This section will address how to select which program you should attend.
MOTIVATIONS FOR DEGREE
Do you find yourself being fascinated by how the universe works, or the structure of materials? Are you interested in learning more about matter and energy, and their roles in the universe? If so, a degree in Physics at the undergraduate level may be the right choice for you.
This degree will help you gain a number of different skills. Not only will you learn more about how the universe works, and gain a deep understanding of the laws of physics, but you will also gain other skills like:
- Data investigation (i.e. how to plan and execute experiments, analyze findings, and compile all the data into a concise scientific report),
- Programming/Software skills (i.e. using scientific software packages and programming languages)
- Mathematical and computational skills,
- And some research proficiency (if you go on to do a postgraduate degree, you can further refine these skills).
What to expect
Information in this section has been taken from IOP Institute of Physics
What to expect during such a degree:
Lectures, Tutorials and Practical Sessions
As a student in a Physics course, you will typically learn through a combination of lectures, tutorials and practical sessions. Lectures will usually consist of a large number of students (anywhere between 50-300 students). Tutorials, on the other hand, will be conducted in smaller groups, in which you will be able to revise the more difficult topics. The practical sessions will take place in specific laboratories. Although the amount of practical work will vary by university and course, you can expect to spend approximately 15 percent of your time on practical work.
Mathematics is an integral part of any Physics degree: you will have studied most of the concepts in high school, but will be required to apply those concepts in new ways in your undergraduate degree. For some areas of physics, like quantum mechanics, you will have to learn new Mathematics concepts.
Core Topics and Additional Topics
In most courses, you will spend approximately half of your degree studying the core topics of Physics (like particle physics, relativity, solid-state physics, waves and optics, statistical physics, mechanics, quantum physics, nuclear and atomic physics, electromagnetism, oscillations and thermodynamics).
Additional topics would typically include: astrophysics, cosmology, biophysics, applied physics, atmospheric physics and environmental physics. While the exact course and the time spent on the additional topics will vary by course, universities will generally follow this criteria.
A number of universities will also offer courses that will allow you to combine your study of Physics with a completely different subject like Music or a modern language.
Graduates of Physics can opt for a number of different career paths in the UK. Some graduates continue their education and complete a more specialized postgraduate degree. Others choose to go into non-research pathways, and get jobs in various sectors - like environment, hi-tech industries, healthcare, banking, education etc (in the UK).
- For more information on what you can do with a Physics degree, go through pg. 3 of this resource.
- This is an excellent resource to help you find out which careers paths Physics graduates typically take.
- You can also go through this resource to find out which career paths Physics graduates have taken in the past in the UK (please note: data for this resource was collected between 2006 and 2010. You are encouraged to use this as a basic guide only, and ultimately select your degree on the basis of more recent data).
Please note: the information above has been collected from UK sources. Career opportunities in Pakistan (or other countries) may be different. If you are hoping to work in Pakistan after completing your degree, you are advised to get in touch with your undergraduate professors and/or other experts in the field and ask them about future prospects within Pakistan.
TYPES OF DEGREE
The following degrees are available for Physics in the UK:
- Bachelor of Science (BSc)
- Undergraduate Master’s degrees
- Master of Physics (MPhys)
- Master of Science (MSci)
- Note: MSci and MPhys degrees have the same status; courses just have different titles at different universities.
Degrees may also be divided into ‘Physics With X’ and ‘Physics And X’ Courses (joint honours courses).
Information taken from IOP Institute of Physics
How to select the best option for yourself (among degrees/programs within this field)
BSc vs. MPhys/MSci
The BSc is a 3-year undergraduate degree, whereas the MPhys and MSci degrees are typically 4 years in length (except in Scotland, where the BSc is 4 years long, and the MSci/MPhys is 5 years long).
The undergraduate Master’s degrees will usually provide a more detailed study of Physics, as compared to the BSc, and will also include a comprehensive research project (in the later years of the degree). Students of these degrees will also have greater opportunity to develop their problem-solving, presentation and communication skills. If you want to go for a PhD after finishing your undergraduate study or want to pursue a career in Physics-based research, you should opt for a MPhys or MSci degree. On the other hand if you want to into a non-research based career, a BSc will be sufficient.
If you are unsure about which degree type to choose, do not worry. Most universities allow students to transfer between BSc and MSci/MPhys courses until the end of second year.
Note: when selecting your degree, keep in mind that an additional year of study (as required by the MSci/MPhys) will make your 4-year degree more costly than the typical 3-year BSc.
‘Physics With X’ vs. ‘Physics And X’ Courses
‘Physics with X courses’ typically require you to spend 70 percent of your time studying Physics and the remaining 30 percent is spent studying a second subject (denoted by X). Examples of Subjects X are Chemistry, Astrophysics, Medical Applications, GeoPhysics, German etc. (Note: this is a general list. Please visit your prospective university website to find out which courses you can study alongside Physics).
‘Physics and X courses’, on the other hand, require you to spend 50 percent of your time studying Physics and 50 percent of your time studying the second subject. Examples of this subject are Mathematics, Business, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Education etc. (Note: this is a general list. Please visit your prospective university website to find out which courses you can study alongside Physics).
Other types of Degrees
Physics with industrial experience
Some universities offer courses that include industrial experience. If you are unsure about what you want to do after completing your degree, placements like these may help you decide. Students will typically be paid during these placements.
Physics with a year abroad
Some Physics degrees in the UK had the option of a year of study-abroad. But this generally requires an additional year of study.
Students typically spend the first two years of their study in a UK university. The third year is spent studying abroad. In this year, students are required to follow the syllabus of their host university and are assessed accordingly. Their final year is spent in the home university. If you want to spend a year studying abroad (in other parts of Asia or Europe, or Australia), you should consider applying for a course like this.
Please visit your prospective university website for more information.
When selecting which university you want to apply to, you should take the following things into consideration (Institute of Physics):
- Do you want to study for 3 years or 4 years?
- Which areas of Physics do you find most fascinating, and does the course include those areas?
- How easy is it to switch to another course? Is it easy to transfer between a BSc and MSci/MPhys course?
- How much time is spent doing practical work?
- Outside lectures, practical work and tutorials, how many hours of work are you expected to put in each week
- Is the course flexible?
- How are students typically assessed?
- The number of students at the university, on that particular course and the student-teacher ratio
- Location: is the university in a big city or is it located in a smaller town? Does that affect your decision to apply?
- Are there any grants or scholarship options available to international students at the university?
To find out more about your prospective university, make sure you visit the website and go through all available resources. Universities also recommend that prospective applicants try to attend their ‘open days’ and find out more about the course they want to apply to - since this may be difficult for Pakistani students, it is recommended that you connect with students or alumni of the course you are interested in to find out more about it.
Ultimately, there is no answer to the question ‘which university is the best for physics?’. Different courses have different strengths. You need to choose a university that is most suitable for you, in terms of the courses it offers and its location. In terms of career prospects for Physics, the name of the university is generally more important than the class of degree (i.e. overall grade/division) you receive - so keep that in mind when applying.
- Here is a list of courses you can choose from.
- Here is general information about how you should select your degree.
How to select the best option for yourself (among specializations and sub-fields within this field)
If the mathematical side of Physics appeals to you, then you can consider a degree in Theoretical Physics. If you are more interested in Astronomy, then a course in Astrophysics might be more relevant. If you have a concrete interest in the chemical sides of Physics, you can consider applying for a course in Chemical Physics.
You should select your degree based on your specific interest. Make sure you go through all the course-based resources on the website (look at how the course is taught, how research-intensive, which modules it includes) to make your decision. You should also look at the future prospects that each subfield offers. For instance if you are hoping to become an Astrophysicist, a degree in Astrophysics is most relevant for you. Visit your prospective program website to find out more about career prospects, trajectories and general student placements.
If you are interested in Physics, you might also like:
How to select the best option for yourself (among allied fields)
- If you are more interested in studying living organisms, their physical structures and the complex chemical processes they undergo, a degree in Biology may be more suitable for you. If you are more interested in matter and its properties, a degree in Chemistry may be more suitable.
- If you hope to become an Engineering, a degree in Engineering would be most suitable for you.
- Mathematics is an important part of all Physics degrees -- but if you are more (or only) interested in the mathematical parts, a degree in Mathematics may be more appropriate for you.
You are advised to go through the tip sheets on our website for each of these fields to help you make your decision.
- No. of Universities to Apply: You will be able to apply to five universities of your choice on UCAS. Note: you can only apply to one university from Oxford and Cambridge.
Here are some links that could help you with selection:
Note that the ranking of a university should not be the only factor considered when choosing universities. Though the rank is an important thing to keep an eye out for, there are many other things that you should consider when choosing amongst universities/programs (some of which is explained above in the ‘Program Selection’ section).
- UNISTATS: you can go through this link to compare different universities and their courses in Physics (based on overall student satisfaction, work placement etc.).
- The Guardian: this resource ranks all UK Physics-based courses. You can also click on the specific university name to find out which courses are being offered by it. (Please note rankings may vary by website, as each website uses different methodology and criteria.)
- Some courses also have a Juno Rating: ‘women have been underrepresented in Physics in the past, but the picture is now changing,with more women than ever becoming top scientists. A Juno award is a sign that a department is committed to developing an inclusive atmosphere where everyone can succeed in their studies and career’ (IOP).
- It is recommended that you visit Rankings websites and see how your prospective Physics courses are ranked.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on program selection (under the tab of ‘selection’).
A lot of our tips talk about how you can strengthen your application, but you can build a stronger application when you’ve done the things this program values in the years prior to the application. The application itself is the communication part (in which you communicate what you've done to the admission committee); but this section gives guidance on the substance part (what you can actually do before you apply). In this section we talk about what you can do in the years leading up to applying that can make you an ideal candidate. Supplement the following tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘Pre-Application’) to become a competitive applicant.
Students interested in applying for Physics in the UK will typically be required to have studied Physics, Mathematics and one other subject in their A-levels (or final two years of high school). Although Further Mathematics (A-Level) is not a requirement, it is looked upon favorably by admissions committees at the more competitive universities. In addition to that, Chemistry and/or Computing subjects may be helpful as well - but this will largely depend on the specific course you are applying to.
Note: although this is the general trend, you should visit your prospective course website to find out the specific subject-related criteria you need to meet.
Your grades are extremely important for this degree (a number of universities also look at your predicted grades and evaluate those carefully).
While the exact requirement will vary by university and specific course, you can expect requirements for top-tier universities to be somewhere between A*A*A and ABB. The most competitive schools will typically require an A* in Physics and/or Maths and As in other subjects. The middle-ranked universities will have more lenient requirements (like 1 A and 2 Bs). Lower-ranked universities will have lower requirements.
Please note the following:
- This is a general guideline; to find out the exact requirements for the course(s) you are interested in, please visit the course website.
- Some universities may not accept A-levels in certain subjects.
- The requirements for an MSci/MPhys may be higher than those for a BSc in the same university.
It is advised that you aim for the best grades possible - since your internal transcript and A-level result, both, are very important for the admissions committee. Although some universities may be willing to accommodate students whose A-level results are a grade or so lower than their conditional offer, you should aim to meet your condition.
The average IB requirement is 32-38 points. If you are hoping to apply to the more competitive places, you should aim to get a score of at least 37 points. The less competitive universities will accept scores between 30-34. Do visit your prospective course website to find out the exact score requirements.
If you have done something other than A-Level or IB, contact your prospective university to find out what their requirements for your system are.
In case you do not have the grades you require or have not studied the right subjects, do not worry. A number of universities offer foundation courses in Physics, which you can take if you do not meet the entry requirements. Foundation courses are typically one-year long and require full-time study. Once the foundation year has been successfully completed, students can usually move directly into the standard Physics degree.
Note: if you opt for a foundation year, it will take you an extra year to complete your degree (3 years of original degree + 1 year of the foundation course).
When evaluating applications, admissions committees in the UK focus most on a candidate’s academic abilities and experiences. They will probably not want to spend too much of their time reading about your extracurricular activities, but they might be interested to learn more about your super-curricular activities. Super-curricular activities are those activities that have taken your learning a step further, i.e. they have taken your learning in Physics beyond what your curriculum or teacher has taught you in the classroom. Therefore, you should try to take out some time to engage more with your academic area of interest while you are in high school. You should try to:
- Do additional reading around the subject. Try to look up articles, scientific journals, books etc. that are talking about your specific area of interest. Not only will this help you augment your interest but it can also be something you can talk about later in your statement of purpose.
- Watch documentaries on your area of interest. This is an exciting way of learning more about a topic that fascinates you.
