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Lower division undergraduate physics course structure

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This page gives information on the course structure for lower division undergraduate physics, primarily comprising:

The information on this page has been conducted based on a broad survey of college physics programs, Quora answers about physics majors, and other sources of personal and anecdotal evidence.

Some example university course structures

Examples of some universities are below. This list is intended only to give a general idea of how different physics departments structure their lower division physics requirements. It is not intended as a substitute to gathering information about a specific university's policy. Information here is not kept up to date.


University Quarter or semester system? Regular single-variable sequence Regular sequence for multivariable calculus and linear algebra Honors route
Princeton University Semester 103-104 (optionally take 102 instead of the sequence) 201-202 (multivariable calculus and linear algebra for scientists) or 175 (multivariable calculus and linear algebra for social scientists) No honors substitute for 103-104 (but it can be placed out of)
203-204 is an "honors" replacement of 201-202, targeting at physicists and applied math people; 214-215 is the recommended option for people interested in theoretical mathematics (See here)
University of Chicago (here, here) Quarter 151, 152, 153 195, 196 (social science majors)
200, 201 (physical science majors)
Single-variable calculus: 161-163 (Honors Calculus) (placement through on-campus placement test)
Multivariable calculus and linear algebra: take a bridge course (Math 199), then the analysis sequence.
Stanford University (here and here) Quarter 19-21, 41-42 51, 52, 53 (encouraged starting point for people with AP AB 5 or BC 4 or 5 credit) Honors version 51H-53H available for 51-53 sequence (placement into honors version requires instructor consent or AP BC 5)
Harvard University Semester 1a and 1b 18 (social sciences)
19a and 19b (life sciences)
21a and 21b (physical sciences)
No specifically demarcated honors versions, though mathematics majors generally take 21a and 21b.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Semester 18.01 18.02 (multivariable calculus), 18.03 (differential equations), 18.04 (linear algebra) 18.024, the "Calculus with Theory" course
University of California, Berkeley (here, here) Semester 1A and 1B 53 and 54 Honors versions of the courses 1B onward. However, these are offered sporadically, and there is no predefined guideline on how these differ from the regular sequence.
University of Michigan (here, here, and here) Semester 115 and 116 215, 217, 316 185, 186 (there are also other options)