Career outlook

A degree in physics

Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us. It is the most basic and fundamental science and it encompasses the study of the universe from the largest galaxies to the smallest subatomic particles (source: aps.org).

Students earning a degree in physics or astronomy conduct research into physical phenomena, develop theories on the basis of observation and experiments and devise methods to apply physical laws and theories.

Transferable skills

A physics or astronomy degree offers skills in:

  • Science and mathematics
  • Deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Critical thinking and processing information
  • Complex problem solving
  • Laboratory and research skills to analyze data and solve complex problems

Some careers in physics

Career Median salary Market growth
Aerospace Engineer $107,830 -2% or lower
Astrophysicist/Astronomer $104, 100 2 – 4%
Automotive Engineering $83,590 5 – 8%
Biochemist and Biophysicist $82,150 5 – 8%
Energy Engineer $95,900 2 – 4%
Chemist and Materials Scientist $91,000 2 – 4%
Civil Engineer $82,220 5 – 8%
Computer and Information Research Scientist $110,620 9 – 13%
Computer Hardware Engineer $111,730 2 – 4%
Electrical and Electronics Engineer $93,010 -1 – 1%
Geoscientist (Except Hydrologists and Geographers) $89,700 9 – 13%
Mathematician $111,110 14% or higher
Mechanical Engineer $83,590 5 – 8%
Nuclear Engineer $102,950 -2% or lower
Nuclear Medicine Physician $187,200 14% or higher
Physicist $111,580 5 – 8%
Post Secondary Teacher $82,840 14% or higher

Source: O*NET Online, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration

Career field resources

Graduate study

This degree also provides a solid foundation for graduate study in:

  • Astrophysics
  • Physics
  • Medical physics
  • Nuclear physics
  • Patent law
  • Engineering

Notable people with a physics major

  • James Cameron  (filmmaker, director, producer, screenwriter for The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar)
  • Marie Curie (research of radioactivity, first woman to receive Nobel Prize)
  • Albert Einstein (developed the general theory of relativity and E=mc2)
  • Brian May (co-founder, lead guitarist, and singer of rock group, Queen; astrophysicist)
  • Elon Musk  (founder/CEO of SpaceX, co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc.)
  • Vera Rubin (studied galaxy rotation rates, provided evidence for the existence of dark matter)
  • Carl Sagan (astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science communicator)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator)

Physics majors pull in high starting salaries

Physics graduates receive some of the top starting salaries after graduating from college. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers of starting salaries offered by campus recruiters shows that students graduating with a bachelors in physics can make up to $64,000 per year when starting right out of school. More commonly, the survey found that physics graduates can expect a starting salary between $46,000 and $58,000 per year.

This generally exceeds the starting salaries of graduates in most other science fields. The mean starting salary for a physicist is higher that of graduates who majored in chemistry, psychology or biology. Graduates with physics degrees also tend to outpace other fields outside of the sciences, including those graduating with degrees in marketing, accounting, and even finance.

Source: American Institute of Physics (AIP)

Physics majors get readily admitted in medical and law schools

Admission to medical schools

Students with a bachelor's degree in physics typically perform very well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and stand an above than average chance of being admitted into medical schools.

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) has three sections of standardized multiple choice questions (total of 219 items) with an additional writing sample comprised of two essays. Scores of 9.5 to 11 in each section are considered competitive by most medical schools.

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges, data warehouse

Average MCAT scores by selected majors (2009)

Discipline (major) Physical sciences Biological sciences Verbal reasoning Number of applicants
Biomedical engineering 10.9 10.7 9.6 1,005
Physics 11.1 10.3 9.6 207
Electrical engineering 10.9 10.5 9.4 195
Economics 10.4 10.5 9.7 566
Neuroscience 9.9 10.6 9.5 1,066
Mathematics 10.3 10.1 9.6 374
All majors 9.2 9.8 9.0 41,487

Note: Admission results vary from year to year but the above statistics are considered representative of the various fields applying for admission at medical schools across the nation.

Admission to law schools

Physics bachelors receive higher scores on the LSAT than other undergraduate majors and are highly regarded by law schools.

Discipline (major) Mean score Number of applicants
Physics 161.5 180
Mathematics 159.7 336
Economics 157.4 3,047
Electrical Engineering 156.3 546
Mechanical Engineering 156.0 427
Chemistry 155.7 355
All majors 152.6 81,530

Note: Admission results vary from year to year but the above statistics are considered representative of the various fields applying for admission at law schools across the nation.