This or That: Physics vs. Applied Physics

Photo of Kennedy Carlick

So you’ve made the decision that you are applying to NYU! As you are trying to narrow down your choice of major, you might be confused. Out of the 230 majors offered between 10 undergraduate schools, there is the option to study either Physics or Applied Physics but what is the difference? Does it really matter which one you pick? The answer is yes! While they might seem similar in name, there are a few key fundamental differences between the Physics and Applied Physics majors at NYU. I’m going to take you through some of the main differences between the two programs so that you can understand which might be a better option for you!


The Physics major at NYU explores more of the theoretical and mathematical side of this science. If you decide to study Physics, you will be a student at the College of Arts and Science (CAS). Students studying Physics will receive a Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) after completing 18 required physics/math courses. As a student at CAS you would also need to complete the Core Curriculum requirements. The Core Curriculum gives students a liberal arts base in pursuing their education and is made up of five parts:

  1. First Year Seminars
  2. Expository Writing
  3. Foreign Language Study
  4. Foundations of Scientific Inquiry (FSI)
  5. Foundations of Contemporary Culture (FCC)

You also have a few different options when it comes to the Physics major. If you want to focus more on the sciences, you can earn a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) by completing additional courses in chemistry, biology, and computational physics. You also have the opportunity to pursue a second major. If you pursue a BA in physics, you can have a second major at CAS. Students in this program can study away and participate in research with faculty members and/or pursue their own research projects.

A student takes notes in a notebook during class
Two female students walking in Washington Square Park

Applied Physics

If you decide to study Applied Physics, you will be a student at the Tandon School of Engineering, located at the NYU Campus in Brooklyn! Students studying Applied Physics will receive a BS after completing 128 total credits including:

  • Core Physics Requirements (36 Credits)
  • Physics and Math Electives (21 Credits)
  • Electives in Humanities and Social Sciences (16 Credits)
  • Other Required Courses (37 Credits)

Applied Physics focuses heavily on (you guessed it!) the application of physics. This major explores more of the practical and every day applications and uses of physics as opposed to more theoretical based research. Students who are interested in studying engineering and physics should consider the Applied Physics major, which is the bridge between the two disciplines. At Tandon, you will also have opportunities to conduct research at one of the various research centers and institutes, and participate in a study away program.

Two students looking at the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn
Physics experiment in lab

So which do I choose?

Now that you understand the differences between the Physics and Applied Physics major, you will have to choose which is the better fit for you! If you are interested in the theory and math behind physics, but are also interested in a liberal arts core curriculum and more flexibility, then you should consider the Physics major! If you are more interested in practical uses of physics, but are also interested in engineering, then you should consider the Applied Physics major!

Hopefully this will help you find your path at NYU!

Join us to learn more!

If you are interested in learning more about physics at NYU, consider attending our Women in Physics round table discussion on March 8, 2021 at 3pm EST. Join faculty, alumni, and current NYU students to discuss their experiences as women in the field of physics. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!