Best Theoretical Physics Universities in 2022-2023

Top global colleges and universities offering Theoretical Physics programs

About Theoretical Physics

Physics is a fascinating subject, particularly theoretical physics, which develops our fundamental understanding of the universe and lays the foundations of future. Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that explains, predicts, and rationalizes theorized physical laws using mathematical models and computer protocols. Theoretical physicists or mathematical physicists are professionals in this discipline who develop these theories to explain the complicated interactions between matter and energy that make up this universe. 

Theoretical physics, unlike other sciences, does not rely on experiments to collect data; instead, it develops theories based on observations and computations. This field is perfect for someone who enjoys physics in general, has considerable knowledge of physics and mathematics, and is willing to spend years learning and researching. The following content discusses the best colleges for theoretical physics in the world, the top programs offered by these colleges, and the salary and job outlook for theoretical physicists. 

Duties of Theoretical Physicists

Theoretical physicists deal with the “thought experiments”, i.e., the situations created in one’s mind rather than conducting actual experiments. These experiments attempt to solve not readily experienced in everyday situations such as time dilation, gravitational waves, etc. Therefore their duties and responsibilities vary greatly. Some of the most common duties performed by theoretical physicists can be summarized as follows:

  • Conduct research to explain physical phenomena using mathematical and computational models
  • Devise theories based on the observations and calculations 
  • Publish their research and findings 
  • Study the currently accepted theories as well as challenge and refine them
  • Develop computer methods and software for the development of new theories
  • Collaborate with other theoretical physicists for the advancement of the field 
  • Contribute to research in theoretical physics through peer-reviewed journals and articles 
  • Teach advanced theories and research in the theoretical physics to fellow students
  • Design scientific equipment for advancement of research 
  • Keep up with the latest research and developments in the field of physics

Popular degrees for pursuing a career in Theoretical Physics

Students begin their journey to become theoretical physicists with a bachelor’s degree in physics or mathematics which provides a strong foundation for their education. To advance their knowledge, they must obtain a specialized master’s degree in appropriate fields such as astrophysics or computational physics. After completing their master’s degree, the majority of students pursue a Ph.D. in order to engage in research and academia. The last step is to obtain a post-doctoral research degree, which is required for full-time employment as a mathematician or applied physicist.

Bachelor’s programs

  • B.Sc. in Theoretical Physics
  • B.S. in Physics
  • B.S. in Mathematics

Master’s programs

  • M.S. in Theoretical Physics
  • M.Sc. in Physics
  • M.S. in Mathematics
  • M.S. in Physical and Chemical Sciences: Theoretical Physics
  • M.Sc. in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics
  • MS. in Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics
  • M.Sc. in Theoretical and Computational Physics
  • MS. in Technical Physics
  • M.Sc. in Physics and Computational Physics 

Doctoral programs

  • Ph.D. in theoretical Physics
  • Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics
  • Ph.D. in Mathematical Physics
  • Ph.D. in Physics

Specializations in Theoretical Physics

The field of theoretical physics is vast, and there is always something new to discover. The goal of theoretical physics is to establish scientific hypotheses about the nature of time and the origin of the universe. Considering this, a prospective theoretical physicist can specialize in one of the following areas:

  • Quantum field theory
  • String theory
  • Dark matter
  • Relativity
  • Electrodynamics
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Nuclear physics
  • High-energy particle physics
  • Computational physics
  • Condensed matter physics

Duration of programs in Theoretical Physics

A theoretical physicist normally requires a doctorate in physics or mathematics, post-doctoral experience, and several years of learning and experience. A Ph.D. in theoretical physics can take four to seven years to complete. After earning a Ph.D., most people pursue post-doctoral research degrees for further training in the field that spans two to three years.

Country Bachelor’s Degree Master’s Degree Doctoral Degree Post-Doctoral Research Degree
USA and Canada 4 years 2 years 5-7 years 2-3 years
UK 3-4 years 1-2 years 4-7 years 2-3 years
Others 3-4 years 1-2 years 4-7 years 2-3 years

Career opportunities in Theoretical Physics

Theoretical physicists contribute significantly to the growth of our society by expanding our knowledge of nature and the complicated connection between matter and energy. Individuals working in this sector have the potential to provide useful expertise to a variety of industries. Some popular career options in theoretical physics are

  • Physicist
  • Theoretical physicist
  • Mathematical physicist
  • Scientific journalist
  • Consultant
  • Data analyst
  • Applications engineer
  • Professor

Average salaries for Theoretical Physicists

The job market for theoretical physicists appears to be promising, due to continuous advances in science and technology. They work for the government, the private sector, and universities. The following is a list of theoretical physicist salaries, broken down by entry-level, average, and experience levels.  

