We design our curriculum to allow you a maximum amount of flexibility. You can prepare for graduate study in physics or astronomy, or simply pursue an interest in physics and astronomy while preparing for a different career, all while being active on campus and even studying abroad.

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Design Your Major Emphasis

The physics major requires four upper-level courses, and gives students the flexibility to choose these courses to prepare themselves for different careers and graduate schools.

About one-third of our majors go directly to graduate programs in physics, astronomy, engineering, or related fields.  There are also many other possibilities. You can speak to your advisor 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.

 

Below are some suggestions for choosing courses for different emphases.

  • Physics 350: Biophysics
  • Physics 433: Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics
  • Physics 304: Physical Optics
  • Physics 410: Advanced Topics and Experiments working with Prof. Metzler on biophysics research
  • Biology 182: Molecules, Cells, and Genes
  • Chemistry 263/264: Organic Chemistry
  • Biology 204: Molecular Biology
  • Biology 334/Math 334: Systems Biology
  • Physics 451: Computational Physics
  • Physics 458: Real-time Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos
  • Physics 410: Advanced Topics and Experiments working with Prof. Crotty on computational neuroscience research
  • Computer Science 101-102: Introduction to Computing
  • Math 308: Differential Equations
  • Math 311: Partial Differential Equations
  • Biology 334 / Math 334: Systems Biology
  • Math 214: Linear Algebra
  • Math 250: Number theory and mathematical reasoning
  • Math 308: Differential Equations
  • Math 311: Partial Differential Equations
  • Math 313: Functions of a Complex Variable
  • Physics 453: Solid State Physics
  • Physics 433: Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics
  • Physics 434: Quantum Mechanics
  • Physics 410: Advanced Topics and Experiments working with Prof. Segall or Prof. Parks on condensed matter physics experiments

In addition to upper-level physics electives, choose:

  • English 365: Science and Nature Writing
  • English 379: Literary Journalism
  • Physics 453: Solid State Physics
  • Physics 433: Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics
  • Physics 410: Advanced Topics and Experiments working with Prof. Tseng wastewater treatment or Prof. Parks on home insulation experiments
  • CORE 128: Global Change and You or CORE 101: Energy and Sustainability
  • Economics 328: Natural Resource Economics
  • Environmental Studies 240: Sustainability: Science and Analysis
  • Environmental Studies 242: Sustainable Urbanism: Energy and Design
  • Environmental Studies 336: Renewable Energy:  Research and Implementation
  • Environmental Studies 390: Community-based Study of Environmental Issues
  • Physics 433: Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics
  • Physics 451: Computational Physics
  • Physics 458: Real-time Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos
  • Economics 375: Applied Econometrics
  • Economics 378: Mathematical Economics

Future engineers at Colgate have several great options to choose from, including cooperative plans with several prestigious engineering schools. Students interested in this program can review a sample course schedule.

In addition to taking a wide variety of physics courses, students should complete Basic Studio, Drawing, Sculpture, and an Architecture Studio course.

Students interested in teaching high school physics have the opportunity to remain at Colgate for a ninth semester of study. The semester includes participation in high-level educational studies courses in preparation for the teaching experience.
 

There are no specific course requirements for law school admission. However, to the extent that many legal cases involving physics arise from today's most important technologies, you might especially wish to take:

  • Physics 434: Quantum Mechanics
  • Physics 304: Optics
  • Physics 453: Solid State Physics

Sample Schedules

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.

Students with AP calculus are strongly advised to complete the calculus sequence (through Math 163) during their first year.

  Fall Spring
First year Physics 131
Math 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Physics 201
Math 163
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective 
Second year Physics 233 
Physics 205
CORE
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE 
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

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 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Physics 201
Math 163
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective 
Second year Physics 233
Physics 205
Astronomy 210 or 312
Optional elective
Physics 334
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

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 advisors to map out their course schedules.
 

  Fall Spring
First year Introductory elective (see list)
Math 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Elective
Physics 232
Math 163
CORE
Area of inquiry elective 
Second year Physics 233
Physics 205
Geology 215
CORE
Geology 201
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

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 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Physics 201
Math 163
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Second year Physics 233
Physics 205
CORE
Physics 334
CORE 
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

 

This approach is not recommended for students who know in their first year that they may be interested in a physics major. Some 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 fewer options in choosing their advanced classes. Also it may be difficult to study abroad because it is hard to find courses equivalent to Physics 205 and Physics 334 that you will need to take in your junior year.

