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:
- Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Engineering Science and Applied Mathematics
- Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences
- Materials Science
- Mechanical Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
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
- Nine (9) graded courses are required
- Five (5) core courses
- Four (4) elective courses
- Master’s Thesis
- Either an in-depth reading project, or a research project, supervised by an appropriate faculty member
- Thesis to be submitted and/or presented for evaluation
- Usually completed by end of summer quarter of the first year
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.
- Twelve (12) graded courses are required
- Five (5) core courses
- Seven (7) elective courses
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.
- Physics 411-0: Classical Mechanics (fall)
- Physics 412-1: Quantum Mechanics I (fall)
- Physics 412-2: Quantum Mechanics II (winter)
- Physics 414-1: Electrodynamics I (winter)
- Physics 416-0: Introduction to Statistical Mechanics (winter)
*Please note that you may take courses from other Departments with approval of the Director of the Master's Program.
- Physics 411-1: Methods of Theoretical Physics
- Physics 412-3: Quantum Mechanics III
- Physics 414-2: Electrodynamics II
- Physics 420-0: Statistical Physics
- Physics 422-1,2,3: Condensed Matter Physics
- Physics 423-0: Nuclear Physics
- Physics 424-1,2: Particle Physics
- Physics 426-0: Non-linear Physics (ELEC_ENG 406-0)
- Physics 430-0: Physics of Continuous Media
- Physics 432-1,2: Many-body Theory
- Physics 434-0: Quantum Fluids, Solids and Gases
- Physics 435-0: Soft Matter Physics
- Physics 436-0: Mesoscopic and Nanometer Scale Physics
- Physics 445-1,2: General Relativity
- Astronomy 421-0: Observational Astrophysics
- Astronomy 425-0: Stellar Astrophysics
- Astronomy 429-0: Extragalatic Astrophysics and Cosmology
- Astronomy 443-0: Stellar Structure and Evolution
- Astronomy 445-1,2: General Relativity and Applications
- Astronomy 448-0: Interstellar Gas and Radiation Pressure
- Astronomy 449-0: Stellar Dynamics
- Astronomy 405-0: Basics of Radio Astronomy
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:
- Completion of seven core courses in the first year
- Completion of five or more elective courses in the second year
- GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Master's degree handbook
For questions or comments, please contact the Graduate Program Assistant for the Department of Physics and Astronomy.