Seven Myths About High School Physics

7 Myths Audience

The “7 Myths About High School Physics” brochure is a resource for physics advocates. It helps address harmful preconceptions that students and those advise them often have about physics. These include:

  • Physics is too hard. Avoid it.
  • Physics doesn't really add to your education.
  • Physics won’t help you get a good job.

The “7 Myths” brochure is intended for high school students and anyone who advises them―teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and others. If you know someone with negative perceptions of physics, we recommend you use the brochure as a conversation starter.
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Promoting the “7 Myths” Brochure
APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)  have created an information sheet of simple strategies for using the "7 Myths" brochure most effectively. Check it out!
Gray Arrow 7 Myths User Manual format_pdf

Behind the 7 Myths: 7 Facts

Like to be even better informed? Here are the 7 physics facts behind the physics class myths.

FACT #1:
Colleges want to see that students have taken challenging courses such as physics.

At more selective schools, physics in high school is often expected, if not required. For example, over three-quarters of incoming Wesleyan freshmen have taken physics in high school; at Caltech, physics is a requirement for admission. We have heard about the importance of taking physics in high school from admissions officers at a variety of institutions.

“College admissions is never just about the GPA. We are interested in seeing that students have maintained an excellent college prep curriculum. A transcript with physics is better than one without it.”

Vikki Otero
Senior Assistant Director of Admissions
University of Colorado at Boulder

“Highly selective colleges and universities look for students who have taken a very demanding program in high school, which includes courses such as physics. The rigor of the program is often more important than the final grades they get.”

Greg Pyke
Senior Associate Dean of Admissions
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

FACT #2:
Physics answers questions about the world and opens doors to potential careers.

Have you ever wondered why the sky is blue, or why the earth is warming? Only physics can tell you the answer! And if you’ve ever thought about being a doctor, engineer, or patent attorney, you will need physics.

APS’s “Why Study Physics” web page and the APS/AAPT “Why Physics” poster discuss questions answered by physics, and careers that require physics.
Gray Arrow Why Study Physics
Gray Arrow Why Physics poster

FACT #3:
Physics can be taught at a variety of levels.

According to American Institute of Physics (AIP) data, national enrollments have been growing rapidly in high school courses taught at both conceptual and advanced levels.
Gray Arrow AIP: Physics Enrollments in U.S. High Schools by Type of Course, 1987--2009

FACT #4:
Girls take physics, too.

AIP data also show that for the past decade and a half, nearly half (47%) of US high school physics students have been female. However, considerably less than 40% of advanced placement high school physics students are female, meaning there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Gray Arrow AIP: Female Enrollment in High School Physics

FACT #5:
Students who have taken high school physics do better in college physics courses.

Research published in Science shows that students who had taken high school physics got significantly higher grades in college physics than those who hadn’t.
Gray Arrow The Two High-School Pillars Supporting College Science, Philip M. Sadler and Robert H. Tai format_pdf

bs-skillsgraphFACT #6:
Physics is fundamental to other sciences and technological innovations; physics teaches critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Physics underpins almost every other science. Anyone thinking of studying chemistry, biology, geology, or astronomy will need a strong a background in physics.

Physics also teaches problem a wide range of skills that are applicable no matter what you end up doing. Physics majors working in computer science or engineering reported that they made frequent use of problem-solving, teamwork, programming, and technical writing skills they learned studying physics.

APS’s “Why Study Physics” web page offers more information on the advantages of being a physicist.
Gray Arrow Why Study Physics

bachelorsworthFACT #7:
Physics opens doors to many careers; physics majors have high employment rates and are well paid.

Did you know that only around a third of physics majors go on to graduate school in physics or astronomy? The rest go on to study other subjects, or become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, or a wide variety of other careers. The unemployment rate of physics majors is far lower than that of the general population.

Best of all, physics majors tend to make salaries in the $40,000 - $60,000 range after college – higher than almost any other major!

The APS website has many physics career resources for students.
Gray Arrow Physicists Profiles
Gray Arrow Middle/High School Preparation for Physics
Gray Arrow Careers in Physics – Statistical Data
Gray Arrow Becoming a Physicist

Other Resources for Physics Advocates

Increasing Physics Enrollment in Your School
Earl Barrett in The Physics Teacher, Vol. 47

Recruiting Physics Students in High School
Gabriel Popkin in APS Forum on Education Newsletter

7 Myths Brochures
The "7 Myths" brochures (English and Spanish) may be ordered directly from the APS Physics online store.

Brochure Development and Credits

The “7 Myths” brochure was developed by a team of staff members from APS, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and the Society of Physics Students (SPS).

Development Team
APS: Gabriel Popkin, Crystal Bailey, Monica Plisch, Theodore Hodapp, Krystal Ferguson (Design)
AAPS: Melissa Lapps, Marilyn Gardner, Warren Hein
Spanish Translation: Wilson J. Gonzalez-Espada, Morehead State University