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Physics: Great Career Preparation

The following are questions frequently posed by students considering a major and career in physics.

What is Physics?

Physics is the study of matter and energy and their interactions. The fundamental ideas of physics underlie all of the basic sciences—astronomy, astronomy, biology, chemistry, and geology—and all of the applied sciences and engineering. 

What do physics majors do?

Richmond physics graduates have followed many different paths after leaving the University; they are teachers, scientists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, and problem solvers in industry. They have gone on to scientific careers at universities such as Princeton, Chicago, MIT, North Carolina, and Virginia and work in fields from astronomy to catching counterfeiters with the Federal Reserve Bank. The American Institute of Physics has put together a great diagram to help you envision all of the careers that are possible with a physics degree.

How does studying physics help me?

Are you considering going on to medical school, law school, or even business school? Physics is great preparation!

Undergraduate physics majors have:

  • The second highest average MCAT score in 2012. Only economics majors scored higher.
  • The second highest average LSAT score in 2012. Only mathematics majors scored higher.
  • The highest mean GMAT score from 2008-2012.

Even workers in non-technical fields, where an advanced degree is not required, find that scientific training gives them an advantage in the workplace. Read more about the results of a survey the National Science Foundation conducted.

How much do physics majors make?

Lots. The American Physical Society and the Institute of Physics in England have published articles on salaries and the current job market for physicists. On a national scale, this means that physics is the highest earning major offered at the University of Richmond.

It’s important to note that physics majors typically have a higher earning potential than many majors that one assumes produces high wage earners (economics, business, accounting, etc.). A survey by the Department of Labor of the Washington, D.C. area shows that physicists are the fourth highest wage earners (below lawyers, dentists, and doctors) in the professional, paraprofessional, and technical occupation categories and are compensated at rates that are typically 10-25 percent higher than traditional engineers. Overall, physicists are the FIFTH highest wage earners out of approximately 500 job categories surveyed by the Department of Labor.

In other words, when compared with virtually any field, a physics degree has the highest earning potential.

Who's hiring?

The American Institute of Physics keeps statistics on employers who have recently hired people with bachelor’s degrees in physics. 

If you’re ready to look for a job, the AIP also maintains a job board, Physics Today Jobs.

What about graduate school?

Interested in pursuing a graduate degree in physics? and Dartmouth College offer great advice to would-be applicants. Richmond's Department of Physics also keeps a copy of the National Academy of Science's Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond to help physics majors plan their futures.

Where can I go to learn more about careers in physics?

There is more information on careers in physics in the statistical research section of the American Institute of Physics’s website. The AIP presents and analyzes numerous surveys of people with doctorates, master's degrees and bachelor's degrees in physics.

If it’s success stories you’re interested in, both the AIP and the Society of Physics Students share lots of great profiles on their websites. The AIP even devotes a special section of their website to highlighting physicists who have been successful scientific advocates in the political process.

How will I know Richmond’s the right place to kick off my career in physics?

If you haven’t yet decided on attending Richmond, we hope you’ll make plans to stop by and visit the Department of Physics when you come for a campus visit. Our physics professors are always happy to meet with prospective physics majors. We recommend calling and making an appointment in advance, just to ensure that we give you plenty of time to get all your questions answered. If you’re not sure it matters where you attend college to study physics, there’s good data out there to tell you otherwise. We think you’ll find that studying physics at Richmond is the single best way to launch a successful physics career.