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Undergraduate Physics Program

Self-Registration for Entering Freshmen

The information on this page is meant to assist entering physics majors with their online registration for their first semester at NC State University. To complete this process you will need your Unity ID and password, which you should receive in the U.S. mail from Registration and Records. If you still have questions after reviewing the material on this page, please contact us. Your primary contact for freshmen registration is

Betsy Alexieff
First Year Advisor
Room 4223, Broughton Hall
ewalexie 'at'

Your secondary contact for registration is:

Prof. David Brown
Director of Undergraduate Programs
Room 319F, Riddick Hall
David_Brown 'at'

Registration and Records provides a tutorial to help you through the Freshmen Self Registration Program.

When you first open up your schedule online, you may find that you are already registered for one or more courses. This is the University's attempt to get you into appropriate classes before sections begin filling up. Although these pre-registered courses are not set in stone, you are strongly encouraged to contact your advisor before changing or dropping something that is already on your schedule.

Building your class schedule

Most students build a semester schedule with 12 to 18 credit hours of courses. To graduate in four years, you will need to average about 15 hours per semester. You need to register for a minimum of 12 credit hours to be considered a full time student. Note that you will be expected to spend 2 to 3 hours working on a course outside of class for every hour in class. That means if you take 15 semester hours of course work, you will be spending 45 to 60 hours during your week on school work.

Here is an example of a typical schedule for a first semester freshman in Physics. Notice that each item on the list is a clickable link that will answer questions about that category.

Subject Course Credit Hours
Physics PY 201
Mathematics MA 141
English (perhaps) ENG 101
Orientation COS 100

This schedule adds up to 14 hours. As an alternative to ENG 101, you may want to take CH 101/102. This is a required course that most students take in their first or second semester as a physics major. You might also consider one of these course. Examples include an introductory course in the Humanities or Social Sciences, such as economics (EC 201) or psychology (PSY 200). When choosing a course always check your degree audit to make sure the course will satisfy a degree requirement. The current 8--semester displays are BS Display  for the physics BS degree, and BA Display for the physics BA degree.


Everyone should already be signed up for the first course in the introductory physics sequence, PY 201. This course is restricted to Physics majors. Most incoming freshmen in Physics should take PY 201, unless they did exceptionally well on the AP Physics C exams or do not yet have an appropriate math background. You must sign up for the lecture, the problem session, and one of the lab sections.

PY 201 is a challenging course for everyone, but particularly for those who have not yet been exposed to calculus. Based on data from the past few years, students scoring a 650 or less on the math SAT (equivalently, 29 or less on the math ACT) had a 50% passing rate in PY 201, while those with scores above 700 on the math SAT (31 on the math ACT) had a 95% passing rate. Another statistic to consider is your level of math preparation. PY 201 students who are concurrently enrolled in MA 141 (Calc I) had a 50% passing rate. You can avoid the last category by taking the equivalent of MA 141 this summer at a NC Community College in your area.

These are only statistics. Some of the students in the bottom scoring range went on to be highly successful in our program, so this is only one of many factors you should consider.

If you are unsure of your choice of major and/or you are not confident of your mathematics preparation for PY 201, you should talk to your advisor as soon as possible.



Everyone should enroll in a math class, typically one of the three courses from the introductory calculus sequence: MA 141, 241, or 242. If you do NOT have AP credit for Calculus, you may be required to take a math assessment exam in order to enroll in MA 141. See for details.

While summer classes are probably the last thing on your mind, you might consider getting a head start on Calculus, particularly if you are starting off in MA 141. Calculus classes at any North Carolina Community College will transfer to NC State. The physics curriculum relies very heavily on mathematics. The more advanced your preparation, the better you will be able to understand and apply mathematical methods in your physics classes. This trend continues with Differential Equations (MA 341 and 401) and Linear Algebra (MA 405) as applied to 400-level physics classes, so taking a math class in the summer between your first and second year is also a wise choice.

Here are recommended sections for some of the various math courses that you might place into:

Course Sections
MA141 003 (MWHF 9:35-10:25)
005 (MWHF 11:45-12:35)
MA241 004 (TH 11:45-1:35)
MA242 001 (MTWHF 8:30-9:20)
004 (MTWHF 9:35-10:25)

You may not have your scores yet from the SAT II or your math AB or BC tests. If not, go ahead and register for the course that corresponds with the test grade you think you made. When the scores are in, you can adjust your courses appropriately.


