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Choosing Your Courses in Physics and Astronomy

If you’re looking for guidance in choosing courses, check out these sample schedules that are optimized for particular interests.

Below you will find many sample schedules to meet a variety of student interests. Or, you can speak to your adviser about tailoring a program to satisfy your particular interests. For example, previous majors have:
  • Learned Chinese, studied in China for a semester, and pursued a PhD in linguistics.
  • Earned a second major in theater, specializing in lighting and technical theater.
  • Specialized in molecular gastronomy and opened a restaurant after graduation.

Basic Schedule to Complete the Physics Major

Students with AP calculus are strongly advised to complete the calculus sequence (through Math 113) during their first year.
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective 
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
CORE
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective 
Third year
Physics elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective/Global Engagements
Elective
Physics elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective
Elective
Fourth year
Physics 410
Elective
Elective
Elective
Physics elective
Elective
Elective
Elective

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Basic Schedule to Complete the Astronomy-Physics Major

Students with AP calculus are strongly advised to complete the calculus sequence (through Math 113) during their first year.
  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective 
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Astronomy 210 or 312
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
CORE
CORE
Optional elective
Third year
Astronomy 210 or 312
Physics/astronomy elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective
Physics/astronomy elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective/Global Engagements
Elective
Fourth year
Physics 410
Elective
Elective
Elective
Physics/astronomy elective
Elective
Elective
Elective

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Basic Schedule to Complete the Astrogeophysics Major

Since the astrogeophysics requirements span several departments, the ordering of the courses can be easily re-arranged. For example, a student might start with an interest in geology and complete courses in geology and mathematics in his/her first year, and then take physics courses in later years. The schedule below may not be possible for all students because not every course is offered in every year. Students should therefore consult with their advisers to map out their course schedules.
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
[Physics 131 or Geology 1xx or Chemistry 111 or Chemistry 101 or Astronomy 101]
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of inquiry elective 
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
Geology 201
CORE
Geology 202
CORE
Area of inquiry elective
Elective
Third year
Astronomy 210
Astronomy 313
Area of inquiry elective
Elective/Global Engagements
Geology 305
Physics 336
Area of inquiry elective
Elective
Fourth year
Astronomy 414
Elective 
Elective
Elective
Geology 441
Elective
Elective
Elective

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Schedule Option for Students Who Want a Less Intense Sophomore Year

This schedule takes advantage of lab credits gained in other semesters to allow the student to take reduced loads both semesters (3.75 credits in the fall and 3.5 credits in the spring). Note that students who choose this option cannot go abroad in the spring of their junior year because they need to take Physics 336 while on campus.
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
CORE
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Physics 334
CORE
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Area of Inquiry elective
Third year
Physics elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective/Global Engagements
Elective
Physics 336
Physics elective
Elective
Elective
Fourth year
Physics 410
Elective
Elective
Elective
Physics elective
Elective
Elective
Elective

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Schedule for Students Who Don’t Start Physics Until Their Sophomore Year

This approach is not recommended for students who know in their first year that they may be interested in a physics major. Upper-level physics courses are offered only in alternate years, so students who don’t complete the sophomore-level courses until their junior year will only have the possibility of taking half the upper-level offerings, including only two of the courses that are important for graduate school.

If you realize after your first semester that you are interested in a physics major, it may be possible for you to enroll in Physics 232 in the spring semester. Please speak with the instructor and/or the department chair. You will need to take an extra upper-level course in order to complete the major, but the advantage is that you will be able to take both years of upper-level physics electives.

But, for those who don’t get started in their first year, it is still possible to complete the major in this way, and many graduate schools will allow students to enroll in undergraduate classes to make up for classes they missed. Better late than never!
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective
Elective
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Elective
Elective
Second year
Physics 131
Math 111
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Third year
Physics 233
Math 113
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Elective (or Astronomy 210/312 for astronomy-physics conc.)
Physics 334
Physics 336 (not required for physics-astronomy major)
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective
Fourth year
Physics 410
Physics/astronomy elective
Elective/Global Engagements
Elective (or Astronomy 210/312 for astronomy-physics conc.)
Physics/astronomy elective
Physics/astronomy elective
Elective
Elective

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Schedule to Prepare for Graduate Study in Physics

This schedule includes extra math courses—take as many as you can—and suggests that in addition to the fundamental sequence Physics 431-432-433-434, you also enroll in as many physics electives as possible in order to discover areas you’d like to study in graduate school. Note that if you complete Math 250 in addition to these courses, you are eligible for a minor concentration in applied mathematics.
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
CORE
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective
Third year
Physics 431
Math 308: Differential Equations
Physics elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 432
Physics elective
Physics elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Fourth year
Physics 433
Math 214: Linear Algebra
Physics elective
Elective/Global Engagements
Physics 434
Math 311: Partial Diff. Equations
Math 313: Complex Variables
Elective

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Schedule for Physics Students to Complete Pre-medical Requirements

You’ll find some additional helpful guidance on our health sciences advising page.

