Physics Degree Requirements

The following requirements are in addition to, or further elaborate upon, those requirements outlined in The Graduate School Policy Guide.


Physics is a broad subject, ranging from pondering the origins of the universe to designing better electronic memory devices.
Young students and junior researchers from around the world are welcome to obtain a solid basis in the fundamentals of physics and to pursue their particular interests and professional goals at Northwestern.

The master's program in Physics is designed to meet the needs of individuals who have the interest and skills needed to learn physics but who will not spend several years in graduate school earning a doctorate. Students are meant to complete the requirements within four quarters, starting with basic "core" courses in classical mechanics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics and statistical physics, followed by a number of elective courses drawn from many departments at Northwestern.
The keyword for the program is flexibility - students should be empowered to study what is most relevant to their goals.

For inquiries, please contact the Director of the master's program, Professor Mel Ulmer.

Within the master's program, there are two paths to completion, called "Standard" and "Broad." They share the same core requirement.

Standard Path:

  • Five core courses (see below)
  • Four elective courses (see below)
  • Master's Thesis
    • Either an in-depth reading project, or a research project, supervised by an appropriate faculty member, similar to 499-0-nn "Independent Study"
    • Thesis to be presented for evaluation.
    • Should be completed by end of summer quarter.

Broad Path:

  • Five core courses (see below)
  • Seven elective courses (see below)

The Standard Path to the master's degree should be completed within one calendar year; the nine courses would be taken during the winter, fall and spring quarters and the master's thesis would be written during the summer. The Broad Path would be completed typically in 15 months; nine courses would be taken during the winter, fall and spring quarters, and the additional three courses would be taken in the fall quarter of the second year.

Core Courses: Five out of these six, to be completed in fall & winter quarters

  1. Physics 411-1: Methods of Theoretical Physics (fall)
  2. Physics 411-0: Classical Mechanics (fall)
  3. Physics 412-1: Quantum Mechanics I (fall)
  4. Physics 412-2: Quantum Mechanics II (winter)
  5. Physics 414-1: Electrodynamics I (winter)
  6. Physics 416-0: Introduction to Statistical Mechanics (winter)

Elective Courses: At least four from this list, during spring and fall quarters.

  1. Physics 412-2: Quantum Mechanics II
  2. Physics 412-3: Quantum Mechanics III
  3. Physics 414-2: Electrodynamics II
  4. Physics 420-0: Statistical Physics
  5. Physics 422-1,2,3: Condensed Matter Physics
  6. Physics 423-0: Nuclear Physics
  7. Physics 424-1,2: Particle Physics
  8. Physics 426-0: Nonlinear Physics (EECS 406-0)
  9. Physics 430-0: Physics of Continuous Media
  10. Physics 432-1,2: Many-body Theory
  11. Physics 434-0: Quantum Fluids, Solids and Gases
  12. Physics 435-0: Soft Matter Physics
  13. Physics 436-0: Mesoscopic and Nanometer Scale Physics
  14. Physics 471-0: Molecular Biophysics
  15. Physics 478-0: Fundamentals of Macromolecular Crystallography
  16. Physics 479-0: Biophysical Methods for Macromolecular Analysis
  17. Astronomy 421-0: Observational Astrophysics
  18. Astronomy 425-0: Stellar Astrophysics
  19. Astronomy 429-0: Extragalatic Astrophysics and Cosmology
  20. Astronomy 443-0: Stellar Structure and Evolution
  21. Astronomy 445-1,2: General Relativity and Applications
  22. Astronomy 448-0: Interstellar Gas and Radiation Pressure
  23. Astronomy 449-0: Stellar Dynamics

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:

  1. Completion of seven core courses in the first year
  2. Completion of five or more elective courses in the second year.
  3. GPA of 3.0 or higher


Courses Units
Core Courses
PHYSICS 411 Classical Mechanics 1
PHYSICS 412-1,2,3 Quantum Mechanics 3
PHYSICS 414-1,2 Electrodynamics 2
PHYSICS 416-1 Introduction to Statistical Mechanics 1
Elective courses 6
Total Required Units
(All but electives are required for the MS degree.)

Other PhD Degree Requirements

  • Examinations: preliminary qualifying examination at the end of the first year of study; three written parts, covering the material contained in the first-year graduate courses
  • Research/Projects: original research project of publishable quality
  • PhD Dissertation: none specified beyond the PhD degree requirements outlined in the Current Students section of this Web site
  • Final Evaluations: none specified beyond the PhD degree requirements outlined in the Current Students section of this Web site