Transfer Students

Transfer Students

Greetings! And welcome to UCSB Physics! Quite a few physics majors come to UCSB as transfers. We're working to make that transition as smooth and successful as possible. This page gathers some links, addresses, and other information that we hope will be useful to you (transfer students). This is a work in progress; so please let us know your comments, suggestions and requests, both now and after you've been at UCSB for awhile.


Please note changes to the Scholarship policy, specifically regarding Regulation 45: Minimum Cumulative Progess. You can find out more by accessing the Academic Senate website.

Where do I start?

You've completed a year or more of coursework in physics at another college, perhaps a junior college. So, where should you start at UCSB? Answer this question by trying the exams for the 2-year undergraduate physics class at UCSB, Physics 21-25. If you can complete roughly 70% of all these exams without difficulty, you are adequately prepared to take upper division courses in Physics. The practice exams below are in PDF format.

Physics 21

Physics 22

Physics 23 

Physics 24

Physics 25

Exams from lower-division physics

Take an exam to test your background. From the course descriptions (on UCSB General Catalog), decide where your undergraduate coursework ended; then take the exam for that course. Midterms should take 50 minutes, finals 3 hours. Feel free to use a textbook. If you can't do more than 70% of the exam, back up a quarter. Repeat until you determine at what point you should enter UCSB's introductory sequence. In any case, you should have a frank discussion with the Transfer Advisor within your first couple of weeks at UCSB.

Spiral approach to physics

Physics is usually taught in "spiral" fashion. You saw the harmonic oscillator in introductory physics. You'll see it again in Mechanics (103), Quantum Mechanics (115), and Advanced Quantum Mechanics (215); and condensed matter, astrophysics, string theory etc if you study those. Therefore, your success in upper division courses at UCSB will rely on your mastery of the material covered in Phys 21-25.

Research groups

The strong reputation of UCSB Physics is based largely on research -- and you should make the most of that focus during your time here! Plenty of research groups need help from undergraduates: for course credit, for pay, or just for the experience. A strong letter from a research advisor can work wonders in getting into grad school or getting an excellent job. And, a research group can provide a familiar "niche," where you can get to know professors and grad students presonally at this huge institution.

How can I get involved in research?

The experimental astrophysics class, Phys 134L (course description on UCSB General Catalog) offers opportunities in that field. An undergraduate honors thesis is another way in doing research for credit. Try attending a few of the zillions of seminars offered in Physics and related departments and institutes. If the seminar seems incomprehensible: then walk out; the professors probably wish they could! The Graduate Seminar offers a mix of informal talks by professors about their research, and talks by alums of the program about their (usually non-academic) careers. Best of all, stroll up to a professor whose field you find interesting and ask about his or her work.

Throw yourself into physics!

Regardless of how good your previous physics courses have been, you are joining a program that is built around a course sequence you did not take: Physics 20-25. So there will probably be gaps in what you know, relative to what Professors expect. Start out by working hard on your courses, to give yourself a chance to equilibrate with your peers who have been at UCSB longer.

Keep it simple

Any move to a new place involves plenty of extra work and stress. If you can, arrive in Santa Barbara before classes start, get your housing set up, figure out your transportation and shopping, and learn your way around. Then, when courses start, you can devote 100% to those.

Course schedule

Many transfer students arrive at UCSB at the start of the junior year, and will have completed courses equivalent to Physics 20-25, and Math 3AB, 4AB and 6AB, at another institution. In this case, the best progression is to pick up the "Standard Track" shown in the chart below. 

Course schedule to complete your degree - Standard Track

Junior Phys 103
Phys 115A
Phys 127AL
Phys 101
Phys 104
Phys 115B
Phys 115C
Phys 128AL
Senior Phys 110A
Phys 119A
Phys 110B
Phys Elective
Phys Elective
Phys Elective


The courses listed by number on this chart form the backbone of Physics education at UCSB. Most Physics students around the world take similar classes. The numbered classes are taught, in the quarters indicated, every year. PHYS 103 is also offered in the Summer Sessions, and so is 127AL. This provides some welcome flexibility. Note: a lab research project can be substituted for some lab requirements.

Electives can be trickier to catch. Not all Physics Electives are taught every year; some (like 132 and 133) are taught every other year, and others only when enough interested faculty can be spared from core courses. The department's best estimate of the course schedule is given by the Faculty Teaching Assignments. Some popular electives notably PHYS 123AB (Condensed Matter Physics), and PHYS 125 (Elementary Particle Physics) require PHYS 115A (Quantum Mechanics). Obtaining credit for research work is an excellent way to form your own elective. Check with a professor!

Grad school

If you arrive at UCSB as a junior, and want to go to grad school after graduation, you should start preparation immediately. Admission to grad school depends on 3 things: GPA, GRE, and Letters of Recommendation. As Prof. Antonucci will tell you, it's better to take 2 classes and get A's than to get 3 and get B's! So, GPA is about taking a reasonable load and doing consistent work. You want the GPA between 3.50 and 3.75 to be competive. GRE's are a lot like the SAT; preparatory courses can help. It's a good idea to take the GREs at least as early as fall of senior year, so that you can take them again if it doesn't go as well as hoped. Letters of Recommendation have much more force from someone you've done research with, than from a professor in a class. "This person devised a way of soldering cables that saved everyone else in the lab a month" is one of the strongest comments that a letter can have. If you want to go to grad school after senior year, you should look for research work, and start thinking about the GRE's, junior year.

B.A. or B.S.?

The B.S. includes more coursework in Physics and can be considered better preparation for graduate study -- if the grades are excellent. Particularly if you make sure to complete the core subjects of Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Quantum Mechanics, and Thermodynamics (plus Statistical Physics) with excellent grades, the B.A. can be good preparation for graduate study as well. Many transfers come in with a lot of credits outside Physics, and lots of motivation to get to grad school quickly. If you are in this category, then the B.A. will be a good option. Grad-school admissions committees won't notice whether you have a B.S. or a B.A.; they will definitely notice whether you have a 3.7 or 3.3 GPA.


The Department's FAQ page for prospective students has some useful links and perspective. Also, you can access the UCSB Physics Undergraduate Handbook online.



Transfer advisor 

All transfer students should chat with the transfer advisor during their first weeks in the program: