Majoring in Physics, Astrophysics or Chemical Physics

A major in physics involves the study of the universal principles underlying phenomena ranging from the behavior of subatomic particles to the structure of the universe.

It also entails the applications of these principles to the phenomena we observe every day and to the technology used to explore the world and address people’s needs. Important components of the major are: modeling, problem-solving, and developing the critical thinking skills necessary to address fundamental questions about Nature. To acquire these skills our majors engage in active inquiry in the classroom and teaching laboratories and in performing research. In addition to preparing students for graduate study in physics or engineering, a major in physics is an excellent basis for a career in other sciences, business, public policy, medicine, law and the arts. Physics majors will also be prepared with fundamental intellectual tools to support their lifelong learning in a rapidly changing world. Within the major, the interdisciplinary option provides a foundation in physics supplemented by coursework in related scientific fields. Interdepartmental majors in Astrophysics and in Chemical Physics provide additional options for students interested in these two fields.

Goals for the Major

  • The Wellesley physics major is designed to give students an effective and engaging sequence of experiences to prepare them for graduate study or any of the subsequent paths listed above.
  • Physics courses for the first three semesters have laboratory components that provide hands-on training in investigating the physical world and exposure to modern equipment and analytical tools.
  • There is also a two-term mathematical methods sequence that focuses on the link between mathematics and physics that is central to the modeling process.
  • Our core upper-level courses include advanced work in three fields fundamental to the understanding of the many special topics within the discipline as well as an advanced laboratory course that gives students experience in modern experimental techniques.

Requirements for the Major

A major in physics should ordinarily include: 107, 108, 202, 207, 302, 305, 310, and 314. MATH 215 and PHYS 216 are additional requirements. 320 is strongly recommended for students considering advanced work in physics and related disciplines. One unit of another laboratory science is recommended.

All students who wish to consider a major in physics or a related field are urged to complete the introductory sequence (PHYS 107 and PHYS 108) as soon as possible, preferably in the first year and certainly by the second year. A strong mathematics background is necessary for advanced courses. It is suggested that students complete MATH 115 and MATH 116 or MATH 120 in their first year and the MATH 215-PHYS 216 sequence in their second year. All students majoring in physics are urged to develop proficiency in the use of one or more computer languages.

Requirements for the Minor

A minor in physics (six units) should ordinarily include: 104 or 107, 108, 202, 207, 302 and one other unit at the 300 level (350 cannot be counted as the other 300-level unit). MATH 215 and PHYS 216 are also required.


The only route to honors in the major is writing a thesis and passing an oral examination. To be admitted to the thesis program (PHYS 360/370), a student must have a grade point average of at least 3.5 in all work in the major field above the 100-level; the department may petition on her behalf if her GPA in the major is between 3.0 and 3.5.