There are hundreds of possible college majors and minors. So why should you study physics?
Physics is interesting.
Physics helps us to understand how the world around us works, from can openers, light bulbs and cell phones to muscles, lungs and brains; from paints, piccolos and pirouettes to cameras, cars and cathedrals; from earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes to quarks, DNA and black holes. From the prosaic . . . to the profound . . . to the poetic. . .
Physics helps us to organize the universe. It deals with fundamentals, and helps us to see the connections between seemly disparate phenomena.
Physics gives us powerful tools to help us to express our creativity, to see the world in new ways and then to change it.
Physics is useful.
Physics provides quantitative and analytic skills needed for analyzing data and solving problems in the sciences, engineering and medicine, as well as in economics, finance, management, law and public policy.
Physics is the basis for most modern technology, and for the tools and instruments used in scientific, engineering and medical research and development. Manufacturing is dominated by physics-based technology.
Physics helps you to help others. Doctors that don’t understand physics can be dangerous. Medicine without physics technology would be barbaric. Schools without qualified physics teachers cut their students off from a host of well-respected, well paying careers.
Students who study physics do better on SAT, MCAT and GRE tests. Physics majors do better on MCATs than bio or chem majors.
Majoring in physics provides excellent preparation for graduate study not just in physics, but in all engineering and information/computer science disciplines; in the life sciences including molecular biology, genetics and neurobiology; in earth, atmospheric and ocean science; in finance and economics; and in public policy and journalism.
Physics opens the door to many career options.
More options, in fact, than almost any other college subject. Conversely,not taking physics closes the door to more career options. You can't become an engineer or a doctor without physics; you’re far less likely to get a job in teaching; your video games will be boring and your animated movies won’t look realistic; and your policy judgments on global warming will be less compelling.
College and corporate recruiters recognize the value of physics training.
Although the number of job ads specifically asking for physicists is smaller than, e.g., for engineers, the job market for those with skills in physics is more diverse and is always strong.
Because physics encourages quantitative, analytical and “big picture” thinking, physicists are more likely to end up in top management and policy positions than other technical professionals. Of the three top science-related positions in the U.S. government, two - Energy Secretary and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy - are currently held by physicists.
Physics is challenging.
This is one aspect that scares off many students. But it is precisely one of the most important reasons why you should study physics!
All of us - including professional physicists - find college physics courses challenging, because they require us to master the many concepts and skills that make training in physics so valuable in such a wide range of careers.
This also means that physics is much harder to learn after college (on your own or on the job) than other subjects like history or psychology or computer programming. You’ll get the most bang for your college buck if you take physics and other hard-to-learn subjects in your undergraduate years. You don't need to earn As or even Bs. You just need to learn enough to have a basis for future learning and professional growth.
Learn more about Physics at Cornell.
Learn more about designing your physics program.