Country Entry-level salary in USD*/year Average salary in USD*/year Senior-level salary in USD*/year
Canada  54,288 (Salary Expert) 76,894 (Salary Expert) 95,357 (Salary Expert)
Australia 53,838 (Salary Expert) 76,131 (Salary Expert) 94,565 (Salary Expert)
UK 44,488 (Salary Expert) 63,012 (Salary Expert) 78,143 (Salary Expert)
USA 66,500 (Salary Expert) 94,190 (Salary Expert) 116,807 (Salary Expert)
Germany 50,418 (Salary Expert) 71,410 (Salary Expert) 88,557 (Salary Expert)
Japan 46,000 (Salary Expert) 65,252 (Salary Expert) 80,799 (Salary Expert)

*Note: All prices mentioned in the USD are for reference only. Exchange rates may vary from time to time and from country to country.

Top 50 universities in the world for Theoretical Physics based on subject rankings

QS Ranking Shanghai Ranking THE Ranking University Country Bachelor’s Programs Master’s Programs
1 4 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology USA Click Here Click Here
2 7 1 University of Oxford UK Click Here Click Here
3 2 4 Stanford University USA Click Here Click Here
3 3 5 University of Cambridge UK Click Here Click Here
5 1 2 Harvard University USA Click Here Click Here
6 9 2 California Institute of Technology USA Click Here Click Here
7 25 12 Imperial College London UK Click Here Click Here
10 10 10 University of Chicago USA Click Here Click Here
13 15 13 University of Pennsylvania USA Click Here Click Here
14 11 9 Yale University USA Click Here Click Here
19 8 11 Columbia University USA Click Here Click Here
20 6 7 Princeton University USA Click Here Click Here
21 12 22 Cornell University USA Click Here Click Here
23 24 35 University of Tokyo Japan Click Here Click Here
26 22 18 University of Toronto Canada Click Here Click Here
27 67 44 McGill University Canada Click Here Click Here
27 76 54 Australian National University Australia Click Here Click Here
32 5 8 University of California – Berkeley USA Click Here Click Here
33 37 61 Kyoto University Japan Click Here Click Here
35 47 35 King’s College London UK Click Here Click Here
37 33 33 University of Melbourne Australia Click Here Click Here
38 69 58 University of Sydney Australia Click Here Click Here
40 14 20 University of California – Los Angeles USA Click Here Click Here
42 27 26 New York University USA Click Here Click Here
43 65 70 University of New South Wales Australia Click Here Click Here
46 42 37 University of British Columbia Canada Click Here Click Here
47 51 54 University of Queensland Australia Click Here Click Here
63 57 42 Heidelberg University – Germany Germany Click Here Click Here
64 48 32 University of Munich Germany Click Here Click Here
67 41 47 University of Texas at Austin USA Click Here Click Here
78 97 158 Moscow State University Russia Click Here Click Here
82 55 48 University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign USA Click Here Click Here
82 301-400 162 Durham University UK Click Here Click Here
85 19 29 University of Washington – Seattle USA Click Here Click Here
108 101-150 111 University of Adelaide Australia Click Here Click Here
110 50 69 Utrecht University Netherlands Click Here Click Here
117 201-300 117 Queen Mary University of London UK Click Here Click Here
128 NA 74 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany Click Here Click Here
130 38 301-350 École Normale Supérieure France Click Here Click Here
146 57 68 University of California – Santa Barbara USA Click Here Click Here
149 151-200 201-250 University of Waterloo Canada Click Here Click Here
158 56 93 University of Maryland – College Park USA Click Here Click Here
171 151-200 197 Sapienza University of Rome Italy Click Here Click Here
207 101-150 201-250 Free University of Brussels Belgium Click Here Click Here
255 151-200 201-250 Tel Aviv University Israel Click Here Click Here
264 101-150 190 Rutgers University – New Brunswick USA Click Here Click Here
290 201-300 201-250 Griffith University Australia Click Here Click Here
NA 801-900 NA International School for Advanced Studies Italy Click Here Click Here
NA 92 NA Weizmann Institute of Science Israel Click Here Click Here

Top universities in the USA for Theoretical Physics

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for all physicists, including theoretical physicists, is projected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030. This is the best chance for international students to study in the USA. According to ranking agencies such as QS, Shanghai, and THE, institutions in the United States that offer theoretical physics courses are among the top ten universities in the world. They provide a variety of doctoral and graduate programs in theoretical physics. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Department of Defense are two of the country’s largest employers of theoretical physicists. They even hire candidates for assistant research and technical positions, even those with bachelor’s degrees in theoretical physics.

