The River Thames outside DLD College London

Do you want to study Physics at University?

9th November 12

Alex studied A level Physics at DLD College London

What A Levels do I need?

To do a Physics degree, virtually all universities require you to have Physics and Maths A Level. A lot also ask that you also have an A level in Further Maths or another science – Chemistry usually fits very nicely alongside Physics as it is the other main physical science. While it’s not mandatory to have Chemistry, it is looked upon favourably and a lot of degree courses have modules with roots in physical chemistry, so it will help you.

There are two options for students wanting to study Physics at university in the UK. You can do a Bachelor’s degree (BSc) or an undergraduate master’s degree (MPhys or MSci). The master’s is usually four years long and the main difference is that the subjects studied are done so in more depth than the BSc.

The Complete University Guide 2013 listed the following universities as the best places to study Physics in the UK:

University of Cambridge

A typical conditional offer from Cambridge is A*AA at A Levels. You’ll be expected to have the A* in Physics, an A in Maths and another A Level in a relevant subject, like another science or Further Maths. Competition to get into Cambridge is fierce, and large amount of applicants to Cambridge will do four or sometimes even five A Level subjects.

University of Oxford

Like Cambridge, Oxford can and will ask you for the very best grades at A Level. Expect an offer of no less than A*AA, with an A* in Physics and an A in Maths a requirement. Oxford have been known to accept the A* in Further Maths, but you’ll still need an A in both Physics and regular Maths.

St Andrews University

St Andrew’s will most likely offer you AAA at A Level. While Physics and Maths are mandatory, there are no other required subjects, unless you chose to study for a joint degree, in which case you’ll obviously need to have the right qualifications in the relevant subject. They do like you to have done at least one mechanics module in your A Level Maths.

Durham University

Expect an offer A*AA from Durham. You must have an A* in either Physics or Maths, and you will need both. They are not fussy about what the other subject is as long it’s not General Studies or Critical Thinking. Durham have been known to offer AAA based on individual merit and potential.

Imperial College London

ICL will typically offer you A*AA at A Level. The A* will need to be in Maths and the A will need to be in Physics. They are not too specific about what the third subject needs to be.

Once I’m there what can I expect?

One of the oldest and broadest scientific disciplines, Physics is a natural science and, essentially, the study of the entire universe. So expect to have your mind significantly expanded. You will learn about the history of physics and the careers of such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Sir Isaac Newton. You will study modules in electricity and magnetism, quantum physics, space and time, relativitythermodynamics, geophysics, astronomy, fluid dynamics and geology, to name but a handful. There are literally hundreds of modules available to you. The universe is pretty big after all!

Your first year will mostly be spent studying classical physics and elementary parts of modern physics. There will a lot of maths as well, as you are exposed to the basic formulae that will take you through the rest of your degree. In the second year you will move on to more complicated formulae and begin venturing into more modern physics like quantum and relativity. In your third year you will encounter new mathematical formula like quantum mechanics and be able to specialise in certain topic. And your final year will most likely be spent working on a full research project, with a research group at the scientific institution of your choice.

What skills will I develop?

Once you have graduated you will have a deep understanding of physical laws and principals and be able to use them to solve problems. You will be able to plan and execute experiments, and then easily analyse your findings and compile the very complex data into concise, easily digestible into scientific reports.

You will have incredible mathematical skills and your computer skills will be off the charts – you will be familiar with the newest scientific software packages and probably be quite adept at programming languages yourself. Most Physics graduates go on and do further research, so you will be able to fine tune your skill in your specialist area to near superhuman levels.

What will my career prospects be like?

Despite what you may think, the career paths open to Physics graduates are many. Depending on what you specialised in you could find yourself working as an aerospace engineer, an astrophysicist, a mechanical engineer, or a Solar Energy Physicist. There are jobs in the software development , medical technology, and manufacturing industries. Or you could become a teacher, join a public agency or work in a private research lab.

Good luck!