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Frequently Asked Questions

Meet Applied Physics current faculty, students and alumni

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Northwestern has two PhD programs with 'Physics' in the name. What's the difference?

The Department of Physics & Astronomy has an established record of distinguished fundamental and applied research in areas such as astronomy, condensed matter physics and high energy physics, with vigorous smaller programs in biological physics, complex systems, and quantum state manipulation. Graduate students in Physics & Astronomy join a community of scholars spanning many of the core areas and new directions of physics.

Applied Physics, on the other hand, is a young program with a deliberate focus on interdisciplinary applications. This program links physicists in relevant disciplines with biologists, chemists, electrical engineers, geologists, and materials scientists. The result is a community of scholars who have quite varied interests, but who "think like physicists" and participate in an extensive network of collaborations. Some, but not all, Physics & Astronomy faculty are members of the Applied Physics program, and vice versa.

Students in the two programs will take several core courses together, but the Physics & Astronomy and Applied Physics requirements are not identical. Consult the curricula for details.

What differentiates the Applied Physics program from other comparable programs?

The breadth of research opportunities provided- students can work with ~50 different faculty from 9 departments, and co-advising on collaborative projects is common. Students benefit from close connections due to the smaller size of the program, while being connected to many communities of researchers through the department affiliations of research groups.   

What types of jobs have been filled by recent Applied Physics graduates?

Applied Physics graduates work in industry as quantum computing researchers and hardware engineers in companies such as Intel, as postdocs at universities including Stanford and UCLA, as financial analysts, and as staff scientists at national laboratories such as Argonne National Laboratory and SLAC. 

My major is not in Physics. May I apply to the Graduate Program in Applied Physics?

Many well-known applied physicists were undergraduate majors in other areas of science and engineering. We do not require a major in Physics, and we encourage those who have majored in related areas to apply.

I am interested in doing research in [a specific area of physics]. Can I do this through the Graduate Program in Applied Physics?

Some active research areas are described on this website, but the list is not comprehensive and the interests of our faculty are constantly evolving. Moreover, there are many opportunities for students within other graduate departments and programs, in areas such as accelerator physics, geophysics, biophysics, chemical physics, engineering, etc. Please write to us for information and advice specific to your interests.

When and how do I select my advisor?

In the Northwestern University Applied Physics PhD program, you are not required to select your advisor before you start your studies. Incoming students have the opportunity to meet and research potential advisors during the Fall quarter of their first year (list of Applied Physics Faculty members Before the end of November, the student makes an agreement with an Applied Physics faculty member to become their advisee. We believe this allows students to get better acquainted with various research groups, and learn of research directions they might not have been aware of before, and thus find the right fit for their graduate studies..

Do you admit students seeking a Master's degree?

The Applied Physics Program does not offer a terminal Master's program, and only students who intend to pursue the PhD are admitted. However, PhD students who satisfactorily complete the first year of classes and pass a comprehensive examination are eligible to receive a Master of Science degree.

Can I apply to more than one department/program at NU?

Only one application may be under consideration at a time.

Are Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) required for admission?

The GRE General and Physics tests are not required for applications submitted in 2022 for Fall 2023 enrollment. If official GRE scores are submitted they will be reviewed, but no application will be downgraded if GRE scores are not submitted. All applications will be reviewed holistically in terms of academic performance, research experience and recommendations. We particularly encourage applications of students from groups who are under-represented in physics and applied physics.

Are there minimum score requirements for the general and physics GRE to be accepted to the Applied Physics Program?

There are no minimum value requirements for the general and physics tests.

Can you waive the application fee?

Application fee waivers can be requested on the application website and are automatically granted to qualified applicants. For more information, see The Graduate School website.

Are Applied Physics Graduate Students funded?

Students receive a monthly stipend, paid health insurance and a full tuition scholarship. More information is provided upon offer of admission to the program.

Is there anything else I should know about the program before applying?

Be sure to review the research areas available on the program website and on the webpages of participating faculty. The PhD is a research-based degree, so the admissions committee is looking for applicants with a strong interest in applying their physics knowledge in cutting edge areas. Be sure that your application essay communicates what you are most passionate about.