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 161
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Physics 201
Math 163
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Third year Physics 233 
Physics 205
Elective (or Astronomy 210/312 for astronomy-physics conc.)
Physics 334
Physics 336 (not required for physics-astronomy major)
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

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 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Physics 201
Math 163
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Second year Physics 233 
CORE
Physics 205
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE
Physics 205
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
Physics 410
Math 214: Linear Algebra
Elective/Global Engagements
Physics 434
Math 311: Partial Diff. Equations
Math 313: Complex Variables
Elective

 

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 182 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 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Physics 232
Physics 201
Chemistry 102
Math 163
CORE 
Second year Physics 233
Biology 182
CORE 
Physics 205
Physics 334
Social Rel., Inst., and Agents elective (sociology is suggested)
CORE
English elective
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.
 

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 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Physics 232
Physics 201
Math 163
CORE
Area of Inquiry elective
Second year Physics 233
Physics 205 
CORE
Optional elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE 
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.

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 161
First-year seminar / CORE
Free elective or CORE
Physics 232
Math 163
CORE
EDUC 101: The American School
Physics 201 (1/4 credit)
Second year Physics 233 
CORE
Physics 205
EDUC elective
Physics 334
Physics 336
CORE 
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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Look up the requirements for a physics or astronomy-physics major at most colleges, and you’ll discover that the real question you should be asking is, “How does Colgate manage to give me so much flexibility in choosing courses in my final two years?” Physics is a highly structured discipline, and each course builds on content and techniques learned in previous courses. At most colleges, this results in an extremely rigid schedule, with very limited opportunities for electives. At Colgate, we have worked hard to design upper-level courses that can be taken in any order, and with prerequisites limited to the sophomore-level courses. This gives students freedom to design a concentration program that best suits their interests.

It is sometimes advisable to delay some of your Core requirements until your junior or senior year. This is not a decision to be made lightly, since upper-class students cannot preregister for Core classes, so you may end up in a class that meets at 7:55 a.m. on MWF, or one whose topic just doesn’t excite you. But for some students, this is the best option.

You can have it all, just not all at once. You’re going to have to make some decisions about what you want first. Start by asking yourself some questions. Why do you want to complete both majors? You don’t necessarily have to complete all the requirements for a major in order to find a job in that area or study it in graduate school. What flexibility do you have? There are post-baccalaureate programs for students who want to complete pre-med requirements after graduation, and summer courses can give more flexibility, as well. You can also gain international experience by finding an international summer internship or applying for an international fellowship such as a Fulbright, rather than going on a Colgate study group.

Physics 410, Advanced Topics and Experiments, is the senior capstone course for physics and astronomy-physics majors. All students are given the opportunity to work individually with a faculty member on an independent research project. Students will describe the results of their research in a professional-style paper and also in several talks, culminating in a symposium at the end of the semester. In some cases, the projects may lead to publications or presentations at professional meetings and conferences.

Students who wish to continue their research projects, either for honors or for course credit, may be able to do so in the spring semester. In some years, as many as half the students choose to do so.

Prerequisites are Physics 233 or less
Physics 350: Biophysics, Spring odd years (2019)
Astronomy 313: Planetary Science, Fall even years (2018)
Astronomy 416: Galactic and Extra-galactic Astronomy, Spring odd years (2019)

Prerequisites are Physics 233 or less and Physics 205
Physics 304: Physical Optics, Spring even years (2018)
Physics 432: Electromagnetism, Spring (2018)

Prerequisite is Physics 334
Physics 431: Classical Mechanics, Fall (2018)
Physics 433: Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, Fall (2018)
Physics 434: Quantum Mechanics, Spring (2018)
Physics 451: Computational Mechanics, Fall even years (2018)
Physics 453: Solid State Physics, Fall odd years (2019)
Physics 456: Relativity and Cosmology, Spring odd years (2019)
Astronomy 414: Astrophysics, Spring even years (2018)

Prerequisite is Math 308 or Physics 431
Physics 448: Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Spring even years (2018)