I am a mathematics major without any undergraduate level courses in physics. I am lately interested in physics. Is there any chance for me to go into good theoretical physics graduate program without any background in physics?

I am not sure if this kind of question is acceptable here, though.

ADDED My concern is do Universities even accept students with math majors into physics department without physics courses?

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    Take as many courses as you can before graduating (reasonably), get good recommendations, possibly. I've heard of it happening. I don't know what you mean by "good", but if your grades are solid, etc etc etc.
    – Dylan Sabulsky
    Feb 2, 2013 at 22:08
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    Physics, sorry for the confusion
    – Dylan Sabulsky
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:30
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    You're asking if you can get into a PhD program without any knowledge of the material... the answer is no.
    – Chris Gerig
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:40
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    Hi user1709828; this is indeed not what this site is for. Though it occurs to me that it might fit on Academia. I'll ask the community there, and if it's okay with them, I'll migrate it over.
    – David Z
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:54
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    It is just one of this darn stupid automatic downvotes that go along with a question getting closed. They are implemented into the whole SE network and can unfortunately not be turned off here on Physics SE. At least hwlau could give you a nice answer before the question got closed, you were lucky ;-)
    – Dilaton
    Feb 3, 2013 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


There are students with math major (and other major) go to physics graduate school, but I think all of them have taken physics courses. The first question you should ask yourself is that why you are interested in theoretical physics. If you were the admission committee and see an applicant said that they are interested in physics but taken no physics courses, what do you think? You must explain it in somewhere in your personal statement.

The first thing you should do is to take physics courses and get good grade on all of them. Also, you should try taking few graduate courses. There are no need to take courses on all topics, you should only have strong interest in few topics such as QM, EM, SM, QFT and string theory. Some of them are very mathematical (that good for you). Doing so can demonstrate your interest in physics.

Second, you might try to apply for master program in physics. It is easier to get in and after 1 or 2 years you can apply for PhD in physics to continue your study.

One more options is to apply for math department, in particular, you should look for applied math. There are usually few professors studying mathematical physics. It is particular true for some countries that the theoretical physicists stay in the math department and experimental physicists stay in physics department. Assuming you have good background in mathematics, it should be the easiest option for you to get in those school and start studying theoretical physics.

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    QFT,String theory.
    – user1709828
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:04
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    Is there such course in your university? You might try to talk to those professors teaching these course as they might give you good suggestion, and even a recommendation letters.
    – unsym
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:06
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    It is a bit hard. But if you can accept the basics in QM as axiom and have a good mathematical background in say, complex analysis, Greens function, spectal analysis, calculus, differential equation. I would say you could get a good grade in introduction of QFT. Notice that some courses might focus more on physics and some on mathematics, you can only know that by talking with course instructor.
    – unsym
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:23
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    @user1709828 i have also migrated from maths to physics (actually QM). some knowledge in functional analysis and operator algebra helped me a lot. one reason for developing these subjects was to understand QM and quant stat mech. all the best for your journey.
    – RSG
    Feb 3, 2013 at 7:57
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    If you are on a graduate admissions committee for a physics department, applications such as yours will bring some questions to mind. (i) How do they know they want to do physics if they don't know anything about it? (ii) How do I know they have any talent for physics? I don't see how you can address these questions without taking any physics courses. There are a number of mathematics departments with physicists in them, and you have a much better chance of getting in if you apply to one of these places. (But make sure they aren't just doing physics, but the right kind of physics.) Feb 3, 2013 at 16:21

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