This schedule assumes that the student has no AP credit in chemistry or math, and also wants to complete all the pre-med requirements by the end of junior year in order to be able to take MCATs before senior year. (Students with more advanced high school chemistry courses may be able to enroll in Chemistry 111 instead of Chemistry 101/102. These students should take Biology 212 in the spring of their first year.)

Students can gain flexibility by postponing some of these courses to the senior year and planning to spend a year gaining other experiences while applying to medical school. Students who want even more flexibility might consider the Physical Science major, since it’s possible to fill all the Physical Science requirements and pre-medical requirements in a total of 17 courses, plus 4 CORE courses, 1 Global Engagements course, and 2 additional Areas of Inquiry requirements.

For maximum flexibility, consider enrolling in a “post-baccalaureate” program in which you can complete pre-medical requirements in a one-year program.
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Chemistry 101
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Physics 232
Chemistry 102
Math 112
CORE 
Second year
Physics 233
Biology 182
CORE
Math 113
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Physics 334
Social Rel., Inst., and Agents elective (sociology is suggested)
CORE
English elective
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Third year
Physics elective
Chemistry 263
Writing & Rhetoric elective
Elective (psychology is suggested)
Physics 336
Physics elective
Chemistry 264
Biology elective
Fourth year
Physics 410
Elective/Global Engagements
Free elective (biology suggested)
Free elective
Physics elective
Social Rel., Inst., and Agents elective
Free elective
Free elective

Note on the English and Writing & Rhetoric courses:

Filling the Areas of Inquiry requirement in Human Thought and Expression requires two courses in different departments, while medical schools require two courses that focus on English language, literature, and communication. You can fulfill both these requirements with the same two courses as long as one is in the English department and the other is in Writing and Rhetoric.

The English elective is placed in the sophomore year because 200-level English courses are not open to juniors or seniors. Of course, you’re free to delay this requirement and take an upper-level English course.

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Schedule for Students Interested in Engineering

You’ll find some general guidance and a description of the pre-engineering program on our pre-professional planning page.

This schedule prepares students to enter an engineering program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Washington University (St. Louis), or Columbia University. At the conclusion of the five-year program, students will earn a B.A. degree from Colgate University as well as an undergraduate engineering degree from the cooperating institution.

It is also possible for students to complete a four-year degree at Colgate and then earn a master's degree in engineering in 1.5–2 years. There are no formal requirements for these programs, although the schedule below is a useful starting point. Additional physics electives that are particularly useful for engineers include Physics 451: Computational Physics, and other courses related to their area of interest within engineering, such as biophysics, electromagnetism, or optics. Students in the past have been very successful in gaining admission to master's programs in engineering and related fields.
 
  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
CORE
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Optional elective
Third year
Physics 431 or 451
Area of Inquiry elective
Global Engagements elective
Chemistry 101
Physics elective
Area of Inquiry elective
Computer Science 101
Free elective
Fourth and fifth years
At RPI, Washington University, or Columbia

This is the basic schedule, and would work for 3-2 programs in electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. Some areas of engineering require additional courses. For example, chemical and biomedical engineering require additional chemistry courses, and environmental engineering requires both chemistry and environmental studies coursework. Pre-engineering students are encouraged to consult with the pre-engineering adviser as early in their careers as possible.

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Certification Program to Teach High School Physics

The certification program includes a ninth semester for student teaching and professional seminars. Colgate currently waives tuition for this semester, but the student is responsible for finding off-campus housing.

  Fall
Spring
First year
Physics 131
Math 111
First-year seminar / CORE
Free elective or CORE
Physics 232
Math 112
CORE
EDUC 101: The American School
Second year
Physics 233
Math 113
CORE
Physics 201-202 (1/4 credit each)
EDUC elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE
Physics 203-204 (1/4 credit each)
Area of Inquiry elective (see note)
Third year
Physics elective
EDUC elective
EDUC elective
Free elective
Physics elective
EDUC elective
Area of Inquiry elective (see note)
Area of Inquiry elective (see note)
Fourth year Physics 410
EDUC elective
Area of Inquiry elective (see note)
Free elective
EDUC elective
Physics elective
Free elective
Free elective
Ninth Semester EDUC 419: Diagnosis & Remediation of Reading Problems
EDUC 455: Student Teaching
EDUC 453: Curr. and Instruction
 

It is important for students interested in certification to consult with the education department as soon as possible in order to ensure that they will be able to fulfill the certification requirements.

The certification program has specific requirements for Area of Inquiry requirements. Within the area of Human Thought and Expression, students need to take one course in "Artistic Expression" which can be ARTS 100, MUSI 151, ENGL 252, ENGL 254, ENGL 257, ENGL 321, or ENGL 332 The other Humanities distribution can be anything. Within Social Relations, Institutions, and Agents, students should choose one course in American History (HIST 103, 104, 301, 303, 306, 308 or 314) or an AP credit. The second Social Science needs to be one of the following: POSC 150, POSC 206, POSC 210, POSC 212, ECON 201, GEOG 101, GEOG 102, GEOG 310, GEOG 312.

See here for requirements for educational studies electives.

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