Online PhD Physics

By Erika Lasrado

Updated November 8, 2023

Erika Lasrado

Erika has broad experience in counseling, psychology, and human resources. Although she has done a master’s in psychology, she is currently pursuing a master’s in educational psychology to change careers. Erika is a foodie and reader and loves to research and write about various topics when time permits.


Master of Psychology, Master of Educational Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.

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Physics is a branch of science that explores the relationship between matter and energy. It is a scientific study of the interactions between forces, motion, matter, and energy. It is relevant to many other sciences such as geology, astronomy, and biology. Individuals interested in physics research and its various aspects should consider pursuing an online PhD Physics. A PhD in Physics Online will prepare them to teach in higher education, conduct research, and work in leadership roles at every level of a scientific organization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicist and astronomer jobs are projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030. This guide analyses various factors of a doctorate in physics, including curriculum, specializations, certifications, accreditation, and more.

Best PhD in Physics including
Online Programs

PhD programs in physics are offered in various universities across the country. Choosing the right program that meets the student’s interests and requirements is crucial. When selecting the best PhD in physics program, prospective students should consider several factors such as the experience of the faculty, ranking & reputation of the institution, research opportunities, support facilities, student services, the institution’s infrastructure, and so on. Based on these and other factors, here is a list of the best PhD physics programs in the United States: *

Universities and programs are ranked by various factors, such as affordability, curriculum and coursework, reputation and availability, program length, statistics, the potential of employment, and return on investment for the students. For a more in-depth analysis, please read about our rankings methodology page

What to Expect from Online PhD
Physics Programs

A doctorate program in physics is usually offered in offline and hybrid modes. In the hybrid model, students will have offline and online classes. They must complete a minimum of 66 to 90 coursework and dissertation credit hours. That said, each university has its own set of specific requirements of credits and coursework that the student is expected to complete.

The online PhD physics program combines research, coursework, and dissertation presentation, after which students must also orally defend their dissertation. Students will have to choose a supervisor who agrees to supervise them and guide them during their research journey. During their online PhD physics programs, they will have to maintain a GPA of 3.0 and more. They will also have to complete their core courses and electives to fulfill the PhD in physics online program requirements. Some of the core courses one can expect in the physics PhD program are:

Electromagnetic Theory

Electromagnetic theory covers various topics like electromagnetic waves, classical electrodynamics, boundary value problems of electromagnetic theory, electrostatics, magnetostatics, the theory of Fresnel and Fraunhofer, and radiation theory.

Statistical Mechanics

Statistical Mechanics teaches about thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. It also covers probability theory, hydrodynamic theory, the relationship between the density of states and entropy, and the Ginzburg Landau Theory.

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics reviews the various topics within quantum mechanics, including the general theory of angular movement, hydrogen atom, electron spin, quantum theory of scattering, stationary & time-dependent perturbation theory, the Dirac equation, and interaction of light & matter. It also teaches about wave description of particles, wave mechanics, symmetry transformation, time evolution, and symmetry states.

Mathematical Physics

This course covers various topics in mathematical physics such as vector spaces, integral transform, boundary value & initial value problem, Fourier series & generalized functions, and green function theory & applications.

Classical Mechanics

This course covers various topics within classical mechanics like rigid body kinematics and dynamics, Lagrangian formulation & the action principle, Hamiltonian formulation, relativistic mechanics, and more.

Some examples of research areas and specialties in PhD physics programs include but are not limited to:

  • Photonics
  • Theoretical Particle Physics
  • Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
  • Biological Physics
  • Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computational Physics
  • Experimental Condensed Matter Physics
  • Experimental Particle Physics
  • Statistical Physics
  • Energy Physics

As for the basic structure of the PhD physics program, one can expect the following (varies by college and program):

(a) Coursework

The course selection for doctoral students is broad. Students can usually choose their course plans from one branch of physics to fit their needs and professional objectives.

(b) Teaching

Although not always a requirement, at some colleges, teaching experience is strongly recommended for students who are not Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) but want to become professors.

(c) Residency

In some cases, unless they have an assistantship, students must complete certain prescribed credit hours of graduate-level coursework during which residency is required.

(d) Comprehensive Exams

Students must take comprehensive examinations when they have completed all coursework.

(e) Dissertation

The PhD candidate will collaborate with their advisor to choose a topic that will advance the field after passing the comprehensive exam. They will have to piece together a dissertation during and after conducting adequate research on the chosen topic.

(f) Field Experience

Doctoral students are encouraged to participate in independent study research courses to combine and relate classroom theory with field activities. They can engage with scientific communities through research and collate data from various sources for this purpose.

