Admitted Students Day 2023
Review the presentations below to help you prepare for the live FAQ session. View the curriculum sheet.
|Associate Head of Undergraduate Programs for Physics Overview||Yann Chemla, Physics, presented 2023|
|Physics Advisor Overview of Undergraduate Programs for Physics||Merissa Milton, Sr Academic Advisor for Physics, presented 2023|
|Engineering Career Services & Overview of Student Services (ECS)||Ulyssia Dennis, Interim Director, ECS, presented 2022 (ECS Website)|
|International Programs in Engineering (IPENG)||Lucero Garcia-Villegas, Academic Advisor & IPENG Coordinator, presented 2023|
Before You Arrive
Please take a moment to review some of these important and interesting aspects of the department and what we do here at Illinois Physics to help you prepare for your admitted student day.
|Browse through the virtual lab tours and research videos produced by professors and their graduate students. These videos were produced for prospective graduate students, though all the featured labs take on many talented undergraduate physics students!||View the videos|
|We have compiled several FAQs that have been asked over the years by newly admitted Illinois Physics students, please take a moment to review them and come prepared with new questions!||View the FAQs|
Schedule for Saturday, April 8, 2023
11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. U.S. Central Daylight Time (CDT)
11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Illinois Physics program discussion and Q&A
Downloads: Curriculum Sheet - Physics
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Q&A with panel of current Illinois Physics students
Numerical simulation (2020) of a head-on collision of two black holes in a modified gravity theory, in which black holes have additional attributes ("hair") not present in general relativity. Understanding those phenomena is important to perform strong-field tests of gravity, e.g., with gravitational waves.
video length 0:15
Comparison (2021) between Event Horizon Telescope observations of the black hole at the center of M87 (in intensity and polarization) with the best-fit model simulations.
video length 0:16
Barbara Stekas, a physics Ph.D. candidate at the U of I, talks about why she loves studying individual DNA strands, how much she enjoys living in Champaign-Urbana and gives potential graduate students some good advice.
video length 2:12
Gruebele Lab Tour
video length 2:09
Experimental Condensed Matter Research Group
Professor Jim Eckstein discusses opportunities
within the Experimental Condensed Matter research group.
video length 25:15
Theoretical Condensed Matter Research Group
Professor Bryan Clark discusses opportunities
within the Theoretical Condensed Matter research group.
video length 27:27
Experimental High Energy Research Group
Professor Ben Hooberman discusses opportunities within the Experimental High Energy Physics research group.
video length 28:48
Theoretical High Energy Research Group
Professor Patrick Draper discusses opportunities within the Theoretical High Energy Physics research group.
video length 20:59
Physics Education Research
Quantum Information Science Research
How difficult is it to change majors? Is there an Applied Physics path?
Transferring to another major within Engineering can be competitive but possible. Our program is broad so we teach you about various areas within physics. We do not currently offer an applied path but you can take classes that are applied or do research.
What can I expect academically as a Physics student?
Physics students work extremely hard and spend a lot of time solving problems. Our courses are rigorous and you will be doing a lot of self-learning as the professor only has so much time to go over material during lectures.
Your major courses will be very different from high school physics classes. Homework sets consist of only a few problems, but you will be asked to apply concepts from lecture without any hand-holding. Problems are conceptual and take a long time to work through, unlike the quick calculation questions you might have been given in high school. Most students do homework in groups, because working alone is a recipe for not finishing on time. Also, I hope you like math, because you’re about to see a lot of it. More than the engineering students do.
Your upper level physics courses usually have 2-5 problems a week for homework. However, unlike your high school classes these problems are going to be deriving or solving equations and the answers probably can’t be looked up online or in the back of the book. Remembering what was learned in your math classes helps a lot. For upper level courses the professor and TAs are usually eager to help during office hours. These courses also have a wonderful sense of collaboration among students. I’ve said several times now “the secret to 300 and 400 level physics classes is friends and office hours.” What your overall schedule looks like really depends on you. If you max out credit hours taking upper level courses and have several other commitments it will be a rough semester. For most students, a schedule with three upper level courses and one or two other activities—research, an RSO, or a job—will keep you busy but is pretty manageable.
What is a typical class size for Physics undergrads? Is it different if you are an honors student?
