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What do I need to know if I'd like to major in Physics?

In highschool- specifically what classes should I take? I live in California. Now what are the math requirements I need to know to be prepared for this major? What are the science requirements? And what AP courses when offered should I take? Please answer these questions in detail. I appreciate if your even reading this, please help! :D Thank you.

2 Answers

  • 5 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    High school's purpose isn't exactly to prepare you for the college major. The goal of high school is to accomplish two things: 1) get you to earn a high school diploma 2) get you to gain acceptance into college (not the same as preparing you for a specific major).

    In high school, you'll be exposed to and required to take the 3 foundational areas of science: Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. After that, you have the options of taking an AP science class: AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Physics........if you're interested in Physics, take AP Physics. As for Math, Physics is based in Calculus, so you'll want to eventually take Calculus in high school. AP Calculus exists as AB and BC. AP Calculus AB is equivalent to 1 semester of college-level Calculus, AP Calculus BC is equivalent to 2 semesters (aka 1 year) of college-level Calculus. Overall, BC is not "harder" than AB; BC just includes more topics and is at a faster pace. It might also be beneficial to take AP Chemistry too because as a Physics major in college, you'll still have to take a few Chemistry courses. If you score high on your AP tests (3/5, 4/5, 5/5), you won't need to take certain courses in college.......check with colleges you potentially will apply to for more details so you make the best decisions when picking your courses for your junior and senior years of high school.

    Below, I listed Science and Math courses that pretty much every high school offers. This is basically what every student that plans on doing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) major in college takes in high school. Be aware, that you might change your mind on which science you like as you get exposed to them; this is what happened to me.......I explain after the lists.


    Honors Biology (freshman)

    Honors Chemistry (sophomore)

    Honors Physics (junior) NOTE: this class IS NOT Calculus-based, it's just a taste of actual Physics

    AP Physics (senior) NOTE: this class IS Calculus-based and you'll need to be in AP Calculus AB or BC just to take it.

    AP Chemistry (junior or senior) NOTE: take this only if you have the space in your schedule


    Honors Algebra (freshman)

    Honors Geometry (sophomore)

    Honors Pre-Calculus AB or BC (junior)

    AP Calculus AB or BC (senior)

    These are actually the courses I took in high school with the exception of AP Physics (I took AP Chemistry instead). I took AP Chemistry, so I wouldn't have to take Chemistry in college (I still had to take Chemistry anyway because I only scored a 2/5 on my AP test). In high school, I really liked Physics and Chemistry, disliked Biology, and planned on studying engineering in college. I entered college as a Civil Engineering major. During my first semester of college, I was required to take General Chemistry I. I was also required to take a humanities elective; I chose a course that talked about Charles Darwin and how the Scientific Theory of Evolution changed how we view our existence (it was the most interesting of the humanities electives offered). Chemistry I and a humanities elective were both general education requirements for Civil Engineering majors at my school. Anyway.....

    Studying these two courses made me really like Biology (Evolution is a part of Biology and Biology majors do take a lot of Chemistry). My interest in Biology was so strong that I changed majors. I started my 2nd semester of college as a Biology major and never looked back. I graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Biology in 2012 and I'm now in Veterinary School working on a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. I disliked Biology in high school, fell in love with in it college, and used it to get into Veterinary School. As a Biology major and Pre-Veterinary (same as Pre-Med, just a different name) student I had to take courses in General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, General Physics, Calculus, Statistics, many many courses in Biology (obviously), and more. By the way, I thought General Physics I and General Physics II were both really hard and uninteresting in college.

    If you would like to know more about education and careers in Physics, contact colleges, talk with teachers, speak with your high school's academic counselors, etc.

    Biology, Physics, and Chemistry are 3 sciences that set foundations for different fields of study. For example:

    A strong foundation of Biology is needed for Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Bionics, Biomedical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, etc.

    A strong foundation of Chemistry is needed for Pharmacy, Chemical Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Materials Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Meteorology, Geology, etc

    A strong foundation of Physics is needed for all areas of Engineering and somewhat for many areas of science.

    This is why Chemistry, Physics, and/or Biology courses are taken early in college for all STEM majors. An example would be that a Civil Engineering major takes General Physics I&II early in college, so they can understand their later engineering courses that apply the principles of Physics. Also, a Biology major, would need to take Chemistry and Physics early in college because there is overlap between them all (living things are made of chemicals and exist in the physical world). In Veterinary school, I take courses that apply principles of mainly biology and chemistry. For example: in vet school I take two Pharmacology courses and an Anesthesia course which all deal with the understanding of chemicals (drugs, medications, etc) and how they affect living things (dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc); this is so as a veterinarian I can chose the right medications and make sure animals stay sedated during surgery.

    Biology, Chemistry, and Physics each have their own sub-disciplines too. College graduates can earn a Master's degree or Ph.D in these sub-disciplines. These sub-disciplines are also the subjects of courses taken in undergrad.

