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Master of Science in Physics

Why should I pursue a Master's in Physics?

Physics is a broad subject that ranges from pondering the origins of the universe to designing better electronic memory devices. The Master's Program is designed for students who want to obtain an advanced degree in physics. Students who successfully complete our program will have acquired strong analytical skills that are valued in many fields. If they decide they want to continue their education, they will be in a strong position enter a Physics or Astronomy Ph.D. program.

Are Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) required for admission?

For applications filed for Fall 2023 matriculation, submission of GRE scores is optional.

What can I do after I graduate with a Master's?

We have had 88% of our graduates admitted into PhD programs, whether at Northwestern or at another institution. Our Master's graduates have gone into PhD programs in Physics, Astronomy, Astrophysics and Neuroscience.

As for industry, one of our students recently began a position as a Machine Learning Engineer at Apple Inc., and another has been working as a Data Scientist for a large auto insurance company.

Please see our Master's Alumni page for more information. 

How long is the program?

The average time to completion has been 4.5 quarters for the Standard Path and 5 quarters for the Broad Path.

What courses will I take?

The core courses are classical mechanics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics and statistical physics. 

May I customize my career path through elective course choices?

Yes, many of our students have taken Electives outside the Department. There is flexibility to help students reach their goals. Students have taken courses from the following departments, among others:

Can I still apply if my major wasn't Physics or Astronomy?

Promising students with degrees in related fields may be accepted to a 2-year program starting with undergraduate courses in the first year and graduate-level courses in the second.

Does acceptance to the Master's program ensure acceptance to the PhD program later?

No, it does not. Current students must apply as external applicants would. 

Are research or graduate assistantships available?

Department funding is not available. For tuition information, please go to Student Financial Service's tuition website. Tuition information is subject to change.

For information on external fellowships or funding, please visit the Office of Fellowships' website.

While not guaranteed, some students have been paid as lab assistants.

Is the Master's program offered online?

The Master's Program is only offered in-person. (During COVID, we are utilizing remote learning.)

Paths to Completion

Within the Master's Program, there are two paths to completion: the Standard (Thesis) Path and the Broad Path.

Standard (Thesis) Path

The Standard Path to the Master's Degree is normally completed within one calendar year. The nine (9) graded courses are taken during the Fall, Winter and Spring quarters, research is done throughout the year, and the Master's Thesis is written during the late Spring and Summer.

Broad Path

The Broad Path is typically completed in 15 months; nine (9) courses are taken during the Fall, Winter and Spring quarters of the first year, and the remaining three (3) courses are taken the following Fall.


Core Courses

Elective Courses

*Please note that you may take courses from other Departments with approval of the Director of the Master's Program.

MS Degree Requirements for PhD Students

Students enrolled in the Ph.D. program have the opportunity to obtain a formal Master's degree as they work toward completion of the Ph.D. These requirements are as follows:


For questions or comments, please contact the Graduate Program Assistant for the Department of Physics and Astronomy.