Physical Sciences

Overview of Physical Science Program as a College Major

Do you have a basic interest in natural phenomena? Are you naturally inquisitive? Do you have a mild distrust of conventional assumptions? Science might be the perfect degree program for you.

Physical science, sometimes known as physical and earth sciences or physical and natural sciences, is the scientific study of non-living systems, processes of matter and energy, and related phenomenon. Degree programs in the physical sciences cover a wide range of fields including geography, geology, hydrology and physics.

While you may choose to obtain an Associate degree in physical science, typically higher degree programs are focused on a specific area within the field. An Associate degree, however, is a great first step if you are interested in transferring to a college or university to further your education.

Physical Science Program Curriculum   

A general degree in physical and natural sciences provides a solid foundation for further study and prepares you for graduate study and a wide range of careers. And while actual course work may differ from campus to campus, you will likely find yourself taking courses such as:

  • Meteorology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Geology
  • Geography
  • Astronomy
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Oceanography
  • Electromagnetism
  • Quantum mechanics

Education Levels Available for a Physical Science Degree

Generally, because of the broad focus, a degree in physical science is limited to an Associate degree. An Associate in Arts in physical science tends to place more emphasis on humanities and social sciences and less on math and science. For those interested in a more scientific focus, you may want to consider an Associate in Science degree in a specific physical science discipline such as astronomy, chemistry or physics. 

Careers in the field of physical science typically require a Bachelor degree or higher with top-paying careers usually requiring a Doctorate degree. Therefore, if you are considering a career in the physical sciences, an Associate degree is a great place to start. However, plan on continuing your education at a four-year institution.

Skills Developed through Physical Science Degree Program

While much of what you will learn in college will focus on training you to work in a scientific or laboratory environment, you also will have the opportunity to develop important skills that will assist you in your future career. These include:

  • Critical thinking and logic
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Working knowledge of computers and a variety of computer programs
  • Presenting ideas both in writing and orally
  • Recognizing and constructing valid arguments using deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Applying appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods to interpret and analyze pertinent data
  • Analyzing and interpreting data, charts and graphs using quantitative and qualitative methods
  • Concentrating for sustained periods and the patience to repeat an experiment
Where to Obtain a Physical Science Degree

If you’re considering a career in physical science, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that employment growth will differ depending on the discipline you select. Chemists can expect slower growth than in other occupations – somewhere around 3% over the next few years; while physicists and geoscientists can expect faster than average growth, 16% and 18% respectively.

Physical science degrees are available both through brick-and-mortar colleges and universities as well as through e-learning opportunities, such as the Oregon State University Extended Campus program which offers labs and classes for chemistry majors.

Career Opportunities for Physical Science Majors

According to the May 24, 2011, Science Careers Blog article entitled, “Engineering Majors Earn the Most, but Physical and Life Science Majors also Do Well, a New Report Shows,” physical science majors are the second highest paid degree out of college, behind computer and math majors. That’s good news if you are interested in pursuing a graduate degree program in a physical science. There are a variety of career opportunities available for graduates in physics, engineering and chemistry in private industry, government agencies and in universities.

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