Best Universities For Studying Physics

Last Updated on January 19, 2023

Figure an institution’s overall strength in Physics by looking at its standing among world-leading universities in the global research university rankings. In this regard, we compared the top 40 physics worldwide and the top 50 national institutions in publications. This year, four universities from China and two from the United Kingdom sit on top of the physics rankings. Compare the Best Universities For Studying Physics programs below to find out about their Physics programs.

A physics degree opens the door to a huge number of careers, from biology and engineering to artificial intelligence and astronomy. Although physics is a difficult subject, there are many universities in the UK that offer courses in this fascinating field. If you want to know where the best educational establishments for studying physics can be found, read on.

Best Universities For Studying Physics

1. Princeton University

The physics department at Princeton University aims to impart knowledge of the physical universe and to train students to think like a physicist – encompassing intuition, the scientific method, approximation and problem-solving skills.

Programmes on offer include engineering, physics, biophysics, computational biology and other more traditional physics courses.

In the department of chemistry, undergraduates are taught in small classes and progress to an independent senior thesis project. Students receive direct attention from faculty members throughout their course.

About 1,400 undergraduates enrol in a mathematics class every year at Princeton, learning the basics of mathematical proof, calculus and number theory before progressing to more complex subjects.

Graduate studies in mathematics focus on independent research from the beginning of the programme, unlike many other doctoral courses in the US.

2. University of Oxford

Location: Oxford, England, U.K.

Best Global Universities overall rank: 5

Fact: Undergraduates at Oxford University can pursue a three-year or four-year program in physics and philosophy, according to the university’s website. The shorter program culminates in a bachelor’s degree while the longer results in a master’s.

3. California Institute of Technology 

The California Institute of Technology has a strong emphasis in science teaching and research. 

The faculty members at the university share 74 Nobel Laureates between them, as well as there being four chief scientists of the US Air Force and 71 United States National Medals of Science or Technology. 

Numerous members of faculty are also associated with NASA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was founded in the 1930s and is owned by NASA, is operated as a division of Caltech. To date it has spent billions on research and development. 

Physics is among one of the most popular undergraduate and postgraduate degrees on offer at the university. 

4. University of Tokyo

Location: Tokyo

Best Global Universities overall rank: 74 (tie)

 Focus areas of University of Tokyo physics researchers include astrophysics and astronomy, biophysics, experimental condensed matter physics, nuclear theory and theoretical general physics, according to the university’s website.

5. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has a long and distinguished history of training and research in physical sciences. Famous names including Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford and, more recently, Stephen Hawking, have all been associated with the university.

Undergraduates must apply for a specific degree course, unlike at US universities, where majors are declared after the first year of study.

The natural sciences course covers most biological and physical science subjects, allowing specialisation from the second year in physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences and other specific disciplines.

Maths is a separate degree course, often considered one of the most demanding programmes. Maths students are nicknamed “mathmos” and undertake the course in three parts, progressing from set theory to quantum mechanics.

For most physical sciences graduate students, the famous Cavendish Laboratory is a centre for physics research and takes in about 75 students each year. Postgraduate programmes include physics doctorates and master’s degrees in scientific computing, nanoscience and computational methods.

6. University of Chicago

Location: Chicago

Best Global Universities overall rank: 13

NASA named its Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, which traveled to the sun, after University of Chicago physics professor emeritus Eugene Parker, who is known for his research on the star.

7. Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California, U.S.

Best Global Universities overall rank: 3

Stanford University operates the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy science lab. The lab is home to a two-mile-long particle accelerator that generates the world’s brightest X-rays, according to the SLAC website. About half of all undergraduates at Stanford University take at least one physics course as part of their studies.

These courses serve as essential training for science and engineering majors. The department offers introductory courses aimed at non-technical majors in addition to highly specialised classes.

Studying chemistry at Stanford is also popular, with a specific track for chemical physics for those students with a strong physics and maths background.

Students can major or minor in maths, and they have the opportunity to participate in an annual maths contest with cash prizes for excellent scores and for outstanding performances by women.

There are many streams for graduates studying physical sciences, from applied physics to biophysical chemistry. PhD programmes take about six years to complete.

8. Harvard University

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.

Best Global Universities overall rank: 1

Among Harvard University’s numerous physics-related research centers are the Black Hole Initiative, the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature and the Center for Nanoscale Systems, according to the university’s website. About 50 physics majors graduate from Harvard University every year, not counting related degrees such as chemistry and mathematics.

Undergraduates can take advantage of a flexible course structure. Compared with other science majors, the physics course has few compulsory classes. Many students, therefore, choose to combine a physics major with maths, astronomy, history of science or chemistry.

Even at undergraduate level, students can carry out research projects independently and work as teaching assistants in some classes.

There is an active social and support community that organises buddies for new students, recreational events and extracurricular lectures in which students have the chance to interact informally with faculty.

For graduate students, the primary areas of research at Harvard are high-energy particle physics, atomic and molecular physics, physics of solids and fluids, astrophysics, nuclear physics, statistical mechanics, quantum optics, mathematical physics, quantum field theory, string theory and relativity.

9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.

Best Global Universities overall rank: 2

Graduate physics researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can conduct research within a dozen branches of physics ranging from photonics to atomic and optical physics, according to the university’s website.

In the past few years, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has produced the largest number of physics graduates of any university in the US.

The physics department is accordingly fairly large, with about 75 faculty members and almost 300 undergraduate students and 300 postgraduate students.

Since 1998, four alumni of MIT physics programmes have won Nobel prizes for their work.

Freshman physics courses are taught using an educational initiative known as “technology-enabled active learning”.

All undergraduates take maths classes as part of their degree, and many choose to major or minor in the subject.

Doctoral studies at MIT lead to a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of science degree, although these are equivalent in terms of degree status.

