The Best Ivy League Schools for Physics

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Writing on the board using chalk.

The Best Ivy League Schools for Physics

When it comes to some of the most popular fields that students are pursuing once they finish high school and go onto study as undergraduates, physics is absolutely near the top of the list.

A degree in physics opens up a plethora of academic and professional opportunities that allows young men and women to study at the cutting edge of math and science. So, if you are a student interested in pursuing a degree in physics, you may be curious what the best Ivy League school for physics is.

If you are a highly dedicated and accomplished high school student, then there is little doubt that you have considered the possibility of applying to – and ultimately attending – one of the eight Ivy League schools.

And while all eight schools are truly amongst the most selective and prestigious in the United States, that does not mean that all are created equal when it comes to their physics departments.

a teacher demonstrating in front of his students

Indeed, there are some physics departments in the Ivy League that have more funding than others. That means that they have more room for top faculty, instruments on the cutting edge, and much more.

At AdmissionSight, we make it our goal to not only help the high school students that we work with get into the schools that they want to get into, but we also make sure to work with our students to identify the schools that are on paper the best fit.

That means that students who excel in physics and STEM know which schools will offer them the chance to get the best education possible in that subject.

So, without further delay, let’s start on breaking down what the best Ivy League schools for undergraduate physics is, so that you can start developing your list of schools that you plan to target when it comes time for you to apply!

Let’s get started.

What is a physics major?

Before we get started on Ivy League schools ranking for physics, we thought it would be a wise idea to quickly go into some of the key factors regarding the big decision about pursuing a physics major. So, what is a physics major?

Basically, a physics major is a science degree path that helps students understand and explain how the world works and how the very universe that we live in was, and continues to be structured!

a group of student looking through their notes while one of them is writing something on the glass board

Students in physics departments study matter and energy and also spend a lot of time learning about both the classical and modern theories that have helped create the field of study.

Students will also spend quite a lot of time in the lab settings, and will learn a lot of time about the crucial connections between physics and other key scientific fields such as astronomy, chemistry and biology.

Overall, students who are interested in pursuing a degree in physics should have a strong background in both science and mathematics and should feel abundantly comfortable in advanced calculus courses.

How to know physics is right for you and what you can do with a degree in physics

If you are interested in pursuing a degree in physics, but you are not yet sure that it is the right major for you, consider these factors.

Physics students should be interested in the intricate mathematical equations that are used to describe and understand the laws of the universe. Furthermore, students should be adept mathematicians who have a deep passion for problem-solving and critical thinking in the classroom and the lab.

Many students who first pursue physics end up going into fields such as chemistry, seismology, geology, oceanography and more.

Students attending tutors and completing SAT prep books in order to score well in the SAT test.

When it comes to what students can end up achieving after earning a degree in physics, there are a lot of academic and professional avenues that you can go down.

In fact, there are a lot of students who study physics during their undergraduate years and go on to enroll in law school, medical school or other business opportunities! On top of that, students can pursue masters of PhD options to become professors for undergraduate or graduate students.

Finally, the jobs that individuals with physics degrees can end up working include research scientist, data scientist, lab manager, medical physicist, astronomer, aerospace engineer, geophysicist and much more.

The problem solving and critical thinking skills that physics students gain and fine tune during their undergraduate years make them highly attractive across many different fields and professions.

Ivy League physics admissions criteria

One final and important thing that we want to go over before we go over the Ivy League schools ranking for physics are the Ivy league physics major admissions criteria.

a group of students that are member of a school club practicing after class

You will not have to have any perquisites from high school in order to pursue a major in physics at an ivy League school, but there are absolutely several courses that you will want to focus your attention on in high school to make sure that you are prepared for the rigor and demands that come with majoring in physics at an Ivy League school.

Whenever possible, students should take the listed courses as advanced AP courses.

  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Pre-calculus
  • Physics

What is the best Ivy League school for physics?

So, now that we have gone over some really important facts regarding pursuing a physics major for your undergrad education, it is now time to get into the ranking of the best Ivy League school for undergraduate physics.

While taking a look at this list, remember that school and department rankings change from year to year.

That means that this ranking is fluid as opposed to being fully static. Still, with that in mind, it is important to remember that schools at the top of the list will remain at the top, while schools in the middle and bottom will likely stay there. Schools might jump a spot or fall a spot from year to year, but massive change is not very likely.

Let’s get started.

No. 1 Yale University

Yale’s department of physics is home to some of the most respected faculty in the world who continue to work on the cutting edge of research in physics. At Yale, the science programs set themselves apart from other top schools thanks to its emphasis on small classes, making the faculty easily accessible to all undergraduate students.

The physics department – and all science departments at Yale – actively encourage undergraduate students to take part in research alongside faculty or in their own independent research projects. This leads to students getting the chance to interact with their professors more as colleagues than as students.

Finally, Yale is constantly in the process of updating and improving its research facilities to make sure that students have access to the most advanced equipment and techniques to prepare them for the professional world.

No. 2 Harvard University

It should not come as much of a shock that Harvard is near the top of this list. After all, many consider Harvard to be the most prestigious school in the United States!

When it comes to its physics department, this reputation persists. The school has a very large undergraduate program and the school encourages a large amount of flexibility for its students.

The majority of undergraduate students participate in exciting research opportunities through an independent research course that allows two semesters’ worth of credit for taking part in independent research that is supervised by members of the department’s faculty.

