The Major and Minor Program

The Major and Minor Program

The Major Program  

The undergraduate major program in physics is under the jurisdiction of the College of Letters and Science (L&S) and is subject to the rules and regulations of the College in addition to the University. Each academic year L&S publishes an announcement covering topics from A.B. requirements, grading regulations to withdrawing (and applying for readmission). The ultimate responsibility of completing requirements to graduating within the parameters set by the University, College and Department rests with the student. Consult the Physics Undergraduate Advisors or an L&S advisor for any clarification.

The program is designed to give students a solid foundation in physics to prepare them for work in the field or a physics graduate program. Prerequisites: Students may declare a physics major after completing the Physics 5 series or the Physics 7 series, Math 1A-1B* and Math 53** and Physics 89. The Physics 5 series is the honors version of the Physics 7-series and is only recommended to students who had a strong physics background in high school. 

*Specific scores on AP Calculus exam(s) can be used to replace Math 1A and/or Math 1B according to the Math Department's "High School Exam Credits" guidelines found here
**Please note that Math N53 will not be accepted.

Note: Students may declare the physics major when all of the prerequisites for the major have been completed with a minimum 2.0 grade point average in the prerequisites and a minimum 2.0 grade point average in all University courses.

Pre-Major Advising

Pre-major advising is available in 368 or 374 Physics North for all students who would like some academic counseling prior to declaring a major in physics. Although students cannot declare until the lower division prerequisites (Physics 5 or 7 series and Math 1A-B*, 53** and Physics 89) are finished, any student interested in the Physics major should come in for pre-major advising as soon as possible. Check out this physics major map for extra guidance as you navigate the physics major.
*Specific scores on AP Calculus exam(s) can be used to replace Math 1A and/or Math 1B according to the Math Department's "High School Exam Credits" guidelines found here
**Please note that Math N53 will not be accepted.

Declaring the Major

Students may declare a physics major when all of the prerequisites for the major have been completed. The prerequisites are as follows: minimum of 30 semester units which must include Physics 5A, 5B/5BL, 5C/5CL or 7ABC; Math 1A, 1B*, 53* and Physics 89 or their equivalent with a 2.0 grade point average in the prerequisites and a 2.0 grade point average in all University courses.
*Specific scores on AP Calculus exam(s) can be used to replace Math 1A and/or Math 1B according to the Math Department's "High School Exam Credits" guidelines found here
**Please note that Math N53 will not be accepted.

The Department will consider applications to declare a physics major throughout the academic year. Please submit your request to declare the physics major here. Please read all instructions on the form carefully. You can use this form to submit requests to declare the physics major, add the physics major, add another major to the physics major, or to change your major to the physics major. Requests take up to two weeks to process. Your major advisor will email you to schedule a Zoom appointment after your paperwork has been reviewed. 

Undergraduate advisors are available remotely to help students with pre-major advisor and any related questions and concerns:
Please email Anna Hilke (ahilke@berkeley.edu ) or schedule a Zoom appointment with her if your last name begins with letters A-L. 
Please email Kathleen Cooney (kathleen.cooney@berkeley.edu) or schedule a Zoom appointment with her if your last name begins with M-Z. 

Warning: L&S students with 75 or more semester units must declare a major or run the risk of having their registration for the following semester blocked by the College.

Requirements for the Physics Major

Lower Division

Physics 5 and 7 series are designed to give a potential physics major a solid foundation in physics for upper division coursework. Students may declare a Physics major after completing the Physics 5 or 7 series, Math 1A-1B, Math 53* and Physics 89. Students must receive passing grades (C- or better) in all lower division requirements, and must have a Physics lower division GPA of 2.0 or higher.
*Please note that Math N53 will not be accepted.

Completing Advanced Placement courses or exams in physics is not considered sufficient preparation for upper division work in physics; therefore, it is the general policy of the Department not to waive the Physics 5 or 7 prerequisite. Physics 5A, 5B/BL, 5C/5CL (formerly honors Physics 7A-7C) sequence is recommended for students who feel that the Physics 7 series is not academically challenging enough. The 5 series is strongly recommended for physics majors. 

