Prospective Undergraduate Students
Frequently Asked Questions
Below is a compilation of questions that prospective students have asked while visiting the campus. If you are interested in visiting the department, please don't hesitate to contact the undergraduate staff advisor. If enough notice is given (~1 week), they can help set up an informational interview with a faculty adviser and perhaps even get you to sit in on a physics course or seminar.
- Class Size
- Number of Students in the Major
The Physics Major, Advising, Life After College
- BA and BS Differences
- Math preparation
- Taking courses in other Departments
- Faculty Advisors
- Transfer Students
- Progress Checks
- What do I do with a Physics degree?
Research Opportunities, Honor Program
- Research opportunities for undergraduates
- The Department Honors Program
- Faculty information
- What are the advantages of UCSB?
College of Letters & Science vs. College of Creative Studies
- What are the differences between the two?
Q: How many Physics majors do you have?
A: We have approximately 600 Physics majors in the College of Letters and Science (L&S). We graduate about 100 students per year, and we have an incoming class of about 200.
Q: What are class sizes like?
A: The class sizes are approximately 200 in lower division courses and 100 upper division courses.
Q: Do full-time faculty teach Physics courses?
A: Yes, full time faculty teach our courses. No teaching assistants teach any of the lectures.
Q: How many students take the Intro to Physics classes?
A: We have 3 different Physics series available to students.
Non-calculus physics, Physics 6ABC and labs are offered to Life Science majors (i.e. Biology, Biochem). Class sizes range from 300-500 students.
Calculus based physics, Physics 1-5 and labs are offered to Engineering students and other majors (ECE, Chem, ME). Class sizes range from 300-500 students.
Physics 20-25 and labs have been designed specifically for Physics majors and is comparable to an honors Physics 1-5 series.
Q: Where do students live?
A: Students live in many places, including Residence Halls and Community Housing or communities in Isla Vista, Goleta, and Santa Barbara. Students live in University-owned housing, share apartments or houses with other students, or live with families that rent out rooms. More information is available at the UCSB Housing Department.
Isla Vista is easily accessible by foot or by bicycle, the two principal forms of student transportation, and the greater community of Santa Barbara is accessible through frequent bus service.
Q: I heard that UCSB is a party school. What do you think about that?
A: It's a party school to anyone who wants to party all the time. There's always something going on. It's the same with any other school. How well you do depends on what kind of student you are. If you're the type of student who can focus and get your work done, you will be fine. This is all part of growing up and learning responsibility and consequences for your actions.
The Physics Major, Advising, Life after College
Q: What's the difference between the BA and the BS?
A: The main difference is in the upper division portion of each major.
The BA offers a lot of flexibility in terms of letting you choose what courses you want to apply where. Courses should be chosen in consultation with a faculty advisor. The BA program is appropriate for students who would like to pursue an interdiscipline major. They may want to go into education, or life sciences, etc. This doesn't mean you can't pursue Physics if you get a BA, both are difficult majors. The BA degree has the potential for you to specialize in some field of Physics, by allowing you to put a program together that fits your tastes - i.e. you can take a lot of Astrophysics courses, or perhaps take courses in the Engineering Department.
The BS major has everything pretty much laid out for you already with the exception of some upper division electives. The BS degree is usually for students who are certain that they want to go to graduate school in Physics or another closely related field. The BS degree ensures a well-rounded Physics education, in preparation for graduate level work.
Q: What about taking courses in other departments? Am I allowed to do this and apply them toward my major?
A: Of course. You can do a lot with the permission of your advisor. As long as the course is considered rigorous enough and related to Physics, of course. All you would need to do is talk with your faculty advisor and get permission to do something via petition.
Q: You talk about a faculty advisor. How do I get one?
A: Faculty advisors are assigned to students when they arrive on campus, based on class level. Sometimes students come in as sophomores because of AP and general education units that they took in High School. Students such as these are still considered Freshmen in Physics if they have not taken any Physics courses. Once you are assigned a physics advisor, you stay with him or her for the entire duration of your career as a Physics major.
Q: I'm an undergraduate transfer student. Where do I get information?
A: Access our Undergraduate Transfer Students Page for the information you need.