The 200 level courses are large having a lecture of 300 students, a discussion of 30 students and a lab of about 30 students. Once you get to the advanced courses, they range from 16 students up to 125 students. All of the lectures are taught by faculty and the discussions and labs are typically taught by graduate students.
There are no honors classes for the advanced courses. The closest analog in terms of content would probably be graduate courses, which require department approval to take and generally shouldn’t be used as substitutes for the undergrad curriculum.
How does the physics program integrate with the Honors College?
How small are the more physics-oriented classes? Will the professors be able to provide more intimate help?
The 200 level courses are large having a lecture of 300 students, a discussion of 30 students and a lab of about 30 students. Once you get to the advanced courses, they range from 16 students up to 125 students. All of the lectures are taught by faculty and the discussions and labs are typically taught by graduate students. All professors have office hours each week.
At each level the graduate student Teaching Assistants (TAs) who teach the discussions and labs (and who are usually really good at what they do!) have office hours in addition to the professor's office hours. Thus, there is always a place to ask your questions and someone you can go to for help.
Is getting your intended classes hard during the class selection process (because everyone wants the same class but there isn’t enough seats)?
If you register once your time ticket opens, students typically don’t have issues getting into their math or physics courses. If a course fills up, there will be other opportunities to take it.
What are ways we can become better prepared for a physics major?
Students need to know that they cannot procrastinate in the physics major. Going to office hours each week will be important as well as studying with your peers. Try finding a group to study and do homework with. And don’t ignore your math classes.
What options do physics majors have for taking up a double major in an engineering field?
The Grainger College of Engineering does not offer double majors. Students can pursue a dual degree. We do have students who are able to pursue the dual degree within Engineering as well as in other colleges on campus. Several of the majors within the Grainger College of Engineering are competitive to add as a dual degree.
How does AP credit and placement testing work?
Students who take AP exams and get certain scores, can earn college credit for them. https://admissions.illinois.edu/apply/freshman/college-credit-ap. The Grainger College of Engineering will not offer credit for AP Statistics. Physics does not accept AP credit for AP Physics 1 or 2 since those are algebra based.
Can I take 2 [or more] proficiency exams in August?
You can take more than 1 physics proficiency exam in August as long as they do not conflict. Some departments only allow students to take 1 of their proficiency exams at a time. Read more about physics proficiency exams.
What type of research is currently being done at Illinois?
One of the benefits of having one of the largest physics departments in the country (~60 professors, 60 postdoctoral researchers, 300 graduate students, and 550 undergraduate majors) is the breadth and depth of research opportunities our department is able to provide our undergraduate students. We have active theoretical, computational, and experimental research in virtually all fields of physics including: Astrophysics/Relativity/Cosmology [#astro], Atomic Molecular Optical (AMO) [#amo], Biological Physics [#bio], Condensed Matter [#cm], High Energy [#he], Nuclear/Intermediate Energy [#nuclear], Physics Education [#per] and Quantum Information Science [#qis]. There is also a strong push by our department, with the support of our academic state and industry partners, to develop and accelerate the field of quantum information science and technology with the development of a $15M+ IQUIST Center [#iquist]. The development of this center will increase the number of quantum research opportunities for our undergraduate students!
Many of our students also conduct research in fields outside of our department including: Astronomy, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, and much more. Your education as a physicist in our department sharpens not only your technical knowledge, but also prepares you to be a master problem-solver. You’ll learn how to approach and solve very general problems with an analytical process and mindset. These are incredibly useful skills in every field- a reason why many of our students find great success in fields outside what one would consider the “typical” physicist job.
As far as the way researchers approach their work here at UIUC, we have a full range of experimentalists, computationalists, theorists, and everything in between in more-or-less every area of research being done at Illinois. As far as undergraduate underclassmen are concerned, you will often (but not always) start research in an experimental group or a computational group. Experimental groups often require a lot of people working in the lab to achieve their goals, as such they are most often where people start their research journey. Although many continue doing groundbreaking work with our experimental groups, upperclassmen sometimes have opportunities to work with theoretical groups. Due to the highly specialized nature and advanced mathematics/physics requirements, it is rare for underclassmen who are interested in theoretical work to engage with it until they have become upperclassmen.
To what extent are research opportunities open to underclassmen?