Lower Division Honors Physics Sequence

The Physics 5 series (formerly honors 7) has been re-designed to implement interactive and peer-learning techniques and to foster scientific curiosity to better prepare our students for careers in science and technology. Topics are ordered in a more logical sequence in the presentation of material. As a result, the Physics 5 series does not directly align with the Physics 7 series. It is possible to switch from the 5 series to the 7 and vice versa but doing so will require mapping assistance with a Physics Adviser, and possibly a number of additional courses to close topic gaps. Consult with Physics Advisers for assistance. We recommend the 5 sequence to potential physics majors, who have the appropriate background - high school physics or an equivalent, Math 1A and concurrent enrollment in Math 1B are the minimum requirements, as it enables students who are interested in physics to work together during their freshman and sophomore years in a small classroom setting.

Physics 89 is required for Physics majors. The only exceptions are students who are planning a double major with Math and Physics may use Math 54 in lieu of Physics 89; Math majors who are minoring in Physics may use Math 54 in lieu of Physics 89.  All other double majors and minors are required to complete Physics 89. Transfer students may satisfy the requirement with a Math 54 equivalent at their transferring institution, though Physics 89 is still strongly recommended (even if taken P/NP) to provide sufficient math preparation for upper division physics courses. Transfer students admitted prior to completion of a Math 54 equivalent will be required to complete Physics 89 at UCB.

Physics 77 is strongly recommended because it covers Python and other programming skills that are useful (and even necessary) for physics research. Python in particular shows up in Physics 105, Physics 111B, and Physics 112 (required courses), and also in Physics 129 and Physics 188 (optional electives). Therefore, if you don't end up taking Physics 77, we recommend that you learn Python via the Astro 98 Python DeCal, occasional SPS coding bootcamps, online resources (e.g., here), and/or by seeking support from our designated Python tutor each semester. Codings skills are also valuable to learn if you are considering industry after graduating since coding is an in-demand skill. 

Upper Division

Physics students may take the upper division physics courses in a variety of sequences. Analytic Mechanics (105) and Quantum Mechanics (137A-137B) are most often taken during the junior year while Electromagnetism and Optics (110A-110B) is taken during the senior year. Please note: Physics 110B is not required but may be completed to satisfy the upper division physics elective requirement. It is strongly recommended for students planning graduate school in physics. The Modern Physics and Advanced Electrical Laboratory, 111A and 111B are also required for the major. 111A is four units; 111B must be completed for three units the first time. Additional units beyond the initial three required may be completed for 111B after completion of the first three. Seven units are required for the major (four in 111A and three in 111B). Statistical and Thermal Physics (112) and a Physics elective may be taken whenever you choose.

The following list is one possible four year sequence of required courses in the physics major; keep in mind that all University and L&S requirements must also fit within this program. We strongly suggest that most, if not all University and L&S requirements be completed prior to declaring. Consult the L&S Announcement for more details regarding the University and L&S requirements.

First Semester    
Freshman: Math 1A*
Sophomore: Math 53**, Physics 5B & 5BL or 7B, Physics 77
Junior Physics: 137A, 111A
Senior Physics: 110A or 105, 112
*Specific scores on AP Calculus exam(s) can be used to replace Math 1A and/or Math 1B according to the Math Department's "High School Exam Credits" guidelines found here
**Please note that Math N53 will not be accepted.

Second Semester
Freshman: Math 1B, Physics 5A or 7A
Sophomore: Physics 89, Physics 5C & 5CL or 7C
Junior Physics: 137B, 110A or 105
Senior Physics: 111B (3 units), Physics elective

The physics major is a challenging program. It is important for students to request assistance and discuss major plans with an advisor. Assistance and resources are available! *The first time you take Physics 111 you must enroll in Physics 111A for 4.0 units.

All grades for courses used for the major must be passing grades (C- or better). An overall minimum GPA of 2.0 is required in courses applied to the major program.

