I have a BS in math (2.9) and a MA in teaching (Pass/fail online program) I am teaching math at a high school but now miss my college days and the upper level material. My end goal would be a PhD in Physics at a US university.

I don't have enough course work in Physics to try and apply straight to a Masters in Physics, as well as a low GPA to apply with.

What are my options? (I have ideas but am unsure as to what is realistic or worth doing) Community college classes until I have prerequisites for physics? Non-matriculated schooling?

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    What country do you want to get your PhD in? You should be warned that a PhD in physics is often a totally different experience from being an undergraduate student. Aug 4, 2016 at 5:29
  • In the US (Though I'm not opposed to going abroad as I have looked into teaching high school abroad). And I hope to go for a masters first to gain understanding of whether a PhD track is right for me.
    – alex_h
    Aug 4, 2016 at 6:02
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    Few community colleges can offer the appropriate prerequisites. Aug 4, 2016 at 9:04
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    For mathematics, some US colleges offer "post-baccalaureate" programs, which is a 1-year program for students who need some extra advanced coursework before applying to a PhD program. I wonder if there are similar programs in physics. It might be just the sort of thing you need. Aug 4, 2016 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


If you are studying in the United States, you should take the core physics undergraduate courses from a reputable university. Then you should apply directly to PhD programs.


A PhD is usually narrowed down to a very peculiar research topic and as such missing some education in other general areas might not be particularly dangerous for the sake of getting the PhD itself. Moreover, what matters the most when undergoing a research path is the attitude to learn and to question the scientific method more than the titles you have previously obtained, which, however, do matter when applying for admission to a PhD programme. Committees might prefer someone with already some background just because the selection processes usually see many applicants and Universities need a way to filter them out. A good recommendation letter goes however far beyond any selection criteria and if you can get one it should not be too difficult to enter a PhD programme. In particular, especially in Europe, GRE, GPA and all these quiz results are irrelevant for anything.

Concerning the topic itself, as you have formal background in mathematics, do consider that many PhD in theoretical physics are essentially pure mathematics, therefore you might even find it along your lines and not too difficult to enjoy.

This said, if you want to have a good research profile and a thorough understanding of what you are doing (rather than just getting the PhD), a good knowledge of physics is fundamental. I would suggest to first achieve a master degree and only then go for a PhD (which should always be the rule, even if you manage to get admitted before).

  • A masters in physics from an American university is not the rule; usually they are awarded for partial completion of the PhD. Aug 4, 2016 at 9:00
  • @AnonymousPhysicist: If they are awarded at all. I skipped the course-work Master's degree in aerospace engineering on the way from my BS ASE to my PhD in ASE.
    – Bill Barth
    Aug 4, 2016 at 13:10

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