Online Physics Degrees
Physics is the study of the fundamental elements of the universe, like matter, energy, motion, and force. Some colleges and universities offer online degree programs in physics, while others offer programs in physics-related subjects such as health physics, nuclear engineering, and physics education.
What Types of Online Physics Degree Programs Are Available?
- Physics Degrees: Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in physics are available online. Students in these programs take general education courses with an emphasis on science and mathematics, particularly calculus. Some master's and doctoral degree programs are available in physics, but they may be hybrid programs. Advanced degrees in physics require research and hands-on experience and cannot always be completed entirely online.
- Radiation Health Physics: Health physics is the theory and practice of radiation safety, and programs in this field are typically master's degree programs. Applicants to these programs should be familiar with college-level physics and calculus and hold a bachelor's degree in a physical or natural science. Coursework can be completed online, but students may be required to visit campus for lab experience or to arrange lab experience through an employer or local school. Some schools offer graduate certificate programs in health physics. Certificate programs require students to complete a small number of courses.
- Nuclear Engineering: Nuclear engineering programs prepare students to research, design, and work on nuclear reactors. Most online programs in this field are master's degree programs, but some schools offer graduate certificate programs. Applicants should hold a bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline.
- Physics Education: Some schools offer online master's degree programs in physics education. These programs are intended for physics teachers looking to meet state licensure requirements or enrich their knowledge in the field.
The amount of time you will need to complete an online physics program depends on the degree you are pursuing. Here are some general guidelines:
- Associate Degree: 2 years
- Bachelor's Degree: 4 years
- Master's Degree: 2 years
- Graduate Certificate: 1 year
- Doctoral Degree: 5-7 years
What Will I Learn in a Physics Degree Program?
Students in physics degree programs take courses in mechanics, heat, matter, electricity, magnetism, light, and modern physics. They also learn how to use algebra and calculus to solve physics problems. Master's and doctoral students take additional courses in topics like quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and electrodynamics. Graduate students conduct original research in their field and write a thesis or dissertation.
Students in radiation health physics programs learn about the chemistry and physics of radiation and how it affects living things. Other coursework may include therapeutic medical physics, which is the use of radiation therapy to treat disease, and environmental health physics, which is the study of the effects radioactive materials have on the environment. Students also learn about radiation safety, including the regulations that govern the use of radiation and the methods used to detect radiation. Graduate students may pursue thesis or non-thesis programs in this field.
Nuclear engineering students learn about the physics of nuclear materials and nuclear reactors from an engineering perspective. Coursework includes engineering analysis and reactor design, operations, and safety. Students may be required to complete and present a nuclear engineering project before graduating.
Physics education programs include coursework in both physics and pedagogy. Students learn about some of the same topics covered in physics degree programs and take courses in physics teaching practices. These programs may require students to design and defend a physics curriculum.
What Should I Consider When Choosing a Program?
Physics programs that are delivered on campus include lab work and, in graduate programs, research. Online physics programs handle lab experience, research, and projects in different ways. Some require students to visit campus for a short period, while others allow students to do individual lab work at a local school or with an employer. Physics programs that require original research may not be offered totally online. Before choosing a program, research its requirements for lab work, research, and final projects to determine if it will be a good fit for you.
Accreditation is another consideration to make when choosing an online program. Look for programs accredited by organizations recognized by the US Department of Education.
What Career Opportunities Can I Expect After I Complete This Program?
To become a research physicist, one should hold a doctoral degree in physics. Recent graduates of doctorate programs often accept postdoctoral research positions to gain experience and knowledge. Graduates of bachelor's and master's degree programs may be able to work in labs as research assistants, but these degrees are typically used as steps on the path to earning a doctoral degree.
Graduates of radiation health physics programs may work as occupational health and safety specialists. Health physicists ensure that facilities meet government regulations for the safe use of radiation. In addition to occupational safety, they can work in medical, environmental, and industrial safety situations. The American Board of Health Physics offers certification for health physicists looking to advance their careers.
Graduates of nuclear engineering programs may go to work researching and designing uses for nuclear power. Nuclear engineers work in government and industry research facilities and nuclear power plants. Earning a master's degree is not required to become a nuclear engineer or certified professional engineer, but it can help those who want to work in research.
Earning a master's degree in physics education can help high school teachers qualify for teaching certification in states that require teachers to hold graduate degrees.
- ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/physicists-and-astronomers.htm.
- ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-health-and-safety-specialists.htm.
- ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/nuclear-engineers.htm.