Selecting Courses

We deeply value high-quality teaching and are committed to providing innovative coursework, best teaching practices, and small interactive classes. Our award-winning faculty keeps abreast of new developments in teaching and research and brings them into the classroom. Please see the Physics Course catalog for a full course list or search for classes at Mount Holyoke or the Five Colleges.

First-Year Students

Entering students considering a major in physics are strongly urged to take PHYS-110 in the first year. Delaying PHYS-110 and PHYS-201 to the second year is possible, but not recommended because it limits opportunities for advanced electives or honors work.

Which Physics courses should I enroll in?

If you have completed AP, IB or A Level courses, please review the tables below to find the correct course for you. Some introductory physics courses beyond physics 100 and 110 require math and physics prerequisites.

Math Courses

Course Name 

Score Needed 

Appropriate Physics Course 

AP BC Calculus 

Score of 3 

Physics 110 

AP BC Calculus 

Score of 4 or 5 

Physics 110 and/or 201 

AP AB Calculus 

Score of 4 or 5 

Physics 110 

IB Calculus 

Score of 6+ 

Physics 110 and/or 201 

Physics Courses

Course Name 

Score Needed 

Appropriate Physics Course 

AP C Mechanics 

Score of 4 or 5 

Physics 201 

AP C E&M 

Score of 4 or 5 

Physics 205 and/or 210 

IB Physics 

Score of 3-­‐5 

Physics 110 

IB Physics 

Score of 6+ 

Discuss with department 

A Level 

Grade of A or B 

Physics 110 and/or 201 

Placement Exams

If you have not completed the above courses or have not received the score or grade needed but feel you have a strong calculus and physics background, please review the tables below to find the correct course for you.

The scores below refer to the Math/Calculus placement exam (to confirm score copy the results screen and email to the department) and the Physics Assessment exams (email the department to request the Physics 110/201 placement exam). You will have one week to complete these open book exams. Please note that all assessments must be turned in by the first day of class.

The registrar has more information for transferring credits/courses.

Course  

Math Assessment 

Physics Assessment 

Physics 110 

Calculus, score of 4+ 

 

Physics 201 

 

Physics 110 

Physics 205 and/or 210 

 

Physics 201 

Physics Majors

Read about physics courses and plan your major.

Introductory Courses

  • 110fs Force, Motion, and Energy: We are all familiar with the basic forms of motion like rolling, sliding, flying, spinning and bouncing, but did you know that understanding motion in terms of energy is one of the most fundamental and fascinating abstractions of all of science, and is even relevant in chemistry, biology, astronomy and geology?  In this course, you'll learn enough to understand how a roller coaster stays on the tracks, the forces and torques of muscles in the body, and why bridges don't collapse.
  • 201fs Electromagnetism: Since you began life on this planet, you've taken advantage of the amazing and ubiquitous benefits of electricity, from lighting to televisions to computers to your cell phone.  Few of us, however, actually stop and think about how this electricity was created or even how it is possible to communicate information over empty space.  In this course, you'll learn fascinating and sometimes bizarre facts about electricity, magnetism and circuits that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
  • 210f Waves and Optics: You've been enchanted by scenes of waves rolling in at the beach and you've seen the elegance of ripples on a quiet pond. Now, you'll get a chance to be amazed by the mysterious waves of light and sound that are invisible to the human eye.  In this course, you'll learn how waves travel and interact with each other, giving rise to the intricate sound of a guitar or the colorful patterns of a soapy bubble.
  • 250s Quantum Mechanical Phenomena: Did you know an electron can be described as a wave? Quantum mechanics opens up a whole new world of understanding about how the universe behaves at the size scale of an electron. Energy now comes in packets (or quanta), and this changes how we think of the location and movement of particles.  In this course, you'll learn about how quantum mechanical phenomena are at the heart of almost all modern technology, from your laptop's processor, to your smartphone's screen, to nuclear power and even solar cells.

Course Sequence

Physics courses at Mount Holyoke range from introductory-level courses on the foundations of physics to advanced courses in such topics as quantum mechanics, mathematical methods, electronics, analytical mechanics, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetic theory.

The department offers two types of introductory course sequences. Physics 100f-150s is a noncalculus sequence for students with a general interest in physics. Physics 110-201 is a calculus-based sequence intended for physics majors and is appropriate for those interested in engineering. See the physics course catalog for detailed advice on getting started in physics and for sample programs for physics majors.

All majors must complete at least 4 credits of advanced independent study in physics, which may be either a project related to the research of a faculty member or, under faculty supervision, a project of the student's own design.

Students planning to pursue graduate study in physics are encouraged to take at least one graduate-level course in physics at UMass.

If you have taken physics before and are not sure which course is the best fit for you, click here.

All Majors

Do you like science and are wondering how it relates to society?  You can take these four engaging courses regardless of your major.

Science and Society Courses

  • FYS-110 Science in the Media: Scientific breakthroughs contribute to everyone's quality of life, but they are poorly understood by many, leading to misunderstandings and misgivings that can affect public policy. In this course, you'll read about newsworthy topics from current scientific research and meet the people behind them, learn how to better understand science, explore ideas such as scientific consensus and repeatability, and analyze the tension that may exist between scientists and the public. 
  • FYS-110 Gender in Science: Why are women underrepresented in the sciences? You will explore this controversial subject focusing on how to increase the participation of women in science. You'll take on questions about gender differences in cognition and ability, confront the role of stereotyping, and examine why certain fields have more women than others. 
  • 104f Renewable Energy: The risks associated with burning fossil fuels threaten not only our delicate ecosystem but also human health and global economic vitality. Unfortunately, few of us understand what must be done to convert our energy infrastructure to renewable sources of energy. In this course, you'll explore the scientific underpinnings of renewable energy, build an understanding of basic (but important) mathematical calculations, and learn how to effectively communicate practical ways to solve our energy crisis. 
  • Phys-141 PHYS-141-01 (93883) Themes in Physics and Art: Physics and Art represent the world in seemingly different ways, however they share many common themes: the guiding role of symmetry, the tension between order and disorder, and the emergence of structure from many simple constituents. We will explore some of the big ideas in physics, including quantum mechanics, relativity, entropy, and chaos theory, by looking at how these underlying themes are represented in the visual arts. Islamic tessellations, Japanese Suminagashi paper marbling, as well works by contemporary artists such as Tara Donovan will guide us toward an intuitive understanding of some of the most exciting ideas in physics without the need for any prior physics background.