Mathematics graduate students are admitted to applied or pure maths degrees, and applied maths students are encouraged to take classes in other departments, such as engineering.

Top physics universities undergraduate

Top 10 Universities for Physics in the WorldBased on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020
RankName of InstitutionLocation
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)United States
2Stanford UniversityUnited States
3Harvard UniversityUnited States
4University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
5University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
6University of California, Berkeley (UCB)United States
7California Institute of Technology (Caltech)United States
8Princeton UniversityUnited States
9ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)Switzerland
10The University of TokyoJapan

Best universities for Theoretical physics

Theoretical physics is a field of scientific study centered on ideas and mathematical models like string theory, elementary particles and field theory. The best universities for an undergraduate in this field have highly ranked Bachelor of Science in Physics programs and distinction for graduate studies in theoretical physics. A university with an advanced theoretical physics program gives undergraduate physics majors access to world-renowned professors and research facilities.

Stanford University

Stanford University has the third best “U.S. News & World Report” ranking for general physics and the top ranking for theoretical physics. The Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics, an internationally renowned scientific research facility, synthesizes university-wide work in the ideas and mathematics that form the foundation of theoretical studies. With specialized programs in condensed matter and high energy, this institute attracts scientists and scholars from around the world. Physics majors find a welcoming community at Stanford as nearly half of the university’s undergraduate students take physics classes as part of their studies.

The University of California at Berkeley

According to “Times Higher Education,” UC Berkeley possesses the second-best physical science program in the world, and “U.S. News & World Report” also gave the university its number two ranking in theoretical physics. The Berkeley Center for Theoretical Physics recognizes the need for partnership and brings together the brightest minds in the international scientific community. Through the use of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Berkeley Center has situated itself at the center of developments in string theory, particle theory and cosmology. The theoretical physics program at Berkeley places a special emphasis on studies into dark matter and the Higgs boson.

Harvard University

Harvard University received the second-highest “U.S. News & World Report” ranking for general physics and the number three ranking in theoretical physics. The study of theoretical physics at Harvard is based in the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature. With seven dedicated theoretical physicists on staff, the Center provides an excellent opportunity for students to develop their interests in research topics like black hole mechanics, string phenomenology and dark matter models. Harvard’s theoretical physics seminars are open to undergraduates, and the university also facilitates attendance at other nearby seminars at MIT, Brown and Brandeis.

Princeton University

Princeton University boasts the third-best physical sciences program worldwide, according to “Times Higher Education,” and it is tied for the number three “U.S. News & World Report” ranking in theoretical physics. Undergraduates in Princeton’s physics program investigate the laws of the universe through careful study and hands-on experiments. The Department of Physics maintains the Princeton Center for Theoretical Sciences, which promotes interdisciplinary work between theoretical physicists and experts in fields like astrophysics and engineering. Undergraduates benefit from Princeton’s prestigious post-doctoral fellowships in the theoretical sciences. These fellowships attract scientists at the cutting edge of research who are available to students through lecture series and seminars.

Top universities for physics UK

Guardian score/100Satisfied with courseSatisfied with teachingSatisfied with feedbackStudent to staff ratioSpend per student/10Average entry tariffValue added score/10Career after 15 monthsContin-uation
1 Oxford10078.49161.89.91021459796.7
2 St Andrews98.594.495848.8722139294.6
3 Lancaster96.888.392.585.59.3716169297.7
4 Durham93.684.984.880.99.4521059496.7
5 Leicester93.494.893.985.513.6613399097.5
6 Aberdeen92.490.48471.69216410n/an/a
7 Hull91.489.59381.111.2311089196.3
8 Dundee86.671.983.667.67.4417110n/a92.2
9 Warwick8689.991.174.411718549395.6
10 Royal Holloway85.778.590.370.79.171396n/a95.8
11 Birmingham83.783.386.958.410.3818779297.3
12 UCL82.778.876.659.49.9616989696.6
13 Sussex80.982.888.266.38.9814779790.8
14 Manchester80.579.785.365.614919259498.8
15 Cardiff78.691.489.971.88.7915048595.1
16 Swansea77.290.591.479.79.8313868991
17 Keele76.376.983.771.910.331246n/a95.6
18 York75.183.58872.510.4515339197.3
19 Edinburgh74.881.485.859.811.41020949293.7
20 Loughborough73.482.384.174.88.3314668793.4
21 Glasgow7380.685.364.111.4421278594
22 Exeter72.483.185.165.710.8416868697.3
23 Southampton70.381.384.572.211.1615069692.2
24 Bath70.291.689.966.713.1417339596.7
25 Imperial College67.965.279.745.710.9721329695.5
26 Queen’s, Belfast67.283.490.373.611.6416698392.4
27 Heriot-Watt6795.99184.710716538788.4
28 Northumbria6686.587.768.6n/a214910n/a85.6
29 Nottingham64.788.988.76613.4616558595.1
30 Leeds6383.985.871.911.4515848395.1
31 Surrey62.990.291.374.211.3313829294
32 Bristol59.979.18557.413.1817158994
33 Salford57.781.6867813.721217n/a90.3
34 Strathclyde56.581.888.270.412.3418757793.9
35 Nottingham Trent56.
36 Liverpool55.576.578.157.812.41013739095.1
37 Portsmouth55.18790.86010.85982n/a91.9
38 Sheffield54.184.486.367.611.2314719094.3
39 Kent50.784.887.366.118.2312698790.8
40 King’s College London46.167.571.35512.3515749192.7
41 Newcastle45.181.588.356.514.171343n/a92.4
42 Queen Mary4081.382.559.110.3413887886.7
43 Aberystwyth36.187.388.77417.7311247890.4
44 Hertfordshire35.471.681.260n/a4954n/a90.1

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