Read the Guide to PhD Programs to understand more.

Areas of Specializations in PhD
in Physics Programs

Specialization helps gain expertise in a specific topic or a subject. It enables the individual to focus on a particular area and become an expert. By pursuing a PhD in a specialized area in physics, students will gain an opportunity to increase their specific knowledge and skills, enhancing their career prospects and earning potential. Here are some specializations available for the doctorate program in physics:

Area of SpecializationDescriptionCareer Options
Applied Physics PhDThe PhD in applied physics is a research-oriented doctoral program. It combines research and study in one of several physics areas and a core physics curriculum that deals with applying physics to a technical discipline.Graduates of applied physics PhD can pursue their careers in national and corporate laboratories, academic institutions, research institutes, and more.
PhD in Quantum PhysicsThe PhD in quantum physics is usually studied as part of the physics PhD program. It investigates the nature of matter’s particles and the force with which they interact. At its most fundamental level, quantum physics is the study of matter and energy and explains how everything works.Graduates of theoretical physics can work as professors at universities or as researchers, theoretical physicists, experimental physicists, quantum physicists or mechanics, etc.
PhD Theoretical PhysicsA PhD in theoretical physics involves research at the forefront of theoretical physics. It studies various components, such as advanced thermodynamics, nanophysics, chemical thermodynamics, solid state physics & kinetics, and applied physics.Graduates of theoretical physics can work as professors at universities. They can also work as researchers at private corporations and research centers.
Engineering Physics PhD ProgramsEngineering physics PhD programs involve a wide variety of research topics such as studies of the sun and stellar activity, space neutral and plasma environment, theory, measurement, orbital stability and dynamics, remote sensing measurement, and more. There are various research areas within engineering like photonics engineering, nuclear engineering, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, etc.Engineering physics graduates can work in various positions such as experimental physicists, research engineers, professors, and so on.
PhD in Nuclear PhysicsThe PhD in nuclear physics emphasizes the dynamics and structure of the nuclear system. The research in nuclear physics also includes applications that add to society’s benefits in diverse areas from security to power production and medicine.Graduates of nuclear physics can work as nuclear engineers, experimental physicists, accelerator physicists, computational physicists, and so on.

Why should I get into Online PhD
Physics Programs?

Students who want to gain a professional background in physics and become academic leaders and independent researchers in the field should pursue their PhD in physics online. But how hard is it to get a PhD in physics? Earning a PhD in physics requires a lot of dedication and hard work, and it also depends on the interests of the individual. If the person has a background in research and has a strong interest in pursuing physics as their career, they will be able to fulfill their coursework requirements and their dissertation.

Students can choose their research area according to their interests and career objectives. Not only will this provide them with the knowledge and expertise required for many senior and responsible roles in teaching and industry, but it will also bring them prestige, add value to their resumé, and lead to better employability and higher salaries. Some of the crucial skills gained from physics PhD programs are the ability to:

  • support learning  through collaborative inquiry, teaching, demonstration, or mentoring;
  • easily acquire advanced research skills and techniques;
  • identify crucial scientific problems and use analytical, computational, and modern experimental approaches to solve them;
  • apply the structures of physics laws to various applications;
  • effectively communicate scientific topics both in writing and orally to specialists in the research’s subfield;
  • demonstrate independent creativity and thinking;
  • apply computational and mathematical techniques to solve diverse and complex problems;
  • use qualitative and quantitative reasoning to solve physics problems;
  • demonstrate fluency in the chosen subfield in physics;
  • execute and develop original research plans;
  • maintain and understand the ethical standards in the field; and
  • create and synthesize knowledge by making a substantial and original contribution to the area of physics.

Free Courses for PhD in
Physics Students

Free courses help in gaining additional knowledge about the subject. They can be helpful while completing coursework or conducting research as well. However, it is essential to note that none of the free courses are accredited and do not lead to a PhD degree. Here are a few free courses related to physics that online PhD physics students can use:

CourseDescriptionProvided by
Various Topics Related to PhysicsSeveral courses are offered by MIT OpenCourseWare on a variety of topics in physics, like vibration, relativity, electricity and magnetism, classical mechanics, and so on.MIT OpenCourseWare
Various Topics Related to PhysicsEdX offers a few physics courses, and only some of them are free, like quantum physics and plasma physics.EdX
Various Topics Related to PhysicsSome of the free courses in physics offered by Coursera are – introduction to mechanics, introduction to physics, understanding modern mechanics, and exploring quantum mechanics.Coursera

How to enroll into the PhD in Physics
Online Programs?