    Example: a college Biology major can take a course in Microbiology (study of microscopic life: bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and prions), while a college graduate can go on to earn a Master's in Microbiology, and then earn a Ph.D in Bacteriology (study of bacteria), Mycology (study of fungi), Virology (study of viruses and prions), or Protozoology (study of protozoa).

    Do you see how education gets more specific as you progress: High school Diploma (took a class in biology) => Bachelor's of Science in Biology (took a class in microbiology) => Master's of Science in Microbiology (took a few courses in bacteriology) => Ph.D in Bacteriology (the forefront of knowledge on bacteria and does research on them so everyone else can learn about them including: high school students, college students, other scientists, veterinarians, and human physicians). This same principle applies to Chemistry and Physics too; they get more specific as you progress.

    Earning a DVM (like me) or MD (human physician) is called a Professional Degree and is at the same level as earning a Master's Degree, but it's a little different because my degree trains me for a particular job, veterinarian, rather than just giving me knowledge on a particular subject. Even though it's called a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), it is not equivalent to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D).

    Ph.D's are research degrees (Ph.D in <whatever>) and are about gaining new knowledge for whatever particular area they focus on. A Ph.D is typically more academically challenging to earn than any Professional degree (which might be more physically challenging because, veterinarians need to have surgical skills). Regardless, all these degrees with "Doctor" in the title are prestigious, which is why they are all legal authorities in their particular fields and people with the degrees can be addressed as "Doctor". This is why college professors (usually Ph.D's) are addressed by students as Dr. <last name>, for example. This is also why you refer to your Primary Care Physician (MD), Dentist (DDS), and dog's Veterinarian (DVM) as Dr. <last name>, for example.

    Anyway, here's a list of some more sub-disciplines:


    Genetics, Physiology, Anatomy, Immunology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Ecology, Botany, Evolutionary Biology, etc.


    Analytical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Nuclear Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, etc


    Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Thermodynamics, Relativity, etc

    Finally, interdisciplinary fields exist too, such as: Biochemistry, Physical Chemistry, Biophysics, etc.

    Best of Luck on your journey. You're still very young, so remember to keep an open mind and to explore. You never know where life will take you, who'll you'll meet, what you'll learn, or how you will impact the world or others.

    I hope this was long enough, I mean, you did ask for a "detailed" reply to your question.

    Source(s): Started college at Illinois Institute of Technology as a Civil Engineering major, changed my major to Biology, transferred to Iowa State University, graduated, and currently working on my DVM at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.
    • thanks for answering in such detail

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  • 5 years ago

    Nothing really. Calculus eventually. To not fall behind, you want to be ready to take calc 1 your freshman year of college. AP calc is fine in highschool for a gpa / class rank booster, it will also help you get admitted into a betterschool, but its not advisable to use your AP credits for college courses integral to your major...... So i'm a chemical engineer, I had ap chem and calc credits....i still took calc and chem. I had AP computer science credits, i used those. Same with physics.....take ap physics, but don't use the credits in college, still take physics 1.

    Comp sci is probably something good too. A programming language in general. You're going to be using a computer to do your work and you should be able to write simple code. They'll make you take the relevant courses, but having a foundation will help. You should understand it good enough that for anything you don't know how to do, you can just click the help file and figure it out from there.

    NOW, physics is a broad subject. Newtonian physics is what you're covering in highschool. You aim a gun at 30 degrees and the projectile leaves at 500 m/s, how far will it travel. You drop a ball from 20 feet, how long till it hits the ground. Your engineering disciplines will use that in real life....not a physics major.

    physics 2 is elctromagnetism , 3 is thermo / fluids, 4 is your intro to quantum mechanics and optics. Again, a physics major isn't using the knowledge there in real life. As a chemical engineer, i took 1,2 and 4. 3, we had a dedicated 3 cred thermo and a 3 cred fluid course...actually we had 9 credits total in thermo...we went heavy into it., so it replaced physics real life, ....1, 3 and 4 are what are necessary (4 more on the theory side, but no need if you are just applying the theory, let someone else figure out the theory). I took P-chem later on which is quantum mech with a chem focus.

    Not totally sure what a physics degree entails after that....i'm assuming the depth of it is in quantum mechanics....stat mech is fun (took that in grad school....correlates the quantum world to the newtonian one).

    I went to PSU, so i pulled up what their curriculum....every school is different, but sort of the same too.

    Just saying, most physics majors are going to find themselves needing a PHD by the end of it to get a job, then go into theory, then getting a job either for a company or as a university professor. ...ORRR, getting a secondary ed degree and being a highscool teacher...most likely a gym teacher at first, then when the position opens up, you get to teach physics. Hell, i had the superintendent of our school district offer me a position teaching any science or math that i wanted, without a secondary ed cert, just because i was more qualified than most of their teachers.....I would've been a year long sub officially.

    If you want to apply physics, you are mostly looking at engineering.

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