Information For Prospective Undergraduates

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The Department of Physics at Cornell offers an education hard to find at any other university.  From award-winning faculty to research and experimental facilities such as the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source and Cornell Center for Nanoscale Systems, your education at Cornell will include classroom and laboratory experiences that are second to none.

How to Apply

Prospective Freshmen

Students interested in applying for admission to Cornell University can indicate their desire to major in physics on their application to the College of Arts and Sciences. Information on applying to Cornell can be found at the College of Arts and Sciences and the main Cornell Admissions site. Contact the Physics Department for the latest Cornell Days Physics 2019 schedule for classes you can sit in on, faculty office hours, and informational sessions conducted by our Society for Physics Students.  Physics 1116 is not available to visit on April 26. In addition, you can find more information on the main Cornell Days website.

Current Cornell Students

Current students meeting the entrance requirements for the major [two physics courses (and the associated mathematics) with a grade of B- or better] can find the forms for joining the major at the Main Physics Office, 117 Clark Hall.

Students should then arrange to meet with the Physics Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Professor Liam McAllister,, phone (607) 255-3302 to complete their application. Students can gain provisional acceptance into the major in the semester in which they expect to complete the requirements and thereby have the benefit of their major advisors help in course planning. Students are welcome to see Professor McAllister early in their time at Cornell as well to discuss pre-major course selection.

Students who are not yet ready to join the major, but would like to find ways to become involved with Cornell Physics, are encouraged to join the Society of Physics Students.

Course Requirements

Course Requirements at a Glance

The Physics Core – All physics majors must complete a core of physics and mathematics courses as follows:

Three-semester introductory physics sequence plus special relativity:

PHYS 1112 – Physics I: Mechanics
PHYS 2213 – Physics II: Heat/Electromagnetism
PHYS 2214 – Physics III: Oscillations, Waves, and Quantum Physics
PHYS 2216 – Introduction to Special Relativity

Or its more analytic “honors” version:
PHYS 1116 – Physics I: Mechanics and Special Relativity
PHYS 2217 – Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism
PHYS 2218 – Physics III: Waves and Thermal Physics

PHYS 2207 students with life/chemical/health science interests who decide to switch to the physics major may complete:

PHYS 2207 – Fundamentals of Physics I
PHYS 2213 – Physics II: Heat/Electromagnetism
PHYS 2214 – Physics III: Oscillations, Waves, and Quantum Physics
PHYS 2216 – Introduction to Special Relativity

*NOTE: A transition from PHYS 2208 to PHYS 2214 is also possible for students with very strong math backgrounds.

*NOTE:  Inside concentrators should complete at least one additional year of applicable mathematics such as AEP 4210 and AEP 4220.

Five upper-level courses beyond the three-semester introductory sequence, consisting of:

(3) An intermediate course in classical mechanics:
PHYS 3318 – Analytical Mechanics

Physics 3314 and 3318 have been merged so all physics majors should take Physics 3318.

(4) An intermediate course in electromagnetism:
PHYS 3323 – Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism or
PHYS 3327 – Advanced Electricity and Magnetism

*NOTE: Students who complete the PHYS 1112PHYS 2213PHYS 2214 orPHYS 2207PHYS 2213PHYS 2214 introductory sequence are advised to complete the 1-credit course PHYS 2216 before taking PHYS 3316.

Additional Requirements:

In addition to the core, each physics major must complete at least 15 semester hours of credit in an area of concentration that has been agreed upon by the student and major faculty advisor consistent with the guidelines found here.

Freshman Brochure

To learn more about the Physics Department and major, read the Freshman Brochure.


Students and families wishing to visit the Physics Department in order to discuss the majors program with a faculty member can make arrangements by contacting Sue Sullivan at (607) 255-7562, or by filling out the visit request form here.  We require two weeks from the submission date of your visit form to plan your visit.

 When you make your appointment, be sure to ask about our ambassador program where we have current undergraduate students meet with you (and maybe even show you the lab they work in).