Quantum Mechanics Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a quantum mechanics-related degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's or doctoral degree, and potential careers.
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Studying Quantum Mechanics: Degrees at a Glance

Quantum mechanics deals with the behavior of atoms and small systems. You'll learn to predict behavior of microscopic particles. You might specialize in quantum mechanics in a physics program. Federal government agencies, including NASA, the Department of Defense, and federally-funded national laboratories, are the largest research and development employers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), anticipated declines in basic research may be offset by growth in applied research and private industry. Physicists may also be employed in medical, communications, and semiconductor technology and similar applied fields or as consultants.

With a master's degree, you may qualify for a position as a high school teacher, an entry-level college instructor of physics or in corporate applied research. A Ph.D. with experience could aspire to a full professorship, management, or consulting opportunities. According to BLS, physicist opportunities will grow 14% from 2010-2020, which is on par with the average projected job growth for all occupations.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want entry-level positions in physics Individuals interested in advanced academic, research, management or consulting opportunities
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Physics ($44,000)*
- Physicist II ($74,000)*
- Professor - Physics ($57,000)*
- Professor - Physics ($91,000 - 12 years of experience)*
- Consulting Physicist ($103,000 - 8-10 years of experience)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years, full-time 5-7 years, full-time (includes master's-level work)
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 30-40 credits
- Laboratory work
- Examination
- Thesis
- Approximately 60-70 credits
- Laboratory work
- Written and oral examination
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree, physics preferred Bachelor's or master's degree, physics preferred
Online Availability Some online coursework may be available Not available

Source: *Salary.com (2012 figures).

Master's Degree in Physics, Quantum Mechanics Specialization

Master's candidates will learn to use advanced mathematics to analyze physical phenomena. You could study fundamental areas of physics including quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, electricity, and magnetism. As a master's candidate, you may be affiliated with a research division of your university. You might conduct research in laboratories and centers for nuclear science, electronics, spectroscopy, material science, or magnetics. Students admitted with little or no prior exposure to physics may be required to complete preliminary work before beginning the program.

Pros and Cons


  • Programs may be appropriate for K-12 teachers or those interested in an applied science track in private firms
  • Knowledge of physics may have applications in many commercial firms
  • Credits may be able to be applied to a Ph.D. program


  • Additional education may be required for advancement to management or consulting opportunities
  • Full-time work during or after the program may make completion of a Ph.D. difficult
  • Online degree opportunities may not be available

Courses and Requirements

Core courses may include quantum and classical mechanics, theoretical physics methods, electricity and magnetism in quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics. During your program, you will likely do lab work and participate in university research initiatives. Industry internships may be available. You may need a high GPA to qualify to take final written and oral examinations and to prepare a thesis and thesis defense.

You might encounter courses like these:

  • Statistical physics
  • Classical electrodynamics
  • Solid-state physics
  • Nanostructure and nanotechnology
  • Molecular biophysics
  • Laser spectroscopy

Online Course Options

Fully online physics master's degree programs aren't likely to be found, though some courses may be offered online. In this discipline, on-campus lab work using advanced equipment and opportunities for face-to-face collaboration may be important. If available, online courses follow the same basic format as similar on-campus courses. Your school will advise you on appropriate software and browsers. If you're interested in teaching high school students, online master's degree programs in physics education may be available. Online course options may be available in related areas like medical physics.

Standing Out With This Degree

You might consider programs that combine a master's degree in physics with school teaching certification. Schools may offer teaching or research assistant positions. A school may have an institute dedicated to quantum physics that can provide opportunities for involvement with federal agencies, laboratories, or commercial projects. Your school may have affiliations with academic and other organizations that provide internship opportunities. You might apply for and win distinctions, scholarships, or prizes from organizations like the American Physical Society.

Ph.D. in Physics with Quantum Mechanics Specialization

To be accepted, you'll need undergraduate physics training and strong math skills. You may need to take the GRE subject test. Research is central to Ph.D. program. In a Ph.D. program, you may be able to focus on advanced quantum mechanics. Some schools may award master's degrees after two years of a 5-7 year program. Your school may require service as a teaching or research assistant to earn the Ph.D. If you're pursuing an academic or basic research career, your first position may be a temporary postdoctoral contract lasting 2-3 years.

Pros and Cons


  • You can qualify for an advanced career in basic or applied research, academia, management, or consulting
  • You can develop expertise in an area of quantum mechanics through dissertation research
  • Advanced students may have opportunities to work with large and expensive equipment available only in institutions


  • To remain current in a rapidly changing field, you may need ongoing education
  • Programs require a 5-7 year commitment with little opportunity for outside work
  • Students interested in applied research in a corporate manufacturing or healthcare environment may be able to gain an entry-level position with a master's degree

Courses and Requirements

Programs require mastery of mathematical methods of physics related to core courses in quantum mechanics, dynamics, electromagnetic theory, and statistical mechanics. Ph.D. programs may require a GPA of 3.0 or above to remain and intermediate qualifying examinations before oral and final examinations. A dissertation is normally required.

Advanced courses that you may encounter in a Ph.D. program discuss the following:

  • Nanoscale mechanics
  • Computational electrodynamics
  • Nanophotonics condensed matter theory
  • Applications molecular spectroscopy

Online Class Options

Online degree programs in physics focused on quantum mechanics aren't available. You may be able to find individual online quantum physics-related physics courses that your school offers or is willing to accept in transfer. These can be helpful if you can't be on campus continually, or if you're trying to accelerate your program. You'll still be required to complete work on schedule.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

You may have opportunities to work on projects or with professors funded by agencies that are prospective employers, like the federal Departments of Defense or Energy or NASA, so you could look at schools that have these relationships. Participation in research department projects or projects sponsored by relevant research institutes could attract notice. You might participate in a student chapter of an organization like the American Institute of Physics. Your school may award thesis or dissertation prizes to top students. You could attend conferences and present papers, or you could become active in student organizations that publish peer-reviewed physics journals.