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25 Best Colleges for a Physics Degree 2020

By the GradReports team | Updated 4/1/2020

These are the 25 best colleges for physics majors based on alumni earnings in the first year after graduation. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is ranked in first place due to its high median salary for physics graduates. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with campuses in New York and Connecticut, comes in second, followed by University of Arizona and Ohio State University.

Tuition, median salaries, and median debt were reported by the U.S. Department of Education in November 2019. View our methodology for more details about these rankings or read more about the top-ranked schools.

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Salary and debt data reported by the U.S. Department of Education
Salary and debt data reported by the U.S. Department of Education
Rank School Location Annual Tuition Median Debt Median Salary
#1 #1 Cambridge (MA) Cambridge (MA) $51,832 $13,687 $73,900
#2 #2 Troy (NY) Troy (NY) $53,880 $27,000 $65,300
#3 #3 Tucson (AZ) Tucson (AZ) $11,800 $20,000 $63,100
#4 #4 Columbus (OH) Columbus (OH) $30,742 $26,026 $51,800
#5 #5 East Lansing (MI) East Lansing (MI) $39,766 $20,500 $47,000
#6 #6 Berkeley (CA) Berkeley (CA) $43,176 $14,708 $45,800
#7 #7 Seattle (WA) Seattle (WA) $36,588 $18,501 $43,100
#8 #8 Stony Brook (NY) Stony Brook (NY) $27,295 $23,576 $42,200
#9 #9 Glassboro (NJ) Glassboro (NJ) $22,339 $19,464 $40,700
#10 #10 San Marcos (CA) San Marcos (CA) $19,593 Not Reported $39,600
#11 #11 Austin (TX) Austin (TX) $37,580 $22,750 $39,300
#12 #12 Minneapolis (MN) Minneapolis (MN) $30,438 $21,300 $38,600
#13 #13 Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others) Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others) $18,629 - $28,336 $19,778 $38,400
#14 #14 Chicago (IL) Chicago (IL) $58,230 $19,333 $38,300
#15 #15 Champaign (IL) Champaign (IL) $31,664 $20,500 $37,900
#16 #16 Santa Barbara (CA) Santa Barbara (CA) $43,383 $14,236 $37,100
#17 #17 Blacksburg (VA) Blacksburg (VA) $31,908 $27,000 $35,100
#18 #18 Madison (WI) Madison (WI) $36,805 $21,450 $34,900
#19 #19 Long Beach (CA) Long Beach (CA) $18,678 $19,250 $33,900
#20 #20 Gainesville (FL) Gainesville (FL) $28,659 $22,110 $33,700
#21 #21 Los Angeles (CA) Los Angeles (CA) $42,218 $18,409 $33,000
#22 #22 Amherst (MA) Amherst (MA) $34,570 $27,000 $32,100
#23 #23 College Park (MD) College Park (MD) $35,216 $24,052 $32,000
#24 #24 Davis (CA) Davis (CA) $43,394 $15,500 $30,600
#25 #25 State College (PA) State College (PA) $34,858 $27,000 $27,900

2020 Best Colleges Highlights

Learn more about the top colleges for a Bachelor's in Physics degree. You can also read student reviews of each school by clicking on the stars. Although student reviews were not used as a ranking factor in this list, we provide ratings and reviews so students can consider the experience of alumni in their decision-making process.

Median Salary $73,900
Median Debt $13,687
Annual Tuition $51,832
Graduation Rate 94%

The bustling capital city of Boston, Massachusetts, is home to MIT’s Bachelor of Science in Physics program. The degree helps prepare its graduates for career opportunities in astrophysics, engineering, medicine, law, and geophysics, as well as continued graduate study. Students will focus on the fundamentals of this field, though they have the opportunity for additional electives. There are two degree options available. The focused option prepares students who wish to pursue a career in physics. The second option is more flexible with coursework, providing students with more room for additional academic interests.

