Can I become a physicist without going to university?

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Nov 02 2022

University is not for everyone, and not doing a degree doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your dream physics career.


What does a physicist do?

Physicists are scientists who specialise in the field of physics. Physicists study the universe and key phenomena, in order to understand where it came from and what it can do. Such knowledge can be applied to new inventions and developments in a range of fields.

Given the broad range of physics subjects, physicists typically specialise in the area they’re most interested in. For example, biophysicists study how biological systems like photosynthesis are affected by the laws of physics, while nuclear physicists come up with ways to improve or repurpose nuclear energy.

Becoming a physicist without going to university - what are my options?

Vocational qualification

Completing a vocational qualification is a great way for you to learn more about physics and the career opportunities available. These courses are designed alongside industry professionals, providing you with insights into the profession. You’ll receive an education, but will also have allocated time to gain practical work experience. Completