Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Northwestern has two PhD programs with 'Physics' in the name. What's the difference?
A: The Department of Physics & Astronomy has an established record of distinguished fundamental and applied research in areas such as astronomy, condensed matter physics and high energy physics, with vigorous smaller programs in biological physics, complex systems, and quantum state manipulation. Graduate students in Physics & Astronomy join a community of scholars spanning many of the core areas and new directions of physics.

Applied Physics, on the other hand, is a young program with a deliberate focus on interdisciplinary applications. This program links physicists in relevant disciplines with biologists, chemists, electrical engineers, geologists, and materials scientists. The result is a community of scholars who have quite varied interests, but who "think like physicists" and participate in an extensive network of collaborations. Some, but not all, Physics & Astronomy faculty are members of the Applied Physics program, and vice versa.

Students in the two programs will take several core courses together, but the Physics & Astronomy and Applied Physics requirements are not identical. Consult the curricula for details.

Q: What differentiates the Applied Physics program from other comparable programs?
A:
The breadth of research opportunities provided- students can work with 45 different faculty from 6 departments, and co-advising on collaborative projects is common. Students benefit from close connections due to the smaller size of the program, while being connected to many communities of researchers through the department affiliations of research groups. 

Q: What types of jobs have been filled by recent Applied Physics graduates?
A:
Applied Physics graduates work in industry as quantum computing researchers and hardware engineers in companies such as Intel, as postdocs at universities including Stanford and UCLA, as financial analysts, and as staff scientists at national laboratories such as Argonne National Laboratory and SLAC.

Q: My major is not in Physics. May I apply to the Graduate Program in Applied Physics?
A: Many well-known applied physicists were undergraduate majors in other areas of science and engineering. We do not require a major in Physics, and we encourage those who have majored in related areas to apply. You will need to take the GRE subject test in Physics, but admissions decisions are based on the total picture and not on any single test score.

Q: I am interested in doing research in [a specific area of physics]. Can I do this through the Graduate Program in Applied Physics?
A: Some active research areas are described on this website, but the list is not comprehensive and the interests of our faculty are constantly evolving. Moreover, there are many opportunities for students within other graduate departments and programs, in areas such as accelerator physics, geophysics, biophysics, chemical physics, engineering, etc. Please write to us for information and advice specific to your interests.

Q: Do you admit students seeking a Master's degree?
A: The Applied Physics Program does not offer a terminal Master's program, and only students who intend to pursue the PhD are admitted. However, PhD students who satisfactorily complete the first year of classes and pass a comprehensive examination are eligible to receive a Master of Science degree.

Q: Can I apply to more than one department/program at NU?
A: Only one application may be under consideration at a time.

Q: Are there minimum score requirements for the general and physics GRE to be accepted to the Applied Physics Program?
A:
There are no minimum value requirements for the general and physics tests but please note that the admissions committee looks closely at those scores and that they play an important role for how competitive a student's application is.

Q: Is there anything else I should know about the program before applying?
A: Be sure to review the research areas available on the program website and on the webpages of participating faculty. The PhD is a research-based degree, so the admissions committee is looking for applicants with a strong interest in applying their physics knowledge in cutting edge areas. Be sure that your application essay communicates what you are most passionate about.