Resources for additional reading:
- This Cambridge resource will allow you to learn more about a number of topics, while also giving you more questions to think about and suggestions for further reading.
- Physics to a Degree - E.G. Thomas, Derek Raine
- You should also visit your prospective university’s website and see if there are any suggested reading lists for applicants. If there are, you should definitely take some time out to read that literature.
Professional experience is never a requirement for applying - but if you can work as an intern/employee in a capacity that is directly relevant to the course you are applying for, it could give your application an advantage.
Volunteer work is not required for this degree.
If your extracurricular activities can help you develop transferable skills like: dedication and commitment, independence and initiative, leadership or teamwork, you should participate in them. Attending science competitions or Maths Olympiads may add more value to your overall application. (Note: participating in such activities while maintaining a strong academic record will also help you display good time management skills.)
This section provides an overview of general guidelines pertaining to the application process. It also delineates the key components of the application process.
While your application will be reviewed holistically, some components like your transcripts and statement may be evaluated with more scrutiny. You may or may not have an interview or assessment but if you do, you should be extremely well-prepared for those as well.
Admissions committees will typically be looking for students who are enthusiastic and motivated to study Physics. If you want to get into the top programs, you will need to display strong mathematical competence and physical intuition.
Refer to the Program Selection Section for further information.
Is this component required?
How important is this component (in the overall review of the application for admission)?
Overall Application Deadline
January or earlier
Standardized tests or entry exams
Standardized Tests: Required
Written assessments: required by some universities
Standardized Tests: Important
Written Assessments: Very important when required
Transcripts (past academic records)
Letters of recommendation
Resume or CV
May be required
Very important when required
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on overview (under the tab of ‘overview’).
Pakistani applicants suffer most because of inadequate information -- or wrong information -- about essays and personal statements. This section will address those inadequacies specifically in relation to applying for this program. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘essay’) to craft a stellar personal statement.
While the personal statement is an important part of your overall application, some admissions committees focus more on grades (predicted and actual) than on the personal statement. The personal statement is secondary to the predicted grades, especially at the more competitive universities (some universities look at personal statements to help them evaluate borderline applications).
You will be required to submit one personal statement to the 5 universities you are applying to via UCAS. In your essay, you will need to display your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the subject in just 4000 characters -- meaning you will have to be economical and to-the-point in your writing. Your main aim is to explain to the admissions committee why you should study Physics at the undergraduate level, and what academic experiences have led you to this decision.
Which resources should I make use of?
- Read the following links before you start planning your personal statement:
- This is an excellent resource to help you learn what different admission tutors are looking for in applicants’ statements of purpose. Do note: this was written in 2010 - so you should also visit your prospective course website for more specific and relevant information.
- This is another very useful resource containing advice on how you should write your personal statement.
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD STATEMENTS
What is essential in the statement:
- Universities want to see that you have thoroughly thought about the course you are applying for. “For instance, if you are choosing Theoretical or Medical Physics, explain why. Does it link to your career aspiration or is it just for interest’s sake. It is good to see that students appreciate that a Physics degree will be hard work, will require a strong interest in the subject and a good mathematical ability”, says Dr. Carole Tucker, Deputy Head of School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University. (Source: MrReid.org)
- “The best type of statement for me is one that concentrates on small things that the applicants have done and enjoyed during the study of Physics, something that can be further explored in an interview for example”, says Dr. George Dobre, Associate Dean, Faculty of Science at the University of Kent. (Source: MrReid.org)
- While you are encouraged to write a statement that is interesting and helps you stand out, you should still write with caution. Make sure you are not being careless or too clever when writing your statement.
, What are some elements of exceptional statements:
- If you have taken part in any super-curricular activities, you should mention them here (for more information on super-curricular activities, visit the Pre-Application section). If there has been something particularly interesting that you have come across in your reading that you want to explore further at university, talk about it here. Don’t just give a list of things you have read -- talk about why and how they have encouraged you to apply for this degree.
- Using degree-specific terminology: this does not mean that you should just sprinkle complex scientific terms in your essay, but that you can use specific terminology that has: a) impacted you and b) is relevant to the course you are applying to. This will show the admissions committee that you are well-informed about your area of interest.