QS Ranking Shanghai Ranking THE Ranking University Country Bachelor’s Programs Master’s Programs
1 4 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology USA Click Here Click Here
3 2 4 Stanford University USA Click Here Click Here
5 1 2 Harvard University USA Click Here Click Here
6 9 2 California Institute of Technology USA Click Here Click Here
10 10 10 University of Chicago USA Click Here Click Here

Top universities in the UK for Theoretical Physics

Studying in the UK is the next best option for international students as research in physics and astronomy-related subjects is at a high level in the UK. The top universities in the UK offer the following master’s courses in theoretical physics:

  • M.Sc. in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics (University of Oxford)
  • M.Sc. in Theoretical Physics (King’s College London)
  • M.Sc. in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces (Imperial College London)
  • M.Sci. in Physics with Theoretical Physics (Imperial College London)
  • M.Phys. in Theoretical Physics (Durham University)

These UK universities also offer bachelor’s courses in theoretical physics, like

  • B.Sc. in Physics with Theoretical Physics (Imperial College London)
  • B.Sc. in Physics (Durham University)

In addition to these courses, the top UK universities are famous for their research-oriented degrees like Ph.D. and post-doctoral degrees in theoretical physics. 

QS Ranking Shanghai Ranking THE Ranking University Country Bachelor’s Programs Master’s Programs
2 7 1 University of Oxford UK Click Here Click Here
3 3 5 University of Cambridge UK Click Here Click Here
7 25 12 Imperial College London UK Click Here Click Here
35 47 35 King’s College London UK Click Here Click Here
82 301-400 162 Durham University UK Click Here Click Here

Top universities in Australia for Theoretical Physics

Many international students choose to study in Australia because of the country’s long history of welcoming overseas students. It also boasts one of the world’s highest immigrant rates. Doctoral and graduate studies in theoretical physics make up the majority of theoretical physics programs in Australia, with post-doctoral research jobs available at several universities. The following is a list of some of Australia’s top universities that offer master’s and bachelor’s degrees in theoretical physics.

QS Ranking Shanghai Ranking THE Ranking University Country Bachelor’s Programs Master’s Programs
27 76 54 Australian National University Australia Click Here Click Here
37 33 33 University of Melbourne Australia Click Here Click Here
38 69 58 University of Sydney Australia Click Here Click Here
43 65 70 University of New South Wales Australia Click Here Click Here
47 51 54 University of Queensland Australia Click Here Click Here

Top universities in Canada for Theoretical Physics

Because of its high level of life, economic freedom, and great educational programs, many international students opt to study in Canada. Conventional courses such as physics have broadened their scope in Canada. Doctoral and postgraduate degrees in theoretical physics are in more demand since they pay well. The following is a list of some of Canada’s best universities that offer master’s and bachelor’s degrees in theoretical physics.

QS Ranking Shanghai Ranking THE Ranking University Country Bachelor’s Programs Master’s Programs
26 22 18 University of Toronto Canada Click Here Click Here
27 67 44 McGill University Canada Click Here Click Here
46 42 37 University of British Columbia Canada Click Here Click Here
149 151-200 201-250 University of Waterloo Canada Click Here Click Here

Academic requirements for studying Theoretical Physics

Theoretical physicists attempt to invent and study theories to explain phenomena beyond current experiments using mathematical calculations and computational tools. Therefore, students interested in theoretical physics should have a broad understanding of physics, mathematics, and computational science. This will assist students in being accepted into the top universities in the world. Following is a list of academic requirements offered by some of the best universities offering courses in theoretical physics. 

Bachelor’s level

  • A high school education with a GPA of 3.0 or above on a 4.0 scale, including mathematics and physics, as core classes
  • Academic transcripts 
  • Valid passport
  • ACT score (varies from university to university)
  • Statement of purpose
  • Recommendation letter
  • English language proficiency (TOEFL 90 or above and IELTS 6.0 and above)

Master’s level

  • A bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics, mathematics or a relevant field with a GPA of 3.0 or greater (on a 4.0 scale)
  • Academic transcripts 
  • Valid passport
  • GRE score (varies from university to university)
  • Statement of purpose
  • Recommendation letters
  • Work experience (highly recommended) 
  • Research publications 
  • English language proficiency (TOEFL 90 or above and IELTS 6.0 and above)

Doctoral level

  • Honours or master’s degree in theoretical physics, mathematics or a relevant field with a GPA of at least 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) 
  • Academic transcripts 
  • Valid passport
  • Statement of purpose
  • Recommendation letters
  • Work experience (highly recommended) 
  • Research publications
  • Personal interview 
  • English language proficiency (TOEFL 90 or above and IELTS 6.0 and above)

*Note: All prices mentioned in the USD are for reference only. Exchange rates may vary from time to time and from country to country.

Frequently Asked Questions

The fundamental distinction between theoretical and experimental physics is that theoretical physics seeks to understand physical phenomena through the development of mathematical and computational theories, whereas experimental physics engages with experiments to test these theories.

The popular countries to study theoretical physics are the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, Israel, and the Netherlands. 

Yes, for those who are extremely talented in the field of physics and mathematics, theoretical physics is an excellent career choice. 

Becoming a theoretical physicist requires a lot of research and dedication. Most employers prefer candidates with a P.h.D as well as multiple post-doctoral degrees.