Physics and astronomy

This area covers all the natural sciences linked to the study of inanimate objects, forces, and properties of the universe.

Graduate destinations

73,885 students were studying this subject in 2014/15. 

63.6% of graduates went directly into employment.

Top five graduate destinations:

  1. Professional, scientific, and technical
  2. Wholesale and retail trade
  3. Education
  4. Manufacturing
  5. Accommodation and food service

Royal Society of Chemistry

‘Before you decide to study any subject, you should find out what the course will involve by reading university prospectuses, contacting admissions tutors or speaking to someone already doing a similar course. You can then make an informed decision about whether that course is right for you. Even courses with the same or similar titles can vary a lot between different universities, so make sure you find out about each individual course.’

What courses are available?

Universities and colleges in the UK are offering courses in the following subject areas:

There are a broad range of degree courses available, with many options to combine different subjects together. While many degrees with the same subject title will offer similar modules with a choice of topics, it is important to be aware that there is no national curriculum at this level, so courses can vary significantly.

 Subject combinations and available course options include:

  • single, joint, and multiple subject combinations
  • full-time, part-time and flexible study options as well as courses with a placement (sandwich courses)
  • qualifications ranging from BA/BSc (Hons) and MSci degrees through to HND, HNC and Foundation Certificates

If you are considering taking a joint or combined degree, it would be advisable to consider any potential impact such a choice may have on any career goals.

A number of universities offer four year undergraduate or integrated masters degrees in subjects such as geology (MGEOL/MSci)/, physics (MPhys /MSci) and chemistry (MChem/ MSci). The course content is likely to be the same for the first two years of a BSc at the same university and then beyond will have a broader range of taught units and a larger piece of research.

Are you considering an accelerated degree? Click here to read more about the possibility of completing your undergraduate course in two years rather than three. 

Royal Society of Chemistry

‘Many jobs within the chemical and pharmaceutical industries will only be available to graduates who have spent a considerable amount of time in teaching laboratories developing their practical skills.’

Entry requirements

A levels – To get on to a physics related degree, you will usually require at least two A levels including physics and maths.

For chemistry degrees, you will need chemistry A level, with some universities preferring a second science subject.

Geography related degrees generally require A level geography, though some will accept a related subject (for example, sociology, world development, geology, environmental science). Some geology degrees require two science related A levels.

Entry requirements in general range from BCC to AAA, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for ABB.

In addition to the different A level requirements above, you will also need five GCSEs (A-C) including science, English, and maths.

A few course providers may use additional methods to support selection, for example, you may be asked to complete an online test to assess your numerical skills and how you apply your knowledge to chemical problems.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from ABBB to AAAAB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring AABBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for ABB.

Forensic science and analysis

Institute of Physics

‘Although further mathematics A level is not a requirement, it is looked on favourably by admission tutors at the more competitive universities.'

Personal statement

Universities are looking for:

  • evidence that you are well informed about the subject and have strong interest/motivation, which could be demonstrated by:
    • relevant work experience/shadowing or voluntary work (although it is recognised this is more difficult for some subject areas such as physics)
    • additional reading and research of particular topics
    • membership of related societies/clubs
  • a range of interests outside of academic study
  • a well written statement that demonstrates your ability to write persuasive statements
  • the ability to work individually and in teams

How to write your personal statement

Let's talk about... science apprenticeships (Sponsored by Manchester Metropolitan University)

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If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

There are over 20 apprenticeships in the agriculture, environmental and animal care sector available in England, with more in development.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Degree apprenticeship (Level 6)

Key areas of employment

There are a wide number of science related careers you can enter in this field. The key areas of employment include:

  • aerospace and defence
  • clinical research
  • pharmaceutics and biotechnology
  • education
  • engineering
  • meteorology
  • oil and gas
  • renewable energy
  • scientific sales and marketing
  • telecommunications

Related careers

Examples of related careers include the following job titles:

Where can I find out more?

Visit the websites of the following professional bodies to find out more about courses and careers in physical sciences.

Royal Society of Chemistry

‘Maths is an extremely important part of nearly all chemistry degree courses. Although an A level (or equivalent) in maths is not always an entry requirement, you will find some aspects of the course more difficult if you have not studied maths to this level.’

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