At UIUC, we are fortunate to have staff working in many areas of Physics. This creates a lot of opportunities within the department, and students can not only find research generally speaking, but often in an area they’re interested in. We have several large-scale projects which are actively recruiting undergraduates, and many other opportunities besides. Research is not limited to the Physics department, as there are many opportunities available across campus, and in Research Park, which features over 120 companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 corporations.
Most people begin looking for research during their sophomore year and begin working in a group before the start of their junior year. Most of the physics used when testing or designing a new setup is taught in the 200 level classes, but that may vary by field. If you start research earlier it gives you more time to explore different fields to find what interests you and have a meaningful experience in different groups.
Is this major conducive to higher degrees?
Completely, there are a lot of different paths for post undergraduate education and employment. Although about half of our physics undergraduates decide to go into industry (jobs like consulting, project development, and software development), the other half of our physics undergraduates go on to pursue a Masters or a Doctoral degree of some sort.
What resources are available to help students apply to graduate schools, and how successful are Illinois undergrads at being accepted into top programs?
There are numerous resources around campus, such as Engineering Career Services. These places have a ton of resources from resume reviews to help with interviews and professional skills that will help you for applications in general. We are, as a department, very fortunate to have Merissa Milton, who has won numerous department and college awards for her stellar advising. Her door is always open, and she’s here to help physics students plan for our undergraduate and post undergraduate success.
Our physics students do get accepted to top graduate physics programs (Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Caltech, UCB, Univ. of Chicago, etc.). It’s safe to say that grad admissions committees hold UIUC’s undergrad physics program in high regards. It also helps that UIUC is a large research school, so it offers undergrads many opportunities for research experience.
As physics graduates mostly pursue an academic career, I would like to know whether physics graduates also have great and broad opportunities in industry.
It is true that a lot of physics undergraduates pursue academic careers, but the great thing about a physics education is really how versatile it is. Industry jobs require, above pretty much all else, the ability to problem solve. Often times when you’re hired into industry there’s a learning period or a mentee period where they teach you everything you need to know about what that company is and how they work. A physics degree is extremely useful beyond all the cool physics you are going to learn. You will become an expert problem solver with skills that apply to a broad range of industry jobs. We have graduates of our program working in all areas of industry from software development to consulting.
A physics degree will be able to give you opportunities to go into industry, but you will need to find and take some opportunities. The physics degree covers a lot of physics, but the problem-solving abilities, technical skills, and work ethic it builds is very desirable for many jobs in industry. Depending on your exact goals, you might benefit from taking more engineering or business classes as opposed to some upper level courses and might seek internships as opposed to research opportunities. The physics degree is flexible enough you can take those classes and plenty of physics majors successfully find internships and ultimately land in industry.
If I'm heading towards astrophysics hopefully in graduate school, how would I go about that? Is there a concentration in astrophysics or would I double major/minor in astronomy? What do either of the choices entail?
There are a couple different options for you at UIUC, and no shortage of people to talk to who are going down those paths towards astrophysics. In the physics degree, students choose a technical concentration (which is a focus area for their advanced coursework, for which they take classes suited to a specific area of physics), and there is an astrophysics concentration. Students may also choose to get a dual degree, or a minor in astronomy. Both the dual degree and the minor play well with the physics degree and many students choose to take this route if they are interested in astrophysics.
In order to study anything in graduate school, the important thing isn’t necessarily what your coursework has been (although you do have an option as mentioned above to take more relevant classes), but rather having done research in the field. There are many research opportunities at UIUC and you will definitely be able to find a way to work with a professor here on something related to astrophysics should you choose to pursue that.
I am very interested in studying abroad, I would like to know more about these opportunities
There are 2 study abroad offices on campus. The campus Study Abroad Office and International Programs in Engineering (IPENG). The campus study abroad program offers opportunities to take more cultural courses while the IPENG program allows students to attend Engineering universities abroad with more technical courses. Be sure you review the online IPENG presentation from 2020 for more information.
I would want to learn about internships, on-campus jobs, and student loans for International Students. I would also request information on visas and whether the university anticipates any issues with immigration for international students amid the pandemic.
You’ll find resources about internships and on-campus jobs for international students here: https://isss.illinois.edu/students/prospective/
Student loans and financial resources for international students can be found here: https://osfa.illinois.edu/types-of-aid/other-aid/international-students/
FAFSA is where you should start for financial assistance. The Grainger College of Engineering offers merit scholarships to various students. The physics department also offers a limited number of scholarships.