One other fantastic aspect of studying in the physics department as an undergraduate is that a number of students get the chance to work as TAs to help with large sections of undergrads. This gives them a chance to see what it’s like to work as a grade student in the department if they should choose to go down that path!

No. 3 Princeton University

Just like Harvard and Yale, Princeton proudly has one of the very best physics departments for undergraduate students in the entire Ivy League.

One thing that is interesting about the physics department at Princeton is that undergrads do not officially declare as a physics concentrator until the spring of their sophomore year.

Of course, students have to take a number of physics courses as part of their prerequisites before choosing it as their concentration. In order to declare, students meet with a member of the undergraduate program committee.

Once declared, students can enroll in advanced courses and can get involved in events related to the department that can serve as valuable learning and networking opportunities.

One final fantastic opportunity that is available to undergraduate students in the physics department at Princeton is the ability to take a semester abroad and study at some of the best international physics departments, including Oxford, University of St. Andrews, University of Cape Town and more!

No. 4 Cornell University

Cornell comes in next and offers ample physics courses both for students who decide to pursue physics for their degree and also for students who are not majoring in the field.

The school proudly states that its “combination of first-class research facilities and congenial atmosphere” offer students the best environment possible to understand and learn both theoretical and experimental physics.

On top of that, Cornell makes it clear that a degree from its physics department opens doors for top jobs at companies all over the world.

No. 5 Columbia University

Columbia is known as one of the best research universities in the world, and there is no question that its physics department is part of that proud reputation. Students have two different courses to go down while pursuing undergraduate physics at Columbia.

They can either take a sequence of one-semester courses that cover various subfields of physics. These courses include lecture and lab work to help students learn broad and foundational things about physics.

However, students who are looking to get started on their physics degree in a more accelerated way, and who enter the school with advanced prep in math and physics, can instead take an accelerated approach that is taught at a more advanced level.

No matter which route a student takes, all undergrad physics students can take part in first-year seminars that cover current research topics at the cutting edge of physics.

No. 6 Brown University

Brown is one of the schools in the Ivy League that most values the importance of students having close connections and great access to their professors.

The faculty in the physics department at Brown is made up of 31 individuals, and each reach only about 15 to 20 students are enrolled as new physics concentrators. From that alone, you can get a great idea of just how close you will be working with your professors if you do decide to pursue physics at Brown.

On top of that, because the department is rather intimate, undergraduate students will often find themselves working alongside and with graduate students, offering them a glimpse of what it looks and feels like to pursue a master’s degree or PhD in physics after graduating with an undergrad degree in the subject.

Beyond that, research opportunities at Brown are fantastic and are often at the forefront of the most important and exciting areas of physics.

No. 7 University of Pennsylvania

At Penn, the curriculum that has been constructed for physics majors includes extensive laboratory work as well as computational experience. This is based on the school’s desire to help create a sense of comfort and confidence for students in the many different fields of physics.

The different fields that students will gain a lot of exposure to during their undergraduate years at Penn include: Condensed Matter Physics, Medical Physics, Elementary Particle Physics, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Biophysics, Nanoscience, String Theory and other fields.

Beyond that, the undergraduate experience at Penn in the physics department is linked to faculty research efforts and many undergraduates will get the chance to take part in key areas of research.

No. 8 Dartmouth College

Though Dartmouth is listed as the last ranked school on this list, you should not think that this means that the department at this college is bad.

In fact, this ranking is really a reflection of just how fantastic the Ivies are overall when it comes to physics.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that while Dartmouth is a fantastic, competitive and highly prestigious school, if you know that you are interested in pursuing physics as an undergraduate, you may want to consider other options that are more highly ranked with departments that are better funded.

At Dartmouth, the physics and astronomy majors are designed to provide students with a solid foundation in analytic thinking, problem solving, and the fundamentals of physics and astronomy.

The introductory courses are offered at a number of levels: you can begin a major at Dartmouth even if you’ve never had any physics or astronomy before.

There are also introductory sequences designed for students with advanced placement in just math, or in both math and physics. Later on, a wide variety of upper-level electives allows each student to tailor the physics and astronomy majors to match their own interests.

How to impress admissions officers so you can enroll in Ivy League physics

Now that you have a solid idea of which Ivy League schools are highly ranked when it comes to their undergraduate physics department, you may be interested in learning more about what kinds of courses you can take, and what else you can do in high school to improve your chances of getting in. It should go without saying that in order to improve your chances of getting into an Ivy League, you will have to earn top grades throughout high school.

students in a class raising their hands

Beyond that, make sure that you have these courses on your high school curriculum, taking AP and honors courses whenever possible.

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Earth/Physical science
  • Calculus
  • Science and math related electives

On top of that, students who are hoping to one day enroll in a physics department at an Ivy League should devote at least one of their extracurriculars to expanding their knowledge and pursuing their passion of physics. Some great extracurricular options include:

  • Astronomy club
  • Astrophysics club
  • Chemistry club
  • Earth Science club
  • Physics Club
  • Science Olympiad
  • Chemistry Olympiad
  • Physics Olympiad
  • Google Science Fair

Need more help getting in an Ivy League to study physics as an undergraduate?

At AdmissionSight, we pride ourselves on helping students uncover which schools are the best fit for them as students and as people. If you are someone who is dedicated to pursuing physics as an undergrad, you now have a solid understanding of which Ivy League physics departments are the most advanced and prestigious.

If you are looking for help in how to improve your chances of getting into an Ivy League school, contact us today to schedule a free consultation!



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.