APS Careers | Becoming a physicist

Five Myths About High School Physics

Countering misconceptions about physics to help students explore their interests

A teacher in front of a classroom

High school students and anyone who advises them – teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and others – have likely heard harmful preconceptions about physics such as "it's too hard," "it doesn't really add to your education," or "it won't help you get a good job." In reality, students can benefit in many ways from trying physics classes. Physics classes signal to colleges that students can challenge themselves, and physics builds the skills needed by employers in a variety of careers. We bust these and more myths about high school physics, which are often a great conversation starter for students thinking about their interests and futures.

Myth 1: You have to be naturally good at physics and math to be successful

One of the most pervasive myths about physics is that you have to be naturally good at physics and math to be successful in high school physics.

Fact: Anyone can learn physics

Physics is taught at many different levels, including classes that introduce physics topics and allow students to build problem-solving skills.

According to the American Institute of Physics (AIP) data, national enrollments have been growing rapidly in high school courses taught at both conceptual and advanced levels. Students may not realize how interesting they might find physics, so trying out a class and asking a physics teacher for support on choosing the right class is a good tactic.

As Meghan Anzelc, PhD, executive leader in product and data analytics innovation, notes, "The first semester of college physics was really hard, being surrounded by classmates who had taken AP physics in high school which I hadn’t, but I enjoyed the material. I went on to do predictive modeling and now work at an executive search and leadership advisory firm."

Like Anzelc, many students enjoy and rise to the challenge of physics, and as they gain problem-solving skills in introductory classes, they can successfully continue on to advanced courses.

Myth 2: Taking high school physics won’t help you get into college, especially if you don’t get perfect grades

Another misconception is that taking high school physics won’t help you get in college.

Fact: Taking physics in high school sets you up for success

Colleges want to see that students have challenged themselves. Taking physics in high school demonstrates that you’re well rounded, willing to take on challenges in the future, and actually prepares you for college/post-high school success.

Physics teaches problem-solving and an understanding of the way the real world works, which is relevant to most college degree paths and jobs pursued with a technical/associate degree. Examples include working in the alternative energy sector or in patent law.

Additionally, physics underpins almost every other science. Anyone thinking of studying biology, engineering, chemistry, geology, or astronomy will need a strong background in physics. Research shows that students who have taken high school physics do better in college physics courses, which are required for a large number of degree paths.

High school physics classes set you up for success in college and beyond.

Myth 3: Physics is only necessary if you want to be a teacher or work in a lab

Unfortunately, many students believe that physics is only necessary for people who want to become teachers or work in a lab.

Fact: Physics opens the door to a wide variety of highly paid careers

There are many career options for people with a physics degree. Physics majors have high employment rates and are among the best paid of all college graduates while doing jobs that positively impact society.

Most physics graduates use physics to launch them into careers in medicine, engineering, law, and education (physics majors score higher on medical school admissions tests than nearly every other discipline – including biology and pre-med). Only a third of physics majors go into physics or astronomy research. The rest go on to study other subjects or become engineers, lawyers, medical technicians, data scientists, teachers, or pursue 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 bachelors tend to make salaries in the $50,000–$70,000 range after college, higher than almost any other major.

See more Physics Employment Facts and explore APS's article, "Why Study Physics?" You can also explore physics careers aligned with your interests through the STEP UP Career Matching tool.

You don’t even need a college degree in physics to benefit from learning physics. Many of the highest needed jobs in the future will benefit from physics knowledge.

Physics bachelor’s skills are valued by employers

Employers in many fields are eager to hire graduates with physics backgrounds because they have experience in:

  • Easily grasping new knowledge and concepts
  • Identifying, formulating, and solving problems
  • Successfully analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using computer applications and databases
  • Applying current techniques/tools for technical practices
  • Engaging in continued learning and problem-solving

More than just teaching and lab work, physics sets you up for success in a variety of meaningful career paths.

Myth 4: Only certain types of people can do physics

There's a regrettable stereotype that only certain types of people can do physics and that you have to “look” like a physicist to study it in high school.

Fact: Physics is for everyone and anyone willing to give it a try

The field of physics is constantly changing and there are great opportunities for people from all backgrounds. For example, the number of students taking physics has grown (from 1987-2019). And there are many examples of people pursuing physics careers.

More women are entering physics

In recent years (2007–2017), the percentage of women earning a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy has not changed over time. However, the percentage of women enrolling in physics graduate programs and earning a physics doctorate has continued to rise.

In 2013, 46% of high school physics students were young women, and this percentage has remained stable since 2003. In addition, 37% of high school teachers were women, and this percentage has grown over time.

Additionally, the percentage of faculty members who are women is increasing over time.

Black and Hispanic women remain historically underrepresented in physics and astronomy. However, the number of Hispanic women earning physics and astronomy degrees is growing rapidly over time, while the number of Black women has not shown similar growth. Many physicists recognize this need to make the field more welcoming and accessible to minoritized groups, and there is increased attention on educating students about the many significant discoveries and accomplishments of women in physics. APS and other organizations and individuals are actively working to ensure physics is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

The future looks bright for all physicists!

Myth 5: Physics isn't relevant
to the real world and taking
it is a waste of time

Perhaps the most untrue myth about physics is that it has little relevance to the real world and taking it would be a waste of time.

Fact: Physics answers questions about the world that no other field can answer

Physics is fundamental to other fields and major advancements.

Physics is behind nearly every major technological innovation of the past century, including smart phone touch screens, high-speed internet, GPS, MRIs, solar power, and so much more. Physics also teaches 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 while studying physics. Physics also teaches you fun applications of everyday life, like basketball, lasers, and microwaves.

According to Kettering University's ABET survey of applied and engineering physics graduates, over 80% of surveyed employers agreed that physics majors:

  • Could easily grasp new knowledge and concepts
  • Were able to identify, formulate, and solve problems
  • Were able to successfully analyze and interpret data
  • Could competently use computer applications and databases
  • Were able to use current techniques/tools for technical practices
  • Could engage in continued learning and problem solving

These are just some of the careers you can have with a physics degree:

  • Biomedical engineer
  • Education policy advocate
  • Environmental scientist
  • Environmental transportation scientist
  • Health data analyst
  • Medical doctor
  • Policy advocate
  • Science writer
  • YouTuber
  • And many more

Discover even more physics career possibilities through APS's physicist profiles.


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Physics teaches foundational lessons about the natural world with useful applications for many careers.

Discover how much you can do with a degree in physics by seeing how others have put theirs to use.

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