Guide for New Students

Chair: Professor Melissa Eblen-Zayas

Studying physics and astronomy opens many doors. The quantitative modeling experience, the computer programming and laboratory skills, and the thoughtful approach to problem solving are relevant in many arenas and prepare students for a variety of career paths post-Carleton. Physics majors in the past few years have gone on to graduate school in architecture, astronomy, civil engineering, earth and planetary science, electrical engineering, law, mechanical engineering, medical physics, and physics. And graduates who have gone directly into the work force have gotten positions in teaching, engineering, software development, and investment banking, as well as research positions.

There are several physics and astronomy courses available for first year students. Look below to learn more about how to get started on the path to a physics/astronomy major. For students interested in a general introduction to Astronomy, ASTR 110 is available in the Fall. This course satisfies the laboratory science graduation requirement and has no prerequisites.

Can I major in it? Yes, a major in physics/astronomy is offered.

Courses cover topics in classical and quantum mechanics, special relativity, atomic and nuclear physics, electricity and magnetism, statistical physics and thermodynamics, astrophysics, materials science, optics, condensed matter physics, electronics, computational physics, contemporary experimental physics, as well as occasional electives in medical physics and general relativity.


How to get started: See the flowchart for an overview of the introductory courses in the physics and astronomy department. It is worth noting that many of the introductory courses in physics are five-week courses, so care will be needed in choosing your courses.

  • Students interested in majoring in physics should plan on taking Physics 131/151 OR Physics 141/151 OR Physics 142/151 in their first year. PHYS 131 (Fall, Winter, Spring), 141 (Winter), and 142 (Fall) are classes offered in the first five weeks of a term, while Physics 151 (Fall, Winter, Spring) is offered during the second five weeks. The Physics 131, Physics 141, Physics 151 courses offered in winter term are freshman priority. Note that Math 121 is a pre- or co- requisite for Physics 141, Physics 142, and Physics 151. Students who have not taken calculus in high school should plan to take Physics 131/151 in the winter term. All introductory physics courses have a required 4-hour lab each week associated with the course.
  • College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) Advanced Placement
    The following policies regarding CEEB Advanced Placement examination scores apply:  Physics B: Score of 3, 4, or 5: 6 credits granted. Score of 3 suggested placement into Physics 131 or 132. Score of 4 or 5 suggested placement into Physics 141 or 142. Physics C Mechanics and Physics C Electricity/Magnetism: Score of 3, 4, or 5 on both exams: 6 credits granted. Score of 4 or 5 suggested placement into Physics 141 or 142. Placement into higher courses possible, but will be determined individually upon consultation with the department. Physics C Mechanics: Score of 3, 4 or 5: 3 credits granted. Score of 4 or 5 suggested placement into Physics 141 or 142. Placement into higher courses possible, but will be determined individually upon consultation with the department.
  • Students with a strong high school background are encouraged to take either the 141/151 in Winter or 142/151 sequence in Fall. In order to ensure that students maximize their potential for success, the physics and astronomy department has found, in most cases, it is not recommended that a student skip the introductory sequence, even if the student has taken a strong AP or IB physics course. Although some of the content may be similar to what students have seen in high school classes, the department finds that there are additional benefits that students gain from taking introductory physics at Carleton, including experience working collegially with other potential majors on problem sets and labs, as well as gaining a familiarity with the expectations of our department.
  • Pre-med students are required to take 2 full terms of physics (with labs). The topics covered in Physics 131, 153, and 165 are the most relevant for those wishing to take the MCAT, but pre-med students are not limited to those courses in the physics sequence.

Students are encouraged to discuss their potential physics schedule with any faculty member in physics and astronomy. Students interested in pursuing graduate studies in astrophysics will find a physics/astronomy major will provide excellent preparation.