Why study applied physics at UC Santa Cruz?

If you want to transform the fundamental laws and theories behind our universe into practical uses, such as developing new technologies that are not accessible using current tools available to engineers, come to UC Santa Cruz. Here you’ll study alongside innovative experts who are leading the charge to develop quantum computers, new solar cell applications, medical imaging techniques, and advanced laser instrumentation.

Research access

When you declare the Applied Physics B.S. major at UC Santa Cruz, you’ll have unparalleled access to research laboratories, hands-on training with state-of-the-art equipment, mentorship from renowned faculty and researchers, and crucial résumé-boosting research experiences. Unique student experiences include:

  • Strong research internship connections with industry leaders in Silicon Valley
  • Opportunities to be published in scientific journals as first-time research coauthors
  • Vibrant research programs empowering underrepresented student communities in STEM
  • Robust research funding opportunities through our competitive student research awards
  • Annual research poster symposiums for developing next-level science communication skills
  • Extensive upper-level research courses to choose from
  • Intensive senior exit research project requirements before graduation

Research mentorship

Research facilities & partnerships

Research courses

Current research and course offerings include the latest in theoretical and experimental applications of condensed matter and materials physics, the behavior of exotic many-electron systems and quantum materials, magnetic phase transitions, magnetic and magnetoelectric surfaces, interfaces, two-dimensional materials and heterostructures, biophysics, the development of new electronic devices using novel materials, optical physics, magnetometry, magnetotransport, X-ray, heat measurement techniques, and thin film growth and characterization. Explore current course offerings in physics.

Career advancement

The most telling success metrics for our applied physics degree program are the quality of the students we attract and—more importantly—the professional success they achieve after they graduate. Physics at UC Santa Cruz is proven to give you:

  • A strong interdisciplinary research network
  • Mentorship by internationally distinguished faculty and researchers
  • Involvement with large research projects, both government and private
  • The latest high-impact theory and practical instrumentation knowledge
  • Project management and leadership skills in the lab
  • Minimal to no debt

First job success

More than one half of our physics undergraduates are employed within six months after graduation, and nearly 20 percent receive multiple job offers (data from 2015). The majority report working in the tech or manufacturing industry. In fact, UC Santa Cruz ranks 13th worldwide for being one of the “top 20 universities that are most likely to land you a job in Silicon Valley.” For example, high-performing students who decide to delay graduate school and work in California report annual earnings of more than $100,623 within five years after graduation (data as of 2015).

Graduate school success

We’re also ambitious: 78% percent of our Applied Physics B.S. graduates plan to pursue graduate school within five years after graduation. Nearly one half are accepted to graduate school before graduating (data from 2015).

Funding opportunity

In addition to being highly employable and competitive graduate school candidates, our students also graduate with minimal debt. UC Santa Cruz is the second-best university in the nation for undergraduate social mobility, including financial support for students who come from households that earn less than $50,000 annually. We strongly encourage and support all our students in the process of securing academic scholarships and research funding. As a result, our students receive many distinguished awards, honors, and accolades.
A few of our undergraduate funding opportunities for applied physics majors include the:

  • Elmer A. Fridley Scholarship
  • Marilyn Stevens Memorial Award
  • Ronald H. Ruby Memorial Scholarship
  • Undergraduate Research in Science & Technology Award

Alumni network

Banana Slugs help each other out. Get connected with 900 physics alumni who hold leading positions at universities, private companies, medical institutes, government agencies, and renowned research centers throughout the world. Here are just a few of our notable alumni:

  • Alan M. Dressler: Award-winning astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science known for his work on Nova. He is a Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy recipient, National Academy of Sciences member, and NASA Public Service Medal recipient (‘70, B.S. Physics)
  • J. Doyne Farmer: Award-winning econophysicist and pioneer of chaos theory, professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and Director of the Complexity Economics at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School (‘81, Ph.D. Physics)
  • Hume A. Feldman: Award-winning physicist specializing in cosmology and astrophysics (‘84, B.A. Physics)
  • Robert Shaw: Pioneer of chaos theory and MacArthur Fellow (’81, Ph.D. Physics)

Recommended for you

Student academic support resources
Student research awards & opportunities
B.S. degree policies and resources

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree policies

Department: Physics
Program size: ~65 Students
Student to faculty ratio: 8.2:1

Our Applied Physics B.S. program provides a comprehensive coverage of the field and the background necessary for graduate school or industrial careers. We teach you how to analyze complex problems and strengthen your quantitative reasoning—valuable skills that can be applied in any technical field. A senior research thesis mentored by our faculty experts is required, providing you with the opportunity to tackle theoretical or experimental problems that interest you.

How to declare

You may declare a major as early as you would like, if you have satisfied prerequisites or qualification requirements for the major.
Students who enter UC Santa Cruz as freshmen are required to be formally declared in a major before enrolling in their third year (or equivalent). Upper-division transfer students are required to be declared in a major by the deadline in their second term at UC Santa Cruz.
To initiate the process to declare, please complete the Department of Physics online declaration petition form in the link below. For assistance, please contact the physics advising team.

Petition to Declare Online

Students enrolled in their final qualification policy course at the major declaration deadline may submit the petition, but will not be declared until satisfactory grades have been posted. To view the Petition to Declare Major form, you must be logged in to your UCSC email account.

How to apply

Undergraduate student admissions to UC Santa Cruz are handled through the University of California’s online application system. Be sure to review the steps you must take, and when, to ensure that your application is considered.

Apply as a freshman Apply as a transfer