Each institution and program have its specific requirements the student must meet before they submit their PhD application. One of the most common requirements is that students are required to complete their undergraduate coursework before they enter the PhD program. Apart from this, there are other specific admission requirements that the applicant must fulfill. Some of these physics PhD requirements are:

Online Application & Application Fee

Completing an online application and paying the prescribed application fee.

Official Academic Transcripts

An official copy of academic transcripts from each college/university attended.

Undergraduate/Graduate Degree + Grade Point Average

An undergraduate and/or graduate degree from an accredited university and Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0 or more.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) Scores

An official copy of GRE scores no older than 5 years.

Graduate Résumé or Curriculum Vitae

The latest résumé or CV that provides personal information and work experience.

Personal Statement or Statement of purpose

A statement outlining how the program relates to the applicant’s career goals.

Letters of Recommendation

At least 3 letters of recommendation from those who can provide a thorough evaluation of the applicant’s abilities at the graduate level (preferably from the Physics department too).

Research Proposal

A proposal of one’s potential research topic along with a summary.

Online PhD Physics No
GRE Programs

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a mandatory exam for applicants before applying to graduate school. Most universities require general scores and subject scores of the GRE for admission. Nevertheless, some universities waive this requirement under certain circumstances, such as the following ones that offer PhD in physics no GRE programs:

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University offers a PhD in physics for which the GRE score is recommended but not required.

Cornell University

The requirement of GRE scores for the PhD physics program at Cornell University is optional (and recommended) but not mandatory.

Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences – Northwestern University

The department of Physics and Astronomy at the Weinberg College of Arts and Science does require GRE scores for admission into their programs.

How Long does it take to complete the Online
PhD Physics Programs

“How many years for a PhD in physics?” is a question often asked by candidates preparing their application for the PhD program. A physics PhD program can typically take about 4 to 6 years. However, in some instances, they complete the program sooner if they have finished the required coursework in physics in their undergraduate degree. For example, a student can graduate in 3 or 4 years if the student enters the PhD program after a master’s in physics or after transferring from another institution after completing one or more years of the PhD program in physics. It is noteworthy that the physics PhD degree is offered in both full-time and part-time formats. Students who opt for the full-time program will complete their degree sooner than those who pursue it part-time.

Accelerated Online PhD
Physics Programs

An accelerated degree helps students complete their program in a shorter time. Several accelerated programs are available for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but few are available for physics PhD programs. The only way to graduate from the program faster is for students to complete their coursework and thesis sooner or transition from a bachelor’s program directly to a PhD program – like the Northeastern University – College of Science, where during the final year of their BS degree, students can apply to the physics PhD program.

Accreditations for Online PhD
Physics Programs

The external recognition of an educational institution to hold a certain status or to set standards to perform an activity is known as accreditation. The accreditation of an educational institution is assessed by non-governmental, private agencies that have been mainly created to review programs and educational institutions. Accreditation assures the institution’s overall quality, which helps students make an informed decision while choosing a program. When deciding on the program and the institution, students should ensure they select from accredited PhD colleges for physics. The accreditation status is usually provided by 6 regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which are:

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

The Guide to College Accreditation has fuller information on college accreditation.

How to Pay for Online PhD
Physics Programs?

An important factor to remember when applying to a PhD program is the tuition fee. The cost of a doctorate in physics program varies by institution and program but can run into tens of thousands of dollars. To ease a possible financial burden, students can consider a few funding mechanisms for paying for their doctorate programs, including:


Scholarships are a popular source of funding among students. They are given out based on one’s academic performance or awarded based on other criteria such as financial need, the field of study, and so on. Scholarships are provided by public or private organizations, educational institutions, government, and individuals.


Unlike Scholarships, grants are not provided mainly based on the student’s academic performance. Instead, they usually focus on specific research areas, target groups, education, etc. They are also available to students who can demonstrate financial need.


Predoctoral Fellowships, also known as PhD Fellowships, are grants awarded to doctoral candidates. PhD fellowship recipients must typically complete a future assignment or spend the funds on a specific purpose in exchange for the money. Numerous awards and fellowships are available to retain or attract the best students.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs, which provide part-time employment, assist students in covering school tuition and fees. Many of these jobs are related to the student’s academic program or are volunteer opportunities. Students can also gain practical experience through work-study programs.

Graduate Assistantships

Another source of funding among doctorate students is the graduate assistantship. Students can take up graduate assistant employment on campus and work in their field. They work as assistants to their professors and are provided a stipend in exchange. Some students also work as research assistants by helping their professors with their research.

