A quote from the web site of the American Physical Society sums it up best, “Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us. It is the most basic and fundamental science.”
The diverse skills that you would acquire as a physicist will give you the edge you need when seeking career employment. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) collects excellent statistics with many detailed articles about the impact that a physics degree will have on you in terms of post-graduation employment status, starting salary, field and sector of employment, etc. and they also include a great (but far from exhaustive) list of companies that hire physicists broken down by US state. The “Career Wheel” image (from the AIP) illustrates a representative list of the variety of employment sectors and career options that are available to a physicist. Beyond the statistics collected by the AIP, the American Physical Society (APS) has assembled its own presentation about the career implications of a physics degree and why you should study physics to achieve your life goals.
It is sufficient to say that because physics is a fundamental science with applicability to a wide range of length scales, virtually any field of science can be touched directly from the background that a physicist has. Physicists often find that they can take on a variety of roles relatively easily and thus they can communicate and coordinate activities that cross the traditional boundaries within and between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When you train as a physicist, you develop a highly optimized combination of broad and deep knowledge that will let you take advantage of whatever opportunity life brings your way.
A physicist’s broad range of knowledge and intuition will give you the edge you need when applying for graduate or professional school. The American Institute of Physics collects excellent statistics with many detailed focus articles about the impact that an undergraduate physics degree can have on your prospects for entering graduate school or professional school in terms of likely opportunities for support as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or through scholarships/fellowships, top ranked LSAT/MCAT exam scores, strong likelihood to actually follow through and pursue graduate/professional study, etc.
Although physics majors are comparatively successful in achieving acceptance to graduate/professional schools, there is one further critical consideration that is not often mentioned by most academic advisors because of its “Tough Love” realism. That is: “What is your plan if your first plan doesn’t work out the way you think it will?“
With a physics bachelors degree in hand your prospects are both strong and diverse. Physicists study the quantum mechanics of atoms, molecules, and solids bringing together knowledge from chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering. Physicists study mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, to engage in biology and civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. Physicists also study model building and model simulating methods to have the capabilities of a mathematician or computer scientist. What happens if your original professional school goal is diverted or needs to be delayed? You can count on the solid foundation of a physics degree to provide you with diverse career opportunities in intellectually simulating environments where you can solve problems that will make our world into a better place.
Physics covers it all: from the biggest to smallest, from the hottest to the coldest, from the fastest to the slowest, from the simplest to the most complex, and everything in between.
Physicists have a well developed intuition for “how things work” that allows them to be real-world problem solvers. When you are the one that can get things done on a regular basis, you will become the one to tackle all of the most interesting and challenging problems. This is what turns a job into a career and a career into a lifelong passion. Whether you are looking for public accolades or perhaps just want to wow yourself with some new insight, a physics degree will put you in a position to play with the biggest toys, try the trickiest puzzles, lead the best team, and make your mark on the world.