Course Selection Questions - Physics and Astronomy Skip Navigation

Frequently Asked Questions – Physics and Astronomy Course Selection

Questions about how best to select your courses? We have answers!
Students working with equipment at a lab bench
Why do I have to take so many physics courses in my first two years?
Look up the requirements for a physics or astronomy-physics major at most colleges, and you’ll discover that the real question you should be asking is, “How does Colgate manage to give me so much flexibility in choosing courses in my final two years?” Physics is a highly structured discipline, and each course builds on content and techniques learned in previous courses. At most colleges, this results in an extremely rigid schedule, with very limited opportunities for electives. At Colgate, we have worked hard to design upper-level courses that can be taken in any order, and with prerequisites limited to the sophomore-level courses. This gives students freedom to design a concentration program that best suits their interests.
What if I’m trying to satisfy prerequisites for another major and don’t have time to take all these courses in my 1st and 2nd year?
It is sometimes advisable to delay some of your Core requirements until your junior or senior year. This is not a decision to be made lightly, since upper-class students cannot preregister for Core classes, so you may end up in a class that meets at 7:55 a.m. on MWF, or one whose topic just doesn’t excite you. But for some students, this is the best option.
I want to double major in physics and economics, go on a study group, and complete the requirements for medical school. What should I do?
You can have it all, just not all at once. You’re going to have to make some decisions about what you want first. Start by asking yourself some questions. Why do you want to complete both majors? You don’t necessarily have to complete all the requirements for a major in order to find a job in that area or study it in graduate school. What flexibility do you have? There are post-baccalaureate programs for students who want to complete pre-med requirements after graduation, and summer courses can give more flexibility, as well. You can also gain international experience by finding an international summer internship or applying for an international fellowship such as a Fulbright, rather than going on a Colgate study group.
What is “Physics 410” and why is it on all the schedules?
Physics 410, Advanced Topics and Experiments, is the senior capstone course for physics and astronomy-physics majors. All students are given the opportunity to work individually with a faculty member on an independent research project. Students will describe the results of their research in a professional-style paper and also in several talks, culminating in a symposium at the end of the semester. In some cases, the projects may lead to publications or presentations at professional meetings and conferences.

Students who wish to continue their research projects, either for honors or for course credit, may be able to do so in the spring semester. In some years, as many as half the students choose to do so.
I’m planning a really crazy schedule. What are the prerequisites of the upper-level courses and when are they offered?
Prerequisites are Physics 233 or less
Physics 350: Biophysics, Spring odd years (2019)
Astronomy 313: Planetary Science, Fall even years (2018)
Astronomy 416: Galactic and Extra-galactic Astronomy, Spring odd years (2019)

Prerequisites are Physics 233 or less and Physics 205
Physics 304: Physical Optics, Spring even years (2018)
Physics 432: Electromagnetism, Spring (2018)

Prerequisite is Physics 334
Physics 431: Classical Mechanics, Fall (2018)
Physics 433: Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, Fall (2018)
Physics 434: Quantum Mechanics, Spring (2018)
Physics 451: Computational Mechanics, Fall even years (2018)
Physics 453: Solid State Physics, Fall odd years (2019)
Physics 456: Relativity and Cosmology, Spring odd years (2019)
Astronomy 414: Astrophysics, Spring even years (2018)

Prerequisite is Math 308 or Physics 431
Physics 448: Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Spring even years (2018)