Careers By Majors and Diversity.

When you join LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, you get access to people, jobs, news, updates, and insights that help you be great at what you do.

Professional Associations

American Institute of Physics
Purpose is to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare.

American Physical Society
Proclaimed mission to be "to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics”.

American Astronomical Society
The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

American Association of Physicists in Medicine
Composed of scientists whose clinical practice is dedicated to ensuring accuracy, safety and quality in the use of radiation in medical procedures such as medical imaging and radiation therapy.


UCSB Resources