Student Loans

A student loan is another option for funding PhD programs for students. Several banks, financial institutions, and the federal government offer educational loans. However, borrowing money will increase the overall cost of education because loans come with interest. Understand how one can apply for loan forgiveness to avoid repaying student loans by reading about Donors for Student Loans and Grants for Student Loans.

Students who wish to determine their eligibility for financial aid can do so by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the FAFSA form.

Read about Financial Aid and find out everything there is to know about college funding in the How to Pay for College guide.

Fully Funded PhD in Physics

PhD aspirants can apply to a fully funded PhD physics program. These fully funded PhD programs provide stipends that cover living, research and travel expenses, and health insurance. It is worth noting that each program has different criteria for funding, which students much check with the college before applying. Some examples of fully funded physics PhD programs are:

Northwestern University – Physics PhD, Astronomy PhD & Applied Physics PhDNorthwestern University provides PhD programs in which first-year students are fully-funded for 12 months and subsequently funded through teaching or research assistantships.
The University of Chicago – Doctoral Programs in the Physical SciencesThe University of Chicago provides its doctoral students financial support through various programs, including teaching assistantships, research assistantships, training grants, and/or fellowships.
The Hertz Foundation FellowshipThe Hertz Foundation offers fellowships to students pursuing their master’s or doctoral studies in applied physical and biological sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

FAQs Related to the Online PhD
Physics Programs

How hard is it to get a PhD in physics?

Considering the combination of a research project, dissertation, and coursework, a PhD in physics can be hard to earn. But if the candidate has a strong interest in physics and research, can manage their time well, and is determined to pursue the program professionally, they can complete their PhD with relative ease.

How long does it take to get a physics PhD?

Typically, it takes around 4 to 6 years to complete a PhD in physics. However, students can complete their PhDs sooner depending on their research topic and how fast they finish their coursework and fulfill the program’s requirements.

How to get a PhD in Physics?

Is a physics PhD program worth it?

What concentrations are there in a physics PhD?

Where to do a PhD in physics?

What can you do with a PhD in physics?

Career Opportunities and Salaries after
Online PhD Physics Programs

A physics PhD will increase the individual’s salary and enhance job prospects. After completing the online PhD in physics, graduates can work in diverse areas and various job positions in physics, in senior and responsible roles, including in research and teaching positions in industry and academia. They can also work in other sectors such as healthcare, technical sales, finance, industrial research, government, and more. From the numerous job titles the online physics PhD graduate can have, some examples are:

  • Lab Scientist
  • Chief Science Officer
  • Computational Physicist
  • Research Scientist
  • Product Engineer 
  • Experimental Physicist
  • Radiation Physicists
  • Staff Scientist
  • Medical Physicist

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for physicists and astronomers is set to rise by 8% between 2020 and 2030, as fast as the average for all occupations. Listed below are some careers in physics and their statistical data, including estimated job growth, median annual salary, and the skills required. (Note: salaries mentioned are typically for bachelor’s/master’s degree holders; PhD holders are likely to be paid more.)

OccupationJob DescriptionSkills RequiredMedian Annual Salary Job Growth (up to 2030)
Atmospheric Scientists, Including MeteorologistsAtmospheric scientists study how weather and climate affect human activity and the environment in general. They may develop forecasts, collect & compile field data, assist in developing new data collection instruments, or advise clients on the risks and opportunities of weather events and climate change.Math skills, analytical skills, critical-thinking skills, communication skills$94,5708% (as fast as average)
Physicists and AstronomersAstronomers and physicists study how matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the universe’s origins or the nature of time; others design and carry out experiments with cutting-edge technology.Interpersonal skills, critical-thinking skills, analytical skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, math skills, self-discipline$147,4508% (as fast as average)
Biochemists and BiophysicistsBiochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things, as well as biological processes such as disease, cell development, growth, and heredity.Interpersonal skills, communication skills, critical-thinking skills, analytical skills, math skills, time-management skills, problem-solving skills, perseverance,$102,2705% (slower than average)
Natural Sciences ManagersNatural science managers supervise the work of scientists such as physicists, chemists, and biologists. They oversee research and development, testing, quality control, and production.Critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, time-management skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, leadership skills$137,9006% (as fast as average)
GeoscientistsGeoscientists investigate the physical properties of the Earth, such as its structure, composition, and processes, to analyze and learn about its past, present, and future.Critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, outdoor skills, communication skills, physical stamina$83,6807% (as fast as average)
Postsecondary TeachersColleges and universities employ professors, also known as postsecondary teachers. Apart from teaching, postsecondary teachers conduct and write about research as well. They are subject matter experts who must typically have a doctorate before beginning their careers.Speaking skills, critical-thinking skills, writing skills, interpersonal skills, resourcefulness$79,64012% (faster than average)

