The undergraduate curriculum allows students to acquire a deep conceptual understanding of fundamental physics through its core requirements. Students then choose one of two options to complete the degree, the Flexible track or the Focus track. Both options lead to the same degree, a Bachelor of Science in Physics. And both options are superb preparation for any student planning on applying to graduate school in Physics.
Students may choose either option at any time in their undergraduate career, but many determine their choice during sophomore year in order to have enough time to craft a program that best suits their individual needs. Each option provides time for exploration through electives.
The Flexible Track
The Flexible track is based on a series of rigorous courses in fundamental physics topics, and its options enable many of our students to complete second majors in other disciplines.
The Flex track requires:
- 8.03, 8.04 or 8.041, 8.044, 18.03 (Differential Equations)
- 8.21 Physics of Energy or 8.223 Classical Mechanics II (choose one)
- 8.033 Relativity, 8.05 Quantum Physics II, or 8.20 Introduction to Special Relativity (choose one)
- 8.13 Experimental Physics (a similarly rigorous lab subject from another department can be substituted with permission, or less frequently, an experimental project or experimentally-oriented externship may substitute be allowed to substitute). Note that 8.13 satisfies the lab requirement that is part of the GIRs.
- At least one elective Physics subject beyond 8.02
In addition, students in the Flex track complete a group of three related subjects, similar to a concentration, subject to the approval of Flex Major Coordinator Dr. Sean Robinson. This group of subjects is known as a “focus area.” Examples of possible focus areas include, but are not limited to:
- biology / biophysics
- computer science / engineering
- electrical engineering
- history of science
- materials science
- science teaching
- quantum physics
The Focused Track
This option—which includes three terms of quantum mechanics, 36 units of laboratory experience, and a thesis—constitutes strong preparation for a career in physics. It is comprised of three required parts: specifically required subjects; restricted electives; and a research thesis.
The Focus track requires:
- 8.03, 8.033, 8.04 or 8.041, 8.044, 8.05, 8.06, 8.223, 18.03 (Differential Equations)
- 8.13 and 8.14 Experimental Physics I and II; note that both 8.13 and 8.14 satisfy the lab requirement that is part of the GIRs.
- restricted electives:
- a thesis based on research supervised by a faculty member:
- Students should have an idea for a thesis topic by the middle of junior year; many thesis projects grow organically out of UROP projects. A thesis proposal must be submitted by Add Date of senior year, and students must register for units of 8.ThU (Undergraduate Thesis) in the senior year. See the Senior Thesis section below for more details.
Double Major in Physics
A frequent question of undergrads is whether a double major is possible with Physics. It definitely is, and in fact the majority of our undergraduates pursue major studies in Physics and another department, or a minor, or both. Popular second majors for our Physics students include: Mathematics, Computer Science, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Nuclear Science and Engineering.
A second major can only be declared after three terms. Students with two majors must complete the requirements of both departments. More general information about double majoring.
To apply for a double major:
- Flex majors only
- Email Dr. Sean Robinson (email@example.com), the Physics Flex Plan Coordinator, and make an appointment to discuss how you will meet all the requirements of the Flex major.
- All Physics majors
- Fill out the double major petition and submit it by emailing Emma Dunn or by delivering it to the Academic Programs Office, 4-315, for a signature. Please note that we will not sign your petition until you’ve obtained your advisor’s signature first.
- After obtaining the necessary signatures, submit the signed petition to the Committee on Curricula (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be processed. Once approved, the Physics Undergraduate Program Coordinator will reach out to you with a welcome.
Minor in Physics
The Minor in Physics provides a solid foundation for the pursuit of a broad range of professional activities in science and engineering. The requirements for a minor in Physics are:
- 18.03 or 18.034, plus
- at least five Course 8 subjects beyond the General Institute Requirements that constitute at least 57 units.
While subjects completed via transfer credit are eligible to be counted towards a Physics minor, at least half of your minor subjects must be MIT subjects taken while you are enrolled at MIT.
Students thinking about a minor in Physics might also consider the alternative of obtaining a second major in Physics through the Flexible option.
To add a Physics minor, submit a completed Minor Application Form to Physics Academic Administrator Catherine Modica after obtaining the permission of your academic advisor. Note that students are required to document the completion of the minor in addition to listing the intended courses on the initial application form.