Q: How does the department monitor a student's progress?
A: It's up to you to succeed in college. However, we do try to help students help themselves. Every fall quarter, you are required to meet with your faculty advisor to go over courses and a potential plan for that year. This helps us make sure you are on track, and also makes sure you remain in contact with a faculty member so you don't feel as though you are lost among the department.
Q: What do I do with a Physics degree?
A: Lots of things! We have a ton of resources for students to research what to do after you graduate. Here's a sample of online employment and career planning resources:
Sonoma State University Career Planning »
Jobs in physics, eAstronomy, and other fields
Physics World »
Physics news, jobs and resources
Physlink.com Job Board »
Physics, astronomy, engineering
TipTop Jobs Online »
Dynamic job list for physicists
Physics Today Career Network »
Your source for science jobs
- American Physical Society (APS) Careers in Physics »
Includes information on and links to career programs and activities organized by the APS.
Research Opportunities, Honors Program
Q: What about research in the department? Is it available to undergraduate students?
A: Research is definitely available to students in the major. Students generally wait until their Sophomore/Junior year before they approach different faculty for research opportunities. This is to allow them some sufficient time to get acquainted to the department and find something that they are interested in.
Q: How does one become involved in research?
A: Students can approach faculty for informational interviews to find out more about their research. If the student and faculty want to work together, they work something out. More than likely, students will get Physics 14xL or Physics 199 (Independent Research) credit toward their major (see course description on the UCSB General Catalog).
Q: How approachable are the faculty to students here?
A: Faculty are very approachable. Of course, they are extremely busy as they are frequently teaching and doing research, but that does not in any way mean that they don't want to talk to you. It takes initiative and motivation on the student's part - meaning, you may have to do a little hunting down and be persistent. If you're turned off by that, perhaps doing research isn't the best idea for you.
Q: What about honors in Physics? Do you have an honors program?
A: We don't have an actual honors program, but we do have honors opportunities. Students with a GPA of 3.50 or higher have the opportunity to pursue a Senior Honors Thesis. Students do research with a group, then write a thesis and present their material at the end of the quarter that they are going to graduate. If the thesis is approved by a committee, then they will graduate with distinction in the major.
Q: I'm looking at a bunch of different schools. What is different about UCSB that would make me want to come here instead of somewhere else?
A: Well, I'm sure you're looking at a bunch of great schools. There are so many things about UCSB that are great! Of course, the obvious reason is that we have six Nobel Laureates.
Here, students have access to the Physics Study Room (PSR). They go there to study. They go through midterms, homework and exams together, and really get to know each other.
Also, we have a set of faculty advisors that rotate each year. So, students who come in as freshmen stay with the same advisor for four years.
We offer weekly colloquiua and events where students have the opportunity to meet with guest speakers and ask questions about anything over refreshments.
UCSB is one of the only campuses that offers INT 20: the Freshman Experience/Introduction to the University. This course is taught by instructors from the Office of Student Life. A team made up of staff members teach students about the university -- what it's like being at a research institution, what that means, how to survive, what kinds of changes you will be going through, diversity, lots of things like that. I encourage all freshman/sophomore students to take that course when they enter UCSB.
Instead of going to a polytechnic school that specializes in technical training, students who attend UCSB have the opportunity to pursue a specific degree while also taking courses in the liberal arts. Not only is UCSB known for science and technology, it is also recognized for other departments such as Economics, Art History, English, etc.
College of Letters and Science vs. College of Creative Studies
Q: What is the difference between the College of Letters & Science (L&S) and the College of Creative Studies (CCS)?
A: Well, as a CCS student says, "it really comes down to a question of style." What type of student are you? If you are highly motivated and want a different type of education, CCS offers this. You can create your own program, taking courses in whatever discipline you are most interested. L&S is also for highly motivated students -- however, the program is pretty much laid out for you.
Q: What would be the advantage of having an L&S degree or a CCS degree?
A: There is no real advantage of one over the other. L&S and CCS students meet in their upper division curricula, so the programs are pretty much the same. Again, it depends on your style and what you are looking to get out of your college experience. They are both rigorous and challenging programs.