Certifications and Licensing for PhD in
Physics Students

A great approach to broadening one’s knowledge and going deeper into a field is getting certifications related to that field. Even though a PhD is sufficient to work in most physics professions, obtaining certifications that add value to one’s education is always good. Along with increasing one’s job opportunities, certifications also improve earning potential. Physicists can get various certifications to help them gain expertise and sharpen their skills. Some examples include:

American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine (ABSNM) Certifications

The American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine (ABSNM) issues certifications to candidates who meet the board’s requirements and pass relevant examinations. These certifications show that the individual has demonstrated and acquired knowledge in one or more specialties in nuclear medicine – (1) Radiopharmaceutical Science, (2) Nuclear Medicine Physics and Instrumentation, (3) Radiation Protection, and (4) Molecular Imaging.

American Board of Radiology (ABR) Initial Certification

The American Board of Radiology (ABR) offers certifications in three specialties – (1) Diagnostic Medical Physics, (2) Therapeutic Medical Physics, and (3) Nuclear Medical Physics. The recognition of successful candidates, maintenance of certification, and initial certification in medical physics are covered by ABR.

American Board of Health Physics (ABHP) Certification

Professional Certification in the field of health physics is granted to candidates who pass an exam by the American Board of Health Physics (ABHP). Certified Health Physicists will be eligible for American Academy of Health Physics (AAHP) membership.

Additional Resources for PhD in
Physics Students

Interacting with others, attending seminars, reading publications and journals related to physics, and solving and identifying problems with the help of others are some of the ways of staying up to date on the newest advances in physics. It is good to stay relevant and gain additional knowledge in the field as it helps in knowing the upcoming trends and growth in the profession. Here are some valuable resources for online PhD physics students to explore:

American Institute of Physics (AIP)

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) provides resources for its Member Societies to coordinate, leverage, and pool their diverse contributions and expertise, intending to advance physical sciences in the economy, research, enterprise, society, and education. AIP also acts as an independent institute where research in policy, history, and social science advances the discipline of physical sciences.

Physics Instructional Resource Association (PIRA)

The Physics Instructional Resource Association (PIRA) works with support specialists and physics educators to support the advancement of physical education. They develop effective techniques and teaching tools to promote physics education. PIRA supports physics education in high schools, elementary schools, universities, and community colleges.

American Physical Society (APS)

The American Physical Society (APS) is a non-profit membership organization working to diffuse and advance the knowledge of physics through its scientific meetings, outreach, research journal, advocacy, education, and international activities.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) seeks to defend and promote the integrity of science and its use, as well as strengthen support for technology and science enterprises. It has members in more than 91 countries who aim to increase public engagement with science and technology.

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM)

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) supports the medical physics community by focusing on improving the efficacy and safety of radiation oncology and medical imaging procedures through research. AAPM publishes two scholarly journals and sponsors three scientific journals once a year.

Author Bio:

Erika Lasrado

Erika has broad experience in counseling, psychology, and human resources. Although she has done a master’s in psychology, she is currently pursuing a master’s in educational psychology to change careers. Erika is a foodie and reader and loves to research and write about various topics when time permits.


Master of Psychology, Master of Educational Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.


The average tuition (based on degree type for in-state students), average graduation rates, and rankings are based on data from various sources, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and are variable over time. All rankings and statistics are subject to change. The rankings are solely the opinion of Find Best Degrees (FBD) and are based on our proprietary methodology. They do not represent the views of the institutions or organizations mentioned, nor do they represent any official government census or survey. Furthermore, any views or opinions expressed on this page are of FBD’s researchers and teams. Unless otherwise specified, they do not represent the thoughts and opinions of the individuals, institutions, or organizations mentioned. This page’s content is provided solely for informational purposes, with data drawn from various sources, including IPEDS. FBD and its employees make no guarantees regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information found on this page or by following any link. FBD will not be held liable for any errors or omissions in this material nor any losses, injuries, or damages resulting from the exposure or use of this information. Although the information on this page is/was correct at the time of publication, readers should exercise caution because some or all of the provided information may have changed over time, potentially resulting in inaccuracies. For more information, please read our Terms of Service. Trademarks and logos are the property of their registered owners.