Many physics freshmen start off with CH101/102 in their first fall semester. You must take the  Chemistry Placement Exam before you can enroll in CH101/102.  You should take this exam as early as possible.

In addition to chemistry 101/102, the physics major requires an additional basic science course that could include a second semester of chemistry or courses in biology, oceanography, material science, engineering, or others. It is recommended that this requirement be taken within the first two years. If a challenging physics class and calculus sound like enough science and math for your first semester at college, you should feel comfortable filling out your schedule with less technical courses.


All COS and COE majors must take an introduction to programming course, preferably within the first two years. The language could be MatLab (MA 116), FORTRAN (CSC 112), C++ (CSC 114) or JAVA (CSC 116). The physics department offers a course (PY251) "Introduction to Scientific Computing" using the PYTHON programming language. This is the preferred course for physics majors to take to satisfy the "Introduction to Programming" requirement. The prerequisites for PY251 include PY201 and PY202, so most physics majors will need to wait until fall of their sophomore year to take it. 


The freshman English requirement at NC State is one four hour course, ENG 101. About half of the new freshmen will take ENG101 in the fall, the other half in the spring. When you first open up your schedule, you may have an ENG101 course preregistered for you. If you have it, don’t drop it unless you contact your advisor first. It is hard to get and most of you need it. If you have advanced credit for English, please check the page You can apply to have the ENG 101 requirement waived, or to be given credit for ENG 101, by submitting a writing portfolio to the first-year writing program. Check the web page for further information.


COS 100 is the orientation to college course for College of Sciences students. The Engineering course E 115, is an option, but COS 100 is preferred since you will be working with other COS students. COS 100 also has the advantage that it is a 2 credit hour course that will cover 2 credits of "Interdisciplinary Perspectives" requirements.

Other Courses

Humanities/Social Sciences: A Bachelor Degree from NC State University requires the fulfillment of the General Education Plan. To get a start on the GEP you can choose from among the arts, music, history, literature, psychology, economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, cultural geography... you name it!

Be sure to look at the catalog description to make sure that you meet the prerequisites for the course. If there is a course you really want to take and you haven’t met the prerequisites, you probably need to take one of the prerequisite courses first.

There are a group of sections for some of these courses that have a “Q” after the course number. These are special sections. They are restricted so that only freshmen can take them (this is your chance). The class size is small, usually restricted to 20 students. The Q sections are taught in an “inquiry” mode – that means that the instructor lectures less and spends more time directing class discussion. If you see one you might like – go for it. Most students like the Q sections. A complete listing of Q sections is available at

Foreign Language: Most of you have met the NC State requirement for foreign language proficiency in High School. The requirement is two years of a foreign language with a B or better average or three years with a C or better average in High School. If you have not met that, you will need to complete through the second semester (usually FL* 102 where *=S for Spanish, *=F for French, etc.) at State. If you want to continue your foreign language, wait until orientation to sign up. You can take a test to see what course you place into.

Physical Education: Adding a Phys Ed course is a good thing. The graduation requirement is for two courses (one at the 1** level). They are not easy to get, but if you want to start – great.

Honors and Scholars Courses: If you have been invited to join the Honors or Scholars Program, or both, I strongly urge to do this! If you were not invited to join one of these, both of them accept applications from students. For more information, please visit their websites and contact them about the programs.  Honors Program Scholars Program

Each of these programs requires some seminars and classes. If you are already accepted for the Scholars Program, you should add the Scholars Forum, HSS 110, to your schedule. If you are already accepted for the Honors Program you should include HON 202 (Inquiry, Discovery, and Literature) to your schedule. This course satisfies the general education requirement for literature. If you will be living in the Honors Village, I encourage to also sign up for one of the HON 101 sections. These are 1-credit courses on fun topics that introduce you to the culinary scene, religious communities, or the visual arts in the Research Triangle area.

Credit for AP, IB, and Community College Courses

If you have taken the AP exam or an IB course you may receive NCSU credit for these courses. You need to be absolutely sure your scores were sent to the Admissions Office at NCSU. Many times students take AP or IB courses in their sophomore and junior years and do not request this. You must request this for each year. Click here for information about NCSU credit for  AP and IB courses.

Register for your classes based on what credits you know or expect to get as a result of these courses.

If you have taken courses through a community college or a four year school for college credit, you must request that a transcript be sent to the Admissions Office at NCSU. Do this immediately if you have not already done so.