Minor in Astronomy
The minor in Astronomy, offered jointly with the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), covers the observational and theoretical foundations of astronomy. The minor requires a selection of seven subjects distributed among five areas:
- Astronomy, Mathematics, and Physics
Required Subjects: 8.03; 8.282J/12.402J; 18.03 or 18.034
Choose one: 8.284 or 8.286
- Planetary Astronomy
Choose one: 12.008, 12.400, 12.420, or 12.425
- Instrumentation and Observations
Choose one: 8.287/12.410, 12.43J, 12.431J, or 12.432J
- Independent Project in Astronomy
Choose one: 8.UR, 8.ThU, 12.UR, 12.ThU, or 12.411
Four of the subjects used to satisfy the requirements for the astronomy minor may not be used to satisfy any other minor or major. For more information, contact Astronomy Minor Coordinator is Prof. Richard Binzel.
Communication Requirement for the Physics Major (CI-M 8)
Each MIT undergraduate must take two subjects within their major that have been designated as communications-intensive (CI-M). CI-Ms teach the specific forms of written, oral, and/or visual communication appropriate to the field’s professional and academic culture. Students may write in teams; prepare and present oral and visual research reports for different audiences; learn audience analysis and peer review; or go through the experience of proposing, writing, and extensively revising a professional journal article. Most students complete their CI-Ms during the junior and senior year.
The Physics Department offers the following CI-Ms for both Flex and Focus students:
- 8.06 Quantum Physics III
- 8.13 Experimental Physics I
- 8.14 Experimental Physics II
- 8.225J Einstein, Oppenheimer, Feynman: Physics in the 20th Century
- 8.226 Forty-three Orders of Magnitude
- 8.S227 Special Subject: Technical Communication, Scientific Judgment, and Professional Preparation (pilot, spring 2021)
- 8.287J Observational Techniques of Optical Astronomy
Students occasionally petition to substitute a CI-M from another department in place of one of these subjects; the department may support such a petition if the proposed substitution forms a natural part of the student’s individual program. Petitions are approved by the MIT Subcommittee on the Communications Requirement (SOCR).
Research is an integral part of any student’s experience as an MIT Physics major. Students who have had the opportunity to delve deeply into an area of research over time are encouraged to write a Senior Thesis describing their work and their conclusions.
Physics Focus majors all write a thesis as part of their program requirements; Physics Flex majors may choose to do so.
Senior Thesis Submission Dates
- Senior Thesis Proposal form (PDF) due by Add Date the term before you complete your thesis
- Senior Thesis Title form (PDF)
- Submission dates for academic year 2020-21:
- Candidates on June 2021 degree list: Friday, May 14, 2021
- Submission dates for academic year 2021-22
- Candidates on September 2021 degree list: Friday, August 2, 2021
- Candidates on February 2022 degree list: Friday, January 14, 2022
- Candidates on June 2022 degree list: Friday, May 6, 2022
Senior Thesis Policies
- All students who select the Focus degree track must write an undergraduate thesis with strong experimental, computational, or theoretical physics content.
- Students who are on the Flexible track may choose to write a thesis, but are not required to.
- You must be registered for thesis units (8.ThU) in the term you plan to submit your thesis. The standard number of units is 12; a student with an unusual situation may register for 24 units but should first consult the thesis supervisor.
- Within the term that you are enrolled in 8.ThU, you may not also conduct a UROP project that in any way contributes or relates to the thesis work or vice versa (MIT UROP policy).
- Any Physics Department faculty member or research staff person is an acceptable thesis supervisor.
- If you wish to complete a thesis under the supervision of an MIT professor outside the Physics Department, or a non-MIT professor, you will need a departmental faculty member as a co-supervisor. Contact us if you believe you have an exceptional case.
Content & Formatting
- A thesis must state the problem, summarize previous knowledge, make some advance, and indicate its significance.
- Requirements concerning paper, formatting, etc. are the same of requirements for Ph.D. theses except the following—
- You do not have to include an abstract for an undergraduate thesis, although you may.
- You do not need to fill out a ProQuest/UMI form.
- Copyright ownership depends on how your research was funded and what equipment was used. Most likely, MIT will have funded/supplied equipment for your thesis, but please be sure to read the policy in detail.
