The Physics Majors 2013-14

Physics seeks to discover the fundamental regularities or “laws” that govern our universe and to apply these laws to explain the behavior of fundamental and complex systems. The department offers majors in physics, physics (astrophysics), applied physics, and physics education. The physics and astrophysics majors are designed to prepare students for advanced graduate study in more specialized subjects. The applied physics major is good preparation not only for industrial careers but also graduate studies. In fact, all three share the same foundational courses and differ mainly in some of the upper-division required courses and electives. The physics education major provides the necessary background to enter a rigorous credential program and, ultimately, a career in high school science education. The department also offers a physics minor comprised of the introductory sequence, modern physics, the intermediate lab, and an upper-division elective. The astrophysics minor is offered by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

For more information about the physics program requirements, please see the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs web site at

Study and Research Opportunities

  • B.S., M.S., Ph.D., undergraduate minor, and a new combined B.S./M.S. degree
  • The number of research opportunities for physics undergraduates is exceptionally high.
  • The senior thesis requirement enables students to interact professionally with faculty in a research environment.
  • The California Teach program at UCSC supports student outreach, advises students, and arranges teaching internships for physics education students.

What Makes UC Santa Cruz's Physics Program Unique

We provide our undergraduate students with exceptional research opportunities due to facilities on campus such as the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP), and also through scientific associations with other major research centers such as the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL), the UC Observatories, various x-ray and neutron scattering centers at national laboratories, the Advanced Studies Laboratory at NASA's Ames Research Center, and the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley. In addition to advising services provided by the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs office, each physics major is also assigned their own faculty advisor, with whom they can develop a mentoring relationship during their time here.

High School Preparation

High school students wanting to major in physics should come to UC Santa Cruz prepared to take calculus in their first quarter in order to concurrently take the Physics 5 series, the calculus-based physics course for physics majors. High school physics is strongly recommended but not required.

Transfer Preparation

Transfer students must prepare themselves by taking courses equivalent to the lower-division requirements for the physics major. Due to the prerequisite structure for upper-division courses, prior to transfer, prospective transfer students should have completed all, or as many of the lower-division requirements for the major as possible to complete the degree within a reasonable time. Transfer students must complete courses equivalent to the Physics 5 series, the calculus-based physics course for physics majors, with a GPA of 2.70 or higher before they transfer to be permitted to declare a physics major.

The Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) will not provide transfer students with enough mathematics and science courses to allow them to complete the program at UC Santa Cruz in two years. Prospective transfer students should visit the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs web site at for further information (see the More Information section). In addition, please see the Lower-Division Requirements sections below.

Lower-Division Requirements

The required lower-division courses for the physics major are normally completed during the first two years at UC Santa Cruz, beginning immediately with Physics 5A/L in the first quarter of freshman year:

  • Physics 5A/L, Introduction to Physics I with Laboratory
  • Physics 5B/M, Introduction to Physics II with Laboratory
  • Physics 5C/N, Introduction to Physics III with Laboratory
  • Physics 5D, Heat, Thermodynamics, and Kinetics
  • Mathematics 19A-B, Calculus for Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (two quarters), or Mathematics 20A-B, Honors Calculus (two quarters)
  • Mathematics 23A-B, Multivariable Calculus (two quarters)

It is important that all prospective majors take Physics 5A/L and Mathematics 19A the first quarter of their freshman year in order to remain on track to complete the major in the normal time frame. To qualify for a physics B.S., applied physics B.S., physics (astrophysics) B.S. or physics education B.S., students must complete PHYS 5ABC with a GPA of 2.7 or better.

Academic Advising

Academic advising is available from Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs. Academic advising concentrates on class scheduling and degree requirements, while faculty advising provides guidance on career paths, graduate school, and study strategies. The Undergraduate Affairs web site at, contains detailed information about the degree programs, sample schedules, transferring credit, placement exams, faculty research, and opportunities in the Physical and Biological Sciences majors.

More Information

Undergraduate Affairs
Physical and Biological Sciences
142 Jack Baskin Engineering Building
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, California 95064
(831) 459-4143

See Also