The focused option includes three terms of quantum mechanics, laboratory work, and a thesis. Students will take coursework in subjects including relativity, quantum physics, statistics, and classical mechanics. The flexible option, beyond the physics components, requires the selection of a focus area. Options include astronomy, biology, history, philosophy, and many more. All bachelor’s degree students are encouraged to engage in an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), in which they are able to form important relationships with faculty and begin developing hands-on, career-building experiences. UROPs are available across every academic department and interdisciplinary labs.

Visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's website.

Median Salary $65,300
Median Debt $27,000
Annual Tuition $53,880
Graduation Rate 86%

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, offers a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics. Located in the Jonsson Rowland Science Center, the learning environment provides students with access to telescopes, observatories, optical and electronic instruments, and Rensselaer’s own supercomputer. The BS in physics provides students with a foundation in theoretical and experimental scientific principles. Students are required to complete 40 credits of physics courses and a capstone project. Students must also complete 24 credits of mathematics, 12 credits in other sciences, and 24 credits in the humanities.

Students can choose from a number of concentrations including biology and medicine, computational physics, environmental science, microelectronics, nuclear science, optics, and space science; a dual degree is also possible. Students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty to complete research projects. Many students pursue an advanced degree after graduation, though other students enter career paths in government research, technology, and teaching as well.

Visit Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's website.

#3
Tucson (AZ)
Median Salary $63,100
Median Debt $20,000
Annual Tuition $11,800
Graduation Rate 64%

Graduates from the University of Arizona’s undergraduate program in physics will have a high-level foundation in physics and calculus, as well as significant hands-on research and laboratory experience. Many students continue to advanced degree programs, though career options are available in research laboratories, education, and economics. The Bachelor of Science in Physics takes four years to complete. Students have the opportunity to complete a four-year double major in physics and either mathematics or astronomy. There is also an honors option for high-achieving undergraduates.

Students can select a Bachelor of Science in either physics or applied physics. Physics curriculum requirements include an introduction to scientific computing, classical mechanics, electricity & magnetism, and quantum theory. Students must complete prerequisites in mathematics and general education requirements in a foreign language and English composition. There is some flexibility for elective courses as well. Students have access to consultations and tutoring, academic advising, and career & internship support.

Visit the University of Arizona's website.

#4
Median Salary $51,800
Median Debt $26,026
Annual Tuition $30,742
Graduation Rate 84%

Students attending Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, will have two choices for an undergraduate degree in physics. The College of Arts and Sciences (ACS) offers a traditional Bachelor of Science in Physics, and the College of Engineering offers a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics. With either degree, graduates will study toward career opportunities in engineering, design, research, mathematics, as well as a number of other professional ambitions.

The ACS option includes a set of foundation physics courses and core requirements, including calculus, computer programming, and laboratory components. Students can also select from several electives for academic study in the following areas: mathematics, applied physics, advanced physics, life sciences (pre-med), and teaching. Students can also pursue an astronomy and physics double major, as well as an honors option. The School of Engineering BS in Physics requires similar courses to the ACS option, but its students must also take 27 engineering credit hours within the engineering physics concentration, which includes a capstone design sequence.

Visit Ohio State University's website.

#5
East Lansing (MI)
Median Salary $47,000
Median Debt $20,500
Annual Tuition $39,766
Graduation Rate 80%

The College of Natural Science at Michigan State University (MSU) offers a Bachelor of Science in Physics through the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Students who would like to combine a physics major with a wider liberal arts curriculum may study toward a Bachelor of Arts in Physics. Undergraduate students may pursue concentration electives in biology, mathematics, chemistry, computer science, teaching, and engineering. Major course requirements include classical mechanics, quantum physics, and electricity and magnetism.

A bachelor’s degree in physics at MSU requires 120 credits and a thesis component. MSU students can benefit from summer internships through the National Science Foundation, participation in the MSU Society of Physics Students (SPS), paid positions as undergraduate learning assistants, and academic advising and support. The undergraduate internship opportunity is a 10- to 12-week program during which students engage with department faculty and experience professional workshops, social excursions, and hands-on research experience. Selected internship candidates receive full room and board for the summer, a stipend, and travel expenses reimbursement.

Visit Michigan State University's website.