What are some typical requirements to complete before applying for a Master’s in Physics?

Ready to start your journey?

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Most college and university master’s programs have standard application requirements. Depending on the chosen major, there might be proof required of specific undergraduate courses. Fewer learning institutions rely on or require some national tests, such as the GRE or Graduate Record Examination. It is a multiple-choice, computer-based test used for STEM and business (MBA) programs. Due to the complications created by the COVID pandemic, many schools have suspended or eliminated the exam.

Briefly, the GRE is divided into three sections and scores:

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

Aside from the termination of the GRE, temporarily or permanently, it has been a controversial topic. Some studies revealed that it discriminates against minorities. Another contentious revelation is that it is not a valid indicator of student success in a graduate program. A report in the Manhattan Review supports the exam. On the flip side, a study lead by experimental physicist Casey Miller, Ph.D., opined that the GRE is not a reliable predictive source.

Regardless of the theories, you are unlikely to encounter the GRE with the current global health concerns. Illinois Institute of Technology, for example, no longer requires the GRE or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) due to COVID.

Applying to a graduate physics program is not the same as a law school. Columbia Law School, for example, gives each applicant the choice of submitting the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) score or the GRE scores. The prudent approach is to check with all the schools you are applying to for the particular standardized test requirement.

Another consideration is the GRE Subject Physics Test. The subject tests are in Biology, Chemistry, Literature, Mathematics, Psychology, and Physics, which are separate from the General Exam above. As of April 2021, biology and English Literature were discontinued.

If admissions require the Physics test, most students with at least three years of undergraduate physics should pass. The 100 five-choice questions test your knowledge of experimental data, graphs, and diagrams in nine areas. Further details are available at the ETS (Educational Testing Service) – the administrators of several standardized examinations.

International students have requirements to meet before applying to a Master of Science in Physics at an American college or university. Learning institutions want proof of your English proficiency. To provide proof, most schools want you to submit the results of the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE exams.

TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language; it focuses on English usage in an academic setting. Again, the requirement can vary from school to school. You may not need it when applying from an English-speaking country like Canada, Australia, or the United Kingdom. Or if you earned a diploma or degree from an English-speaking country.

The IELTS or The International English Language Test is another standard test used to assess your proficiency in the language. Businesses and learning institutions use the exam.

Finally, the PTE or Pearson Test of English is recognized globally by institutions and corporations to prove fluency in English. Ivy League MBA programs at Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale, and Columbia, for example, use the PTE.

If needed by your prospective colleges, you want to take the proficiency test (whichever is preferred) ahead of the application process.

As alluded to above, there can be specific courses necessary for applicants. For example, the Master of Science in Physics at Case Western Reserve instructs undergraduates to complete upper-level electricity, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, mathematics, and quantum mechanics. Students considering Case would need to prepare during their undergrad years to meet the course requirements.

Colleges and universities have minimum GPAs for candidates. In Seattle, the University of Washington specifies at least a 3.0 Grade Point Average and a bachelor’s degree in physical science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, or a related discipline. Your baccalaureate must be from an accredited college or university in the U.S. or equivalent foreign institution before applying for the M.S. in Physics.

Another crucial element before applying to a Master’s program is letters of recommendation. Although these are not completed until just before filing applications for grad school, you should lay the groundwork well in advance. Your grades and test scores are the tangible factors; the letters of recommendation, personal statement, extra-curricular activities, and accomplishments are the intangibles. However, the latter might make or break your chances of acceptance.

During your undergraduate studies, it’s beneficial to begin developing a rapport and professional relationship with professors and other faculty members. There will come a time when you will need their recommendation based on your character, work ethic, and potential. It might be too late to impress your teachers if you wait until your senior year in undergraduate school. Typically, it is best to approach professors and counselors at the end of your junior year or the start of the senior year. You want to be confident that you have made a favorable impression on the letter writers to ensure they write a glowing report.

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.


Individuals considering applying to a master’s program in physics will be assessed on several components, as outlined. The better you prepare in advance, the more opportunities will be available to enter a graduate program.

Additional Resources:

Top 50 Highest Paying Master’s Degrees

 Should I take the GRE Physics Subject Exam?

How can a degree in Physics lead to computer programming?

Is there a professional reason to study the history of Physics?

What undergraduate degrees, other than in Physics, will help my acceptance into a Physics Master’s program?

 How long is a typical Master’s program in Physics?

Can I get a Ph.D. in Physics and without a Master’s Degree?

What are some topics to include in a personal statement for a Master’s in Physics?

What are some “bridge programs” for a graduate physics program if I don’t have a robust application?

If I don’t want to teach, what kind of jobs is there with a Physics degree?