- For a comprehensive list of all formatting requirements and details for writing your senior thesis, visit the MIT Libraries’ archives website where all requirements for theses are listed in extensive detail.
Before any of these next steps, your thesis supervisor should have read your thesis completely, provided feedback or corrections, and approved the thesis for submission.
- Digital Only: Submission requires use of Docusign. You will receive detailed instructions from your Undergraduate Coordinator about obtaining signatures.
- In-Person Only: You will need to obtain a physical signature from your thesis supervisor(s). You will also need to sign the thesis yourself on the date of submission.
Digital Submission Guidelines
- Do not print OR physically sign and scan your thesis to us. Follow the signing instructions written below.
- When the final version of your thesis is completed, submit your thesis in a PDF attachment via email to the Physics Undergraduate Advising and Program Coordinator Emma Dunn.
- You must copy your thesis supervisor(s) on the email.
- Once you’ve submitted your thesis and your supervisor has given their approval via Docusign, then the Associate Head will review it.
In-person Submission Guidelines
(not currently in effect)
- Submit only one copy of your thesis to the Physics Undergraduate Programs Coordinator in the Academic Programs Office (4-315) by the due date.
- Your thesis must be formatted correctly, printed on acid-free paper, with original signatures. Required signatures are the thesis supervisor’s and yours; the Undergraduate Programs Coordinator will obtain the signature of the Associate Head.
- Do not bind your thesis. Use thesis covers and clamps which are available in the cabinet outside the Binding and Repair Section of the MIT Libraries (14-0513) and the Institute Archives (14N-118), or come by the Academic Programs Office (4-315).
- On top of your cover, label your thesis with your name, thesis title, department, month and year of graduation. Valid graduation dates are September, February and May.
- After you’ve submitted your thesis, the Associate Head will review and sign it.
Each year, a group of faculty members are designated as academic advisors to an incoming cohort of sophomore Physics majors. In July, rising sophomores are provided information about the available advisors and are asked to indicate their top choices, and matches are then made by the Academic Administrator. Students who join the department after this initial set of assignments will then be matched with one of the advisors for the student’s class; these students may make specific requests which will be considered along with the current advising loads of each advisor.
Your advisor can assist with:
- Course selection and sequencing
- Changes to subject choices after Registration
- Academic progress
- Academic or personal support resources
- Advice about graduate school in physics or other disciplines
- Internship and career advice
Our advising program’s goal is for Physics majors to retain their advisor throughout the undergraduate program, but students are welcome to request a change of advisor if circumstances warrant by contacting the Academic Administrator Catherine Modica.
FAQ for Prospective Undergraduate Students
Does the Physics Department accept AP credit?
Yes. The Physics Department awards credit for 8.01 to incoming students who score a 5 on both parts of the AP Physics C test. No credit is given for the Physics B test or for a qualifying score on only one part of the Physics C test.
Does the Physics Department grant credit for the International Baccalaureate or G.C.E. “A” Level Exams?
If I have 8.01 credit already through an exam, do I have to take the Math Diagnostic Exam?
How can I receive Physics transfer credit?
Requests for transfer credit for Physics courses taken at other institutions can be made through Physics Academic Administrator Catherine Modica. Please read our Transfer Credit page for complete details on how to apply for credit. This page also has information on the scheduling of exams and on topics covered.
May I take 8.02 before passing 8.01?
No. All students must receive credit for 8.01 before registering for any version of 8.02. The sole exception to this policy is for second-semester seniors who have not yet completed either 8.01 or 8.02. A senior who needs to complete both 8.01 and 8.02 in the final term should contact the Academic Administrator, Catherine Modica.
Can I switch between the various versions of 8.01 or 8.02?
Yes. Students can switch between 8.01 and 8.01L, or 8.011 and 8.012 (as well as between 8.02 and 8.022) before Add Date. Instructors of the subject a student wishes to switch into can provide additional information on any written work to be submitted or tests to be taken to facilitate such a change.
Can I take graduate classes as an undergrad?
Yes, many undergrads take graduate courses, but we take prerequisites and appropriate preparation very seriously. Whether you are taking a first-year Physics course or an advanced graduate course, we want to be sure you are set up for success.