Major Requirements

Physics is the study of methods and theories that have allowed humanity to construct the most reproducible, precise, and predictive models of our universe, from the scales of subatomic particles to the cosmos. These models of the universe are constantly in flux as we take new measurements, discover new phenomena, and construct new theoretical frameworks that link them all together.

Earning a physics degree entails rigorous training in mathematics, multiple areas of physics, and supporting sciences such as chemistry, biology, and computer science. Students will also gain breadth across the humanities and social sciences.

Core Classes

All students have the same training and required courses in the first two years. To fill the core requirements and the advanced course work requirements, you need to maintain a physics GPA of 2.0 or better, and you cannot take these courses Pass/No Pass.

Year 1

  • Foundations of Physics I (PHYS 251, 252, 253): Three-course intro physics sequence using calculus.
  • Foundations of Physics Lab (PHYS 290): Two terms of lab are required. We strongly recommend three.
  • Calculus (MATH 251/261, 252/262, 253/263): Three terms of Calculus or Honors Calculus.

Year 2

  • Foundations of Physics II (PHYS 351, 352, 353): Three-course sequence primarily focused on thermodynamics, computational physics, and statistical mechanics.
  • Experiments and Data Analysis (PHYS 391): One term is required, to be taken in fall or winter.
  • Math core requirements: Differential Equations (MATH 256) and Several Variable Calculus I and II (281, 282). While not required, we strongly recommend that students complement the math core requirements with additional math courses that cover linear algebra (e.g., MATH 341/342) and/or partial differential equations (e.g., MATH 420/421/422).

Interdisciplinary Science Classes (8 credits)

To complete the core requirements for a physics degree, you must take at least two of the following classes for scientific breadth. The earlier you take these courses, the more integrated their content will be as you proceed through your physics training, and thus you will likely benefit more from them. Try to complete them within your first two years.

  • General Chemistry I or Honors Chemistry I (CHEM 221/224H)
  • General Chemistry II or Honors Chemistry II (CHEM 222/225H)
  • General Biology I: Cells (BIO 211)
  • General Biology II: Organisms (BIO 212)
  • General Biology III: Populations (BIO 213)
  • Computer Science I (CIS 210)
  • Computer Science II (CIS 211)
  • Computer Science III (CIS 212)
  • Earth's Interior Heat and Dynamics (GEOL 201)
  • Evidence, Inference, and Biostatistics (HPHY 212)

Years 3 and 4

After your core course work is complete, you will complete 30 credits of advanced physics course work. Of those 30 credits:

  • Six must be research/lab credits and/or Advanced Projects Lab.
  • Up to 12 credits of lab work may count toward the 30-credit requirement. You are welcome to take more than 12 lab credits, but they will not count toward the advanced course work requirement.

As you approach years three and four, we strongly encourage every physics major to consult with the director of undergraduate studies or another faculty member about which courses will best prepare you for your career trajectory. For a sample list of suggested courses for your career trajectory, consult our degree requirements guide.

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Credits

Students wishing to major in physics at the University of Oregon can reduce their college coursework by scoring sufficiently well on Mathematics or Chemistry Advanced Placement Exams. Students performing well on the higher-level International Baccalaureate Chemistry or Math exams may also receive college credit for certain courses. (Visit the Alternative Credits web page for more information about general college credits earned through examination.). Prospective physics majors are also encouraged to take AP physics courses as preparation for their first year at the University of Oregon.

Physics Credits by Exam

Physics Advanced Placement Exam scores result in University of Oregon college course credits awarded according to the following table:

Exam Score Credits Course Group Requirement
Physics B 3 8 hrs PHYS 201, 202 SC
  4 or 5 12 hrs PHYS 201, 202, 203 SC
Physics C 3 4 hrs PHYS 201 SC
(Mechanics) 4 or 5 4 hrs PHYS 211 SC
Physics C 3 4 hrs PHYS 203 SC
(Electricity) 4 or 5 4 hrs PHYS 213 SC

Health Sciences majors who score a 4 or 5 on the Physics B AP Exam will most likely need to take the Intro Physics Lab (PHYS 204, 205, 206) sequence to gain entry to a professional school. They are advised to discuss this with their pre-health sciences advisor.

The physics majors course (Foundations of Physics I: PHYS 251, 252, 253) is generally less broad, but covers topics in more depth than Physics with Calculus (PHYS 211, 212, 213). For example, “Foundations” begins with special relativity and includes special laboratory modules. Consequently, incoming students who have scored a 4 or higher on the Physics C AP exams are not automatically exempted from taking the Foundations sequence. Please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Scott Fisher at or (541) 346-4799 for more information.

Incoming students who have scored a 5 or above on the higher-level International Baccalaureate Physics exam may earn between 4-12 credits in Physics with Algebra (PHYS 201, 202, 203) according to their exam score (see the Registrar’s Advanced Credit web page).

Mathematics Credits by Exam

Students wishing to major in physics at the University of Oregon should come prepared to take Calculus (MATH 251, 252, 253) during their first year. Any student (including prospective physics majors) scoring well on the Mathematics Calculus Advanced Placement test(s) (see following table) receives college credit for those courses and need not repeat them at the UO.

Exam Score Credits Course Group Requirement
Calculus AB 3 4 hrs MATH 251 SC
  4 or 5 8 hrs MATH 251, 252 SC
Calculus BC 3 8 hrs MATH 251, 252 SC
  4 or 5 12 hrs MATH 251, 252, 253 SC

(Students may also earn calculus credits according to their scores on the higher level International Baccalaureate Math exam. See the Registrar’s Advanced Credit web page)

Students who do not take the AP exams will be placed in a mathematics course according to how they perform on the Math Placement Test, administered by the UO Department of Mathematics. This is true for students who took calculus in high school but did not take or score high enough on the Calculus AP exams. Consequently, these students are advised to:

  • Take the practice Math Placement Tests before taking the Math Placement Test.
  • Complete the Math Placement Test as soon as possible after commitment to attend the UO, while their knowledge of mathematics gained from high school coursework is still fresh.

Chemistry Credits by Exam

Either General Chemistry (CH 221, 222) or Honors General Chemistry (CH 224, 225) are requirements for a bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Oregon. Students can earn chemistry credits and complete part of their chemistry requirements for physics by:

  • Scoring a 3, 4, or 5 (CH 221, CH 221 + 222, or CH 221-223) on the Chemistry Advanced Placement exam.
  • Scoring well on the International Baccalaureate higher level Chemistry exam (see the Registrar’s Advanced Credit web page).

In general, students do not automatically receive credit for General Chemistry Lab when receiving AP or IB credit for General Chemistry.