I need a bit of an advice in deciding my major. My university allows only one major (along with minors) and I'm having a little bit of trouble in deciding what to do. Here's the thing. I want to go into Theoretical Physics in grad school and so I have two options:

  1. Major in Physics
  2. Major in Mathematics + Minor in Physics

One thing I've realized is that I'm really bad at experiments and practical work (which rules majoring in Electrical Engineering out almost completely). I have this twitching problem that compromises my motor skills. Whereas, from my current academic standing it seems I'm good at Mathematics and Mathematical Physics courses such as Mechanics.

What path do you think will best prepare me for studying Theoretical Physics in graduate school? Your advice is highly appreciated. Thanks.

Background Information on Course Structure

According to my undergraduate student handbook, a Physics major requires 43 credit hours worth of core courses. Here are the core courses I'll need to take specifically for a major in Physics:

Calculus II Electricity and Magnetism Waves and Optics Quantum Mechanics I Mathematical Methods in Physics and Engineering I Experimental Physics II Classical Mechanics Quantum Mechanics II Statistical Mechanics Electromagnetic Fields and Waves At least one of: Atomic, Molecular and Laser Physics OR Condensed Matter Physics At least one of: General Relativity OR Astrophysics OR Nuclear and Particle Physics

A Math major requires only 30 credit hours worth of core courses:

Calculus II Linear Algebra II Introduction to Differential Equations Introduction to Formal Mathematics Introduction to Analysis I Introduction to Analysis II Complex Variables Ordinary Differential Equations Advanced Calculus Algebra I

Along with this, for a Minor in Physics I'll take (notice that now I won't have to take the Experimental Physics labs which I'm terrible at):

Electricity and Magnetism Waves and Optics Quantum Mechanics I Quantum Mechanics II Classical Mechanics General Relativity

And since a Math major requires less credit hours than a Physics major, I can use them to take the following extra Physics courses: Advanced Quantum Mechanics Nuclear and Particle Physics

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Maybe migrate to Academia.SE? $\endgroup$ – Edward Hughes Jan 1 '15 at 13:42

I'm now a theoretical physics PhD student, and I did mathematics as an undergrad. In many ways doing mathematics prepares you very well for theoretical physics, particularly if you want to work in string theory or phenomenology. You'll pick up lots of useful skills for developing theories and doing calculations.

You should definitely make sure you at least minor in physics though, because you'll need the core knowledge from the courses you mentioned. I don't see any reason why a theoretical physicist must be a good experimentalist though - I'm also terrible at practical things!

Above all, make sure you do something which you are going to enjoy! If you don't like practical work, and are good at the more conceptual mathematics courses then I'd say major in maths and minor in physics.

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