Physics Honor Program

Requirements to Participate

  • Currently have a 3.3 cumulative (overall) UC GPA
  • Currently have a 3.3 GPA in the Physics major requirements (lower and upper division combined)
  • Currently have a 3.3 GPA in the Physics major upper division courses
  • Submit H195A/B proposal/contract completed and signed no later than the end of the second week of instruction of the first semester of the thesis project (semester before last here at Cal).
    • Submit proposal to Physics Student Services

Students who meet the requirements can submit their form/proposal, signed by their faculty advisor, to their undergraduate advisor, Anna Hilke (last names A-L: ahilke@berkeley.edu) or Kathleen Cooney (last names M-Z: kathleen.cooney@berkeley.edu). Students should check in with their undergraduate advisor if they are unsure whether they meet GPA requirements as proposals will not be accepted for those below the GPA requirement. Note, too, that GPAs are not rounded up; they must be 3.3 or higher. 

Requirements to Graduate with Honors

  • Complete at least two (2) semesters of research
  • Enroll in Physics H195A (2.0 units) and Physics H195B (2.0 units) during the last two semesters at Cal
  • Have and maintain a cumulative UCB GPA, major GPA and upper division GPA of 3.3 of higher (all three)
  • Complete one semester of the Physics H190 seminar (only offered spring semesters)
  • Write an honors thesis approved by your Physics thesis adviser
  • Submit a copy of the final approved thesis signed and dated by your thesis adviser to Physics Student Services (368 or 376 Physics North) no later than the last week day of final exams of the graduating semester

The Minor Program 

The Department also offers a minor program in physics. Students may petition for the minor in physics only after they have completed all lower division required courses for the minor program. Please read the section on the Minor for more information.

Petitioning for the Minor

Students may petition for the minor in physics only after they have completed all lower-division required courses for the physics minor. Graduating seniors must declare the minor no later than the last day of classes (i.e. Friday of RRR week) in the semester before their expected graduation term . To petition, students must furnish transcripts (official or unofficial) to one of the Department's Undergraduate Advisers (in 368 or 376 Physics North) to show work completed and grade point average in physics and math. During remote instruction, students with last names A-L can email Anna Hilke (ahilke@berkeley.edu) about this process; students with last names M-Z can email Kathleen Cooney (kathleen.cooney@berkeley.edu) about this process. 

The Minor Requirements

The physics minor program conforms to the College of Letters and Science specifications and consists of the following coursework:

Prerequisites

Physics 5 or 7 series (or their equivalent from a transfer college)
Note: Completing Advanced Placement courses or exams in physics is not considered sufficient preparation for upper-division work in physics; therefore, it is the general policy of the Department not to waive the Physics 5 or 7 prerequisite.
Math 1A, 1B, 53* and Physics 89
Each course in the physics series must be passed with a letter grade of "C " or better. The student must achieve a minimum GPA of 2.0 in the seven courses
*Specific scores on AP Calculus exam(s) can be used to replace Math 1A and/or Math 1B according to the Math Department's "High School Exam Credits" guidelines found here
**Please note that Math N53 will not be accepted.

Note: Transfer students may satisfy the Physics 89 requirement with a Math 54 equivalent at their transferring institution, though Physics 89 is still strongly recommended (even if taken P/NP) to provide sufficient math preparation for upper-division physics courses. Transfer students admitted prior to completion of a Math 54 equivalent will be required to complete Physics 89 at UCB.

Minor Requirements

Physics 137A
Physics 110A or Physics 105
Three additional upper-division physics courses (to total at least 9 units, for an upper-division physics unit total of at least 17 units).

All upper-division physics courses must be taken for a letter grade (thus Physics 100, H190, 198 and 199 will not count toward the minor program). A minimum of three upper-division courses must be completed at Berkeley. All grades for courses used for the minor must be passing grades (C- or better). An overall minimum GPA of 2.0 is required in upper-division courses applied to the minor program.