- While the majority of your essay needs to focus on your academic achievements, you can talk about some of the transferable skills you have acquired through other activities -- and how those skills (e.g. leadership, dedication, organization etc.) will help you at university. One university admissions tutor claims “it is worth listing other achievements...if we have to decide between two otherwise equally balanced candidates, then we would use this as evidence of superior time management”.
What are bad statements/ what things to avoid:
- Do not claim to have read something you have not actually read: “the ‘dull’ applicant will cite additional reading - usually from some popular books and magazines. This becomes awfully repetitive and upon further question, one is left believing that the additional reading is somewhat of a fabrication”. (Source: MrReid.org)
How can applicants manage the process of writing?Get feedback. This is crucial. Try to approach your teachers and request them to read your personal statement. You can even request your family/friends to see if the statement: a) sounds coherent, b) is an honest and accurate representation of you and your interests, and c) has no grammatical/formatting errors.
This section will cover the basics about recommendation letters, which are one of the most important parts of the application process. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘recommendations’) to ensure you have strong letters of recommendation.
You will be required to submit 1 letter of recommendation when applying for a degree in this field. Your reference should ideally know you academically and should be able to speak to your work ethic, how you interact with other students, and your ability to fare well in university (in a Physics course). Keeping this in mind, you should try to request your high school (A-level, FSc, IB) Physics teacher to write you a recommendation letter. If - for any reason - a Physics teacher is unable to write you a recommendation letter, you should request your Mathematics teacher or any other Science teacher to write you the letter instead.
- Before requesting your recommenders for LoR, go over the following links carefully:
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD LETTERS
What is essential in the LoRs:
- Your recommender should mention any positions or academic distinctions you have gotten in previous years. For instance, if you have won any school-based or external prizes, awards in maths/science competitions, the recommender should talk about them in your letter.
- The recommender should also give an idea of your expected grades, and any special position that you hold in school. The letter should not just repeat your statement, it needs to add more to it.
This section will cover everything else related to the application process; including transcripts, interviews, resumes, and standardized tests.
Some courses may have interviews. To find out what your prospective course does, please visit its website. You should try to find out the following: a) does this course conduct interviews? b) if so, are they conducted for all applicants or shortlisted applicants? c) what is the interview process for international students? d) how can students prepare for the interview?
- You should know your statement inside out. Usually admissions committees will ask questions that are related to your statement.
You may be required to submit a resume alongside your application. If so, please follow the instructions/guidelines stated on your prospective program website.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on building a resume (under the tab of ‘Resume/CV’).
As an international applicant, you will be required to take English language proficiency tests. Most universities will allow you to choose between the TOEFL and IELTS -- websites will also state the minimum score you require (in individual reading, writing, speaking and listening components; and overall) to be considered for admission.
It is advised that you take the test well before your application deadline, to ensure that your score is sent to your prospective university at the required time.
Some courses at certain universities (Cambridge and Oxford usually) may require applicants to take admission tests. If you are asked to take a test, make sure you are well-prepared as it will be fundamental to your selection. For more specific information, visit the university-specific websites.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on preparing for standardized tests (under the tab of ‘tests’).
This section will cover approximate costs of the program and provide information of resources that may help with funding. Complement the following field-specific tips with general tips on finances (under the tab of ‘finances’).
TIPS ON FUNDING OPTIONS
While it is very important to take your passion and interest in the course when you are applying into account, you also need to make sure that you will be able to fund your study.
- When deciding which university (and course) you want to study at, it is recommended that you take the following things into account:
- Cost of accommodation,
- Cost of tuition,
- Additional expenses (e.g. books, stationery),
- Length of study (are you doing a foundation year or an undergraduate Master’s degree? Both will require an additional year of study, and therefore will cost more),
- You should also try to find out if there are any specific grants, bursaries, scholarship opportunities that are available to international students for your course. There may be some university/course-specific aid available, but it is rare.
These tips were compiled with the valuable help of SHAHEEN volunteers.
We thank our volunteers for their contribution, and hope their tips and advice help you in your application.
The following sources were consulted in developing this tip-sheet and we encourage you to consult these sources for additional information and guidance on your application.
Furthermore, the following sources were also consulted in developing this tip-sheet: Science-Engineering.net, UNISTATS, The Guardian, Which? University - Personal Statement, Mr.Reid.org, Institute of Physics - Careers, DLD College, UCAS References, Which? University - Study Physics, The Guardian - Physics