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An Overview of the Physics Major

"Physics is difficult," says everyone. And they are right! At New Paltz, we don't try to fool you into thinking otherwise. Instead, we try to show you that the hard work of learning physics is worth the effort. The ideas you learn in physics are fundamental, and what you can do with them is limited only by your imagination.

The physics program at New Paltz provides a broad base of fundamental and advanced courses.  First you take three one-year introductory courses that survey physics, chemistry, and calculus. Then you follow up with courses covering classical and modern physics, computational physics, and advanced mathematics.  If you are turned on by a particular area, you can pursue it through independent study. An advisor works closely with you to plan what's best for your situation.

How special is New Paltz?

The choice of a college is a very personal one. Some students are better suited to a large university, while others thrive on a smaller campus like New Paltz. We are a teaching oriented institution, which means that although research and publication are a part of our life here, neither becomes a substitute for our teaching obligations. Teaching comes first.

  • In the Physics department, virtually all classes are taught by full time faculty; no classes are taught by graduate students.

  • Except for the introductory course, all classes are very small, resulting in an informal, friendly student-teacher relationship.

  • Faculty are always available to mentor students one-on-one in independent study of any mutually agreeable topic.

  • The labs for our courses are all computer equipped for data collection and analysis.

  • Through our contacts with local industry, we can arrange co-ops and internships for qualified students.


What Can I Do to Prepare?

  • The single most important element of your preparation is mathematics; you should enter college with a good understanding of algebra and trigonometry. Without these, even the relatively easy parts of a physics problem will hang you up. Also, you will not be able to master calculus, which is the gateway to the higher mathematics needed to do physics at all levels.

  • As you might expect, taking physics is a good idea, as is getting as broad a science background as you can. However, if you've never had physics in high school, but you're interested and have the math, a physics major is well within the realm of possibility.

  • When you get here, plan on spending a considerable amount of time on your studies.  Physics is not a subject to be taken lightly, nor is it at all forgiving  of questionable study habits (such as leaving things to the last moment)!


What Can I Do with My Degree?

Many things! The great strength of a physics degree is its versatility. A physics degree is a very credible foundation for entry into the common professional schools (law, medicine, dentistry, etc). As for careers, there are opportunities in

  • University teaching/research. For this, you need to continue on to get a PhD.

  • Secondary school teaching. The requirements vary from state to state, but in New York you will need to continue on and get a Masters degree (in addition to teacher certification).   You can get the certification part through our Secondary Ed Physics program, or get a straight physics degree and go elsewhere for an accelerated MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) degree (for the Masters plus certification).

  • Government and industrial laboratory work. This may be the pure research that is done in national laboratories, such as Fermilab, computer modelling (e.g., airplane design, oil exploration) and industrial product testing.

  • Medical technology. Medical imaging problems, such as those connected with CAT and MRI scanning systems, involve an enormous amount of physics.

  • Computer programming. Physicists frequently find employment in the computer industry because of their strong problem solving skills.

  • Management. Technology companies are a major driving force in a modern economy. It is to the advantage of companies engaged in technology that their managers be familiar with the science behind the product.

  • Finance. Brokerage firms need people who understand the technology of the companies they analyze. Investment banking firms like physicists because of their ability to model unusual systems, such as financial derivatives.

The Five Year Physics BS/MBA Program

For the two latter alternatives, the MBA is the logical choice for a graduate degree. If you are interested in either possibility, contact us about this opportunity to get the MBA degree on top of a solid background in science.


Major in Physics: 39 (physics) + 26 (cognates)

Required Physics Courses

PHY201 General Physics I (3)*
PHY211 General Physics I Lab (1)*
PHY202 General Physics II (3)*
PHY212 General Physics II Lab (1)*

PHY305 Computational Physics (3)
PHY306 Mechanics I (3)*
PHY307 Mechanics II (3)
PHY308 Modern Physics I(3)*
PHY309 Modern Physics II(3)
PHY310 Modern Physics Lab (1)*
PHY313 Electricity and Magnetism (3)*
PHY322 Optics (3)

PHY331 Quantum Physics I (3)
PHY422 Thermal Physics (3)
PHY491 Senior Project (3)

Required Cognate Courses

CHE201, CHE202 General Chemistry I, II Lecture (3 each)*
CHE211, CHE212 General Chemistry I, II Lab (1 each)*

MAT251 Calculus I (4)*
MAT252 Calculus II (4)*
MAT353 Calculus III (4)*
MAT341, MAT342 Applied Math I*, II (3 each)


Secondary Education Physics Program

All courses above marked with asterisks, plus any four upper division physics courses.  Consult with your physics advisor about this!


Sample Eight Semester Program

This shows how it is possible to distribute the Physics core over four years, leaving plenty of room for the remaining 30 General Education requirements and extra electives.  [Even if General Physics is started in the spring semester of the first year, you can still graduate in four years.]

Fall Semester

Spring Semester

General Physics I
Calculus I
Chemistry I

General Physics II
Calculus II
Chemistry II

Applied Math I
Calculus III

Modern Physics I
Applied Math II
Mechanics I

Electricity & Magnetism
Modern Physics II
Quantum Mechanics

Thermal Physics
Modern Physics Lab 

Computational Physics

Senior Project

Minor in Physics: 18 credits

Each minor candidate is expected to complete at least 10 upper division credits beyond General Physics I and General Physics II.

Major in Astronomy

Students in this program begin with basic physics, then specialize in astronomy.   The astronomy major is a B.A. degree that focuses more on hands-on experience and overall concepts rather than advanced mathematical and theoretical techniques. It is a good option as a double major for students both in the sciences and in other disciplines.

Core Courses

PHY201,201    General Physics I, II

PHY211,212    General Physics Lab  I, II

PHY306   Mechanics I

PHY308   Modern Physics I

PHY310   Modern Physics Laboratory

PHY205  Exploring the Solar System

PHY340  Introduction to Astrophysics

PHY341  Observational Astronomy

Required Cognate Courses

CHE201, 202 General Chemistry I, II

CHE211, 121 General Chemistry Lab I, II

MAT 251, 252  Calculus I, II

Three additional upper division astronomy courses.


Minor in Astronomy

Each minor candidate is expected to complete at least 18 credits, including the introductory physics and astronomy sequences.

Introductory Physics sequence (8 credits):
PHY201 & 211 General Physics I and lab (requires Calculus I) OR PHY221 & 231 Fundamental Physics I and lab (requires College Algebra)
PHY202 & 212 General Physics II and lab (requires Calculus II) OR PHY222 & 232 Fundamental Physics II and lab

Introductory Astronomy sequence (6 credits):
PHY205 Exploring the Solar System
PHY206 Exploring the Universe OR PHY340 Introduction to Astrophysics (requires General Physics I)

At least 4 additional credits of astronomy.