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Undergraduate Physics Program

Should I major in physics?

You are smart, hard working, and you really like physics. However, that may not be enough to ensure your success as a physics major. Below are some statistics from previous years to help you make your decision.

  • Physics requires a strong math aptitude. National studies have shown that it is rare for a student who makes less than 600 on the SAT-math test (equivalently 26 on the ACT-math test) to complete a physics degree. Our studies of physics graduates at NCSU support this assertion. Between 2012 and 2015, we had 83 graduates with known SAT-math scores. Only one (1) of these students had an SAT-math score below 600. The average SAT-math score for NCSU physics graduates is 705 (ACT-math equivalent 31).
  • The first physics major's course at NCSU is PY201. Although MA141 (Calculus I) is a co-requisite for PY201, many students in PY201 already have credit for MA141. Having a background in calculus before starting PY201 is helpful. Over the past two years, the average PY201 grade for all students who completed Calculus I before PY201 began was B. The average PY201 grade for all students who were taking MA141 at the same time as PY201 was C-.
  • Students who make less than B- in PY201 or PY205 (the engineering equivalent of PY201) are not likely to complete the physics degree. Over the past 6 years, we have had 146 physics graduates who took PY201 or PY205. Of those, 82 (56%) received an A+, A or A-, 52 (36%) received a B+, B or B-, and 12 (8%) received a C+ or C. None of the students who received a C- or below in PY201 or PY205 have completed a physics degree.
  • Between 2003 and 2009, we had (exactly) 200 freshmen enter the University as physics majors. Of these, 87 (43.5%) completed a physics degree and 52 (26%) completed some other degree (not physics) at NCSU. The remaining 61 (30.5%) students did not (or have not yet) completed a degree at NCSU.

Finally...If you're admitted into the physics program:

  • Does this mean you're well suited for the physics major? Unfortunately no. Admissions at NCSU is controlled entirely by the Admissions Office. I have explained the above points (for example, the SAT-math 600 rule) to the Admissions Office on several occasions, without much success.