Freshman FAQ - Considering Majoring in Physics?

(A Dummies Guide to Choosing a Science Major)

About us

Frequently Asked Questions

A Student's Perspective

Research in the Physics Department

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Career Center

People to Talk To


Prof. Connie B. Roth
cbroth @

Frequently Asked Questions:  

1. What should I major in?

Steps to follow and considerations:

Even though talking to faculty members can be scary, it is often one of the most helpful things to do if you are curious about a subject.  Emory is home to many happy faculty members who genuinely love what they are doing and want to help students succeed.  Also, it is ok if you leave Emory with a completely different passion than the one you thought you would have when you first enrolled, and many people do this.  That being said, some tracks have more requirements and are less flexible than others, premed for example, so it is a good idea to start any track such as this early.  Also remember that what you major in as an undergrad does not dictate what you must do for the rest of your life.  So while it is a large decision which should involve careful consideration, life will not end if you are a physics major as an undergrad and then decide you want to be a chemical engineer.

Match your interests:

One of the most helpful ways to decide if your interests and skills match up is to try something out.  Since we don't have all of the time in the world and most of us would like to get out of school in four years, there are other options which can help in this endevor.  The Career Center has two tests, the Strong Inventory and the MBTI, which help to match your interests and confidence to different career paths.

Refer to for more information.

2. What careers can I pursue with a physics degree?

Here are some different focuses of physics and other possible career choices that involve physics.

Research in university, industry, or government lab

Teaching at a university, community college, or high school

Other options include:
- Management or business related field in a technology company
- Politics or policy development
- Science writing, publishing, or editorial field
- Industry product development
- Instrument manufacturer and/or technical sales
- Law
- Consulting

Available resources:

Emory Career Center:
  - Wetfeet and Vault give you some idea about careers and industry.
  - Eagle Ops gives you a search engine for relevant job and internship opportunities.


Occupational Outlook Handbook:

3. How do I get involved in physics research at Emory?

To get involved in physics research (or any research for that matter) at Emory, do your own research.  Before actually heading down to the labs, check out:
This site is the home of physics research at Emory.  You will find descriptions of labs, research, and who to contact here.

Afterwards, go down to the labs that are located on the first floor of the Math and Science building, and talk to the researchers.  If you find a lab that interests you, be persistent, and you may receive a position in the lab either as a lab assistant or an undergraduate researcher.  Whatever the case may be, try your hardest to get your foot in the door.  Undergraduate research experiences portray initiative and engagement serving to assist in obtaining a job to pursue your career in the future.

4. What are suggested courses for majoring in physics?

Wei's advice:
For pre-med students wishing to major in physics, I would suggest starting out early with general science courses.  I strongly encourage taking Physics 151-152 in your freshmen year along with another general science course (such as biology or chemistry).  There are many more required science courses for premed and physics and this route definitely gives you a headstart.  In addition, for students wishing to major in physics, and who received a 4 or 5 on both Physics C exams, some may wish to take the challenge of enrolling in modern physics as a freshman (I know a couple of freshmen who have done this and are very appreciative of the route they have taken).  Definitely, calculus (1 and 2) are a must.  If you have received a 4 or 5 on the BC Calculus exam, I suggest going onto Multivariable Calculus (I have done this myself and it worked out nicely) or Differential Equations (both are requirements for a Physics BS).

If you find yourself confused, consult your academic advisor or even your course atlas, it has all the requirements for every kind of degree listed and their prerequisites.  Definitely start a 4 year, or even, a 2 year plan for all the courses you want to take and modify as you go along.  It is always nice to have a plan in mind, but make sure you are flexible as many people don't get the courses they want as a result of class overload and bad registration times.

See detailed course options/requirements listed under the "6. What types of Physics Majors are there?" below.

5. What is the Society of Physics Students?

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) is a student run organization for undergraduate students interested in physics.  Although many members are physics majors, students from many disciplines attend meetings and participate in fun activities throughout the year.

6. What types of Physics Majors are there?

BS Physics:

BS Applied Physics:

BS Physics and Astronomy:

BA Physics:

BA Physics and Astronomy:

Minor in Physics:

Minor in Astronomy:

(Refer to for more information.)

Mary's advice:
The most frequent advice I have been given both in this course and in talking to faculty members in other disciplines is to not become too specilized as an undergrad so you have the ability to be flexible in the future.

7. What is the Emory/Georgia Tech 3-2 program?

Emory and Georgia Tech partnered up to offer a unique dual degree through a 3-2 program.  The program allows students to take classes at both Emory and Georgia Tech to obtain a bachelor's degree of the arts and sciences from Emory and a bachelor's of science in engineering from Georgia Tech.  A student must meet certain requirements to be accepted into the program.  A student must also be admitted to both Emory and Georgia Tech prior to admission into the program.  Go to for more information.