University of South Carolina


Physics: What to Expect

Physics students at the University of South Carolina benefit from a variety of educational opportunities including research experience, faculty interaction, and challenging courses. Nearly all Physics majors at Carolina conduct research with a faculty member at some point during their college experience. As a physics major, you will be exposed to challenging coursework that will give you a solid foundation in all of the central areas of physics including Newtonian Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Statistical Physics, and Quantum Mechanics. You will also have the opportunity to tailor the program to your own interests by choosing from specialized experimental courses or designing your own research program. In our Capstone Laboratory course, you will have the opportunity to work with research grade equipment. In our Biophysics course, you can work toward constructing “optical tweezers” to manipulate single cells. As a Physics major, you can also take a Condensed Matter course, which has a clean room containing a projection lithography system capable of fabricating nanoscale objects with a resolution approaching five micrometers. Physics majors may choose to concentrate in Biophysics or Engineering Physics with an emphasis in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering.

The following courses fulfill some of the course requirements for a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in Physics.

  • Introduction to Modern Physics
  • Classic Experiments in Physics I and II
  • Quantum Physics I and II
  • Mechanics
  • Electromagnetic Theory
  • Thermal Physics and Statistical Mechanics
  • Solid Electronics
  • Digital Electronics

Students wishing to pursue an Intensive Major or concentration will be required to complete additional courses. On average, there is a 10 to 1 student-faculty ratio in upper-division major-specific lecture. A detailed list of degree requirements can be found in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

Enhancing your Experience

Study Abroad allows you to earn academic credits toward your USC degree while seeing the world! Overseas study can complement any academic program or major. You may also choose to intern, volunteer, or conduct research abroad. You are encouraged to visit the Study Abroad Web site for more information on opportunities to broaden and extend your knowledge and perspectives.
Student Organizations can be instrumental in helping you adjust to life on campus and network within your field. The University of South Carolina has a family of nearly 300 student organizations. Physics majors are encouraged to get involved in the Society of Physics Students. You will be able to serve as mentors at the R.L. Childers Midway Physics Day at the South Carolina State Fair. Physics majors also have the opportunity to present research findings at the Physics Student Symposium. Getting involved in an organization that interests you can help you network, meet new friends, and develop leadership skills. You can also seek out volunteer opportunities that relate to your major. You can find additional student organizations on campus that interests you!
Graduate School is one of many possibilities following graduation. Nearly 35 percent of Physics graduates pursue graduate study in Physics, while one-fourth of Physics majors go on to receive graduate degrees in other fields.
Distinguished Faculty can help enhance your overall academic experience while at the University. Five faculty members in the Department of Physics and Astronomy have received the prestigious Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award. Physics professors at the University have vibrant research groups and eagerly welcome undergraduate students.
Departmental Scholarships may be awarded to outstanding students. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers additional scholarships each year.

Internship and Research Opportunities

Internships can be an important asset to your overall educational experience. Internship experiences often help you confirm your career interests, give you hands-on experience in a professional setting, help build your resume, reinforce what you’ve learned in class and can often lead to full-time employment. Likewise, pursuing professional research opportunities as an undergraduate student can also help enrich your academic experience while at the University. As an undergraduate student, you can work closely with faculty research mentors and explore a discipline that interests you. Both internship and research opportunities help you build a competitive edge in the job market.

As a USC student you will have numerous resources at your disposal to assist you with locating internship and research opportunities. The USC Career Center is the central location at USC for assisting students with internship preparation and finding an internship. In addition, be sure to visit your academic department as many programs offer supplemental internship guidance specific to your major. The Office of Undergraduate Research assists all USC undergraduates by providing research and scholarly experiences in their chosen fields.

Physics majors affiliated with the department’s Medium Energy and High Energy experimental physics groups have had opportunities to spend summers working at National Labs, including Fermilab near Chicago, SLAC at Stanford University, and Jefferson Lab in Virginia. Additionally, Physics majors at the University have gained additional experience by working in the Nanocenter on projects related to biophysics and magnetics. One student worked closely with Dr. Kuncher for three years and became exceptionally skilled at using the electron microscope and did his groups’ electron-beam lithography.

Career Opportunities

Physics majors at the University of South Carolina typically pursue careers in fields including astronomy, astrophysics, medical physics, and geophysics. Many graduates are employed as lab supervisors, researchers, technicians, and teachers. Physics majors tend to be very adaptable and can have productive careers in seemingly unrelated fields including business consulting and management, especially management of science-related projects. Physics majors earn an average salary of $25,000 to $55,000 within the first five years following graduation.

You can find more information about career options in the US Department of Laborís Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The USC Career Center offers numerous resources which provide more information about career opportunities for students in this major. Once admitted, a Career Development Coach is available to help you assess your interest areas, make decisions about your career path, and identify the experiences and skills that will help you accomplish your goals. Spur Connections will help you locate mentors from among USC alumni, employers and community members who can provide insights based on their careers and experiences. Early planning and preparation are keys to success.

About the Department of Physics and Astronomy

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is a strong and vibrant department with an internationally recognized faculty pursuing world-class research. The department emphasizes research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  The department also boasts an Astronomy Center on campus and the Melton Memorial Observatory. The department offers a Bachelor of Science with a major in Physics, a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies, a Masters degree in Physics, a Masters of Arts in Teaching, and a doctorate degree in Physics. The Department of Physics and Astronomy is in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Points of Pride

  • We are ranked No. 32 in the Nation in the recent National Research Council’s ratings of Chemistry Departments. The rankings are based on research findings and publications.
  • Our new research building has outstanding instrumentation and research variety.

Additional Resources
Department of Physics and Astronomy Website
College of Arts and Sciences Website
University Career Center
Undergraduate Bulletin