The physics major is designed so that students following the physics curriculum need not decide between physics and mathematics majors until registration for the fourth semester.

The physics major curriculum is highly structured, and the first four courses in this curriculum have specific mathematics co-requisites. It is thus important for prospective physics majors to begin taking both physics and mathematics courses in the first year. Most physics majors begin with PHY 131 (General Physics I) and MAT 131 (Calculus I), including students with AP Physics 1 or 2, or IB Physics (which do not count toward the physics major). Students with AP Physics C-Mechanics credits and math placement beyond MAT 131 may begin in PHY 132 (General Physics II) and MAT 133 (Calculus II). Students with AP Physics C-E&M credits and math placement beyond MAT 133 may start in PHY 232 (Modern Physics) and MAT 215 (Linear Algebra). The physics faculty can help determine the appropriate placement for a student.

A prospective physics major should consider whether the traditional or workshop version of General Physics (PHY 131-132) better suits their learning style. The traditional format involves three one-hour lectures and one three-hour lab meeting per week, while the discovery-based workshop format involves three two-hour lab meetings per week with more extensive collaborative work. Also, the traditional format sequence begins in the fall, while the workshop format sequence begins in the spring.

While General Physics is the preferred first course for a prospective science major, a prospective humanities or social studies major may prefer an interdisciplinary course, such as Physics in the Arts; The Universe and Its Structure; and Bridges, Towers, and Skyscrapers. These courses do not count toward the physics major, but they offer excellent opportunities to learn physics (and how the universe works) for students who do not intend to major in the sciences.

Sample schedules for a physics major are listed below, with asterisks designating required courses.

The physics major is designed so that students following the physics curriculum need not decide between physics and mathematics majors until registration for the fourth semester.

The physics major curriculum is highly structured, and the first four courses in this curriculum have specific mathematics co-requisites. It is thus important for prospective physics majors to begin taking both physics and mathematics courses in the first year. Most physics majors begin with PHY 131 (General Physics I) and MAT 131 (Calculus I), including students with AP Physics 1 or 2, or IB Physics (which do not count toward the physics major). Students with AP Physics C-Mechanics credits and math placement beyond MAT 131 may begin in PHY 132 (General Physics II) and MAT 133 (Calculus II). Students with AP Physics C-E&M credits and math placement beyond MAT 133 may start in PHY 232 (Modern Physics) and MAT 215 (Linear Algebra). The physics faculty can help determine the appropriate placement for a student.

A prospective physics major should consider whether the traditional or workshop version of General Physics (PHY 131-132) better suits their learning style. The traditional format involves three one-hour lectures and one three-hour lab meeting per week, while the discovery-based workshop format involves three two-hour lab meetings per week with more extensive collaborative work. Also, the traditional format sequence begins in the fall, while the workshop format sequence begins in the spring.

While General Physics is the preferred first course for a prospective science major, a prospective humanities or social studies major may prefer an interdisciplinary course, such as Physics in the Arts; The Universe and Its Structure; and Bridges, Towers, and Skyscrapers. These courses do not count toward the physics major, but they offer excellent opportunities to learn physics (and how the universe works) for students who do not intend to major in the sciences.

Sample schedules for a physics major are listed below, with asterisks designating required courses.

Traditional 131-132 with no advanced placement:

First Year Fall First Year Spring
PHY 131* and MAT 131* PHY 132* and MAT 133*
Second Year Fall Second Year Spring
PHY 232* and MAT 215* PHY 234* and MAT 220*
Third Year Fall Third Year Spring
PHY 335* PHY 337*
Fourth Year Fall Fourth Year Spring
PHY 456 PHY 314 and PHY 462*

Workshop 131-132 with no advanced placement:

First Year Fall First Year Spring
MAT 131* PHY 131* and MAT 133*
Second Year Fall Second Year Spring
PHY 132* and MAT 215* PHY 234* and MAT 220*
Third Year Fall Third Year Spring
PHY 232* and PHY 335* PHY 337*
Fourth Year Fall Fourth Year Spring
PHY 456 PHY 314 and PHY 462*

Workshop 131-132, starting in MAT 123 (cannot study abroad):

First Year Fall First Year Spring
MAT 123 PHY 131* and MAT 124*
Second Year Fall Second Year Spring
PHY 132* and MAT 133* PHY 220 and MAT 215*
Third Year Fall Third Year Spring
PHY 232* and MAT 220* PHY 234*
Fourth Year Fall Fourth Year Spring
PHY 335 and PHY 462* PHY 314 and PHY 337*

Prospective 3-2 Engineer (cannot study abroad or double major):

First Year Fall First Year Spring
PHY 131*, MAT 131*, Tutorial, and Hum/Soc PHY 132*, MAT 133*, ECN 111, and Hum/Soc
Second Year Fall Second Year Spring
PHY 232*, MAT 215*, Elective, and Hum/Soc PHY 234*, MAT 220*, CHM 129, and Hum/Soc
Third Year Fall Third Year Spring
PHY 335*, PHY 462*, PHY 360, and Hum/Soc PHY 337*, PHY 314, CSC 161, and Hum/Soc
Fourth Year Fall Fourth Year Spring
Engineering School Engineering School, BA conferred by Grinnell
Fifth Year Fall Fifth Year Spring
Engineering School Engineering School, BS Engineering conferred

Nearly half of physics majors study abroad, most either taking no physics or a course that is not part of Grinnell's physics core. The physics department routinely waives 300- and 400-level pre-requisites to accommodate the needs of students who study abroad. See sample schedules at Physics Department.