grad school,  physics

even the physics WEBSITE is complicated

Hi Aska! Under the physics major there is a note which says “The Physics Major program is not designed primarily for students intending to pursue graduate studies in Physics. Such students should consider the Physics Specialist or one of the joint Specialist programs.” and I was just wondering if doing a physics major rather than a specialist would impact my chances of getting into grad school? And why is this the only major I’ve come across which states this? Thanks!


hey there,

obviously, there are lots of physics graduate programs at many universities across the world. i can’t analyze how appropriate uoft’s major program might be for every one of them, so i’m just going to use uoft’s M.Sc. in Physics program as an example – even though their website is BASICALLY USELESS.

the only thing the whole physics site really has to say about admission requirements for the M.Sc. program is this: “A B+ or better average in an honours physics program or a program of comparable rigour in a closely related field.

despite the fact that there is not nearly enough information in this sentence, it’s also a very confusing sentence. and the confusion starts with the word “honours.”

most people outside uoft – hell, most peopl inside uoft – have no idea what the word “honours” actually means. so strap yourself in and get ready for a crash course in uoft history.

before 1992, uoft offered two bachelor’s degrees: a three-year degree, and a four-year honours degree (see “Discontinued Degrees and Upgrading“). not everyone did the honours degree. it was only for the super-special smart cookies of the university. everyone else moved to the suburbs to get their 2.5 kids and white picket fence, or whatever it is they did back then.

nowadays, there is no more three-year degree. everyone’s degree is four years long (unless you started before 1992 OR you’re graduating with a GPA under 1.85), which means everyone gets an honours degree. no one is special anymore.

so that’s what “honours” REALLY means. however, i have a feeling that that’s not what the physics department means by the word “honours.” i’m thinking they’re probably using it in the traditional sense, to mean a more specialized or intensive degree, like in the pre-1992 days of yore. and the reason i think this is because they say “honours physics program.” not degree, program.

AND NOW we FINALLY get to the point: given their probable use of the word “honours,” a major program from uoft in physics, requiring as it does only 7.5 physics FCEs, is probably not rigorous enough as preparation for a master’s program. if you think about it, 7.5 FCEs is less than half of your degree, and so it might not be enough preparation for a graduate program dedicated entirely to physics.

the specialist programs, meanwhile, require nearly double that amount of credits. they also provide more opportunities for academic research, which is invaluable for someone preparing for a graduate degree. finally, in the natural sciences (as opposed to the humanities or social sciences), there tends to be a more marked difference between majors and specialists. specialists not only require more courses, they tend to require different and more rigorous courses as well.

of course, not all graduate programs will require this level of preparation. if you’re interested in a graduate program other than physics, or at another university, their requirements may differ, and i would urge you to research those so you have a better idea of what they’re looking for.

i’d also highly recommend you consult with professors or administrators from the program you’re interested in. however, GENERALLY SPEAKING, natural science graduate programs tend to require or prefer what they would call an “honours” program; that is, a specialist.



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