Program of Study
A typical physics major takes introductory mechanics (Physics 103 or 105) and introductory electromagnetism (104 or 106) in the first year, and advanced mechanics (205 or 207) and introductory quantum mechanics (208) the second year. In addition, math courses through linear algebra and multivariable calculus are also completed in the first two years. An alternative path into the department is through the Integrated Science curriculum. ISC/CHM/COS/MOL/PHY 231–234 can be taken in the freshman year, instead of PHY 103–104 or PHY 105–106.
In subsequent years, the core curriculum includes thermal and statistical physics (301), electromagnetism (304), quantum physics (305), and experimental physics (312), at least two 300-level mathematics courses including complex analysis, and at least one additional course that can either be a 400-level physics course, or a cognate appropriate to the student's course of study. Students can choose between many electives and cognates. Here is an example of how this works in an overall undergraduate schedule. In the case shown, the student is ready for Math 203 in the spring of freshman year. This is typical but can easily vary by a semester either way. Here are the actual rules for the so-called departmental courses that meet the requirements for graduation.
Students are encouraged to tailor the curriculum to their interests. In addition to the physics courses at the 400 level, graduate-level physics courses and courses in astrophysics, biology and biophysics, chemistry, computer science, engineering, economics, geophysics, materials science, and mathematics are appropriate. In the biophysics and engineering physics certificate programs, multi-disciplinary courses of study are focused on providing excellent preparation in these interdisciplinary areas of concentration. Here is a typical biophysics schedule. Some majors choose a less technical path by taking elective courses in philosophy, history, music, and other humanities departments. Students interested in Princeton's Teacher Preparation Program are encouraged to major in physics as a strong basis for a career in teaching science. One can also fulfill premedical requirements as a physics major, with this sample schedule.
The physics curriculum is sufficiently flexible to handle a number of variations on the basic scheme just outlined. Students with very good high school preparation (for example, AP Physics C, part I and II) usually take the "honors sequence" Physics 105-6 as freshmen. Occasionally, a student might test out of PHY105 and start in advanced mechanics (205 or 207) in the first semester of freshman year and follow it with introductory electromagnetism (106) in the second semester. The sophomore year could then include thermal physics and introductory quantum mechanics (301 and 208) with the other 300 level courses taken in the junior year. Students who also place out of PHY 106 can simply move the basic schedule forward a year with plenty of room for electives and advanced courses.
It is also possible to start with 100 level physics courses in the sophomore year and finish enough courses for a physics major by the end of the senior year. This option accommodates those students whose initial interests may have been in some other field, but who discover a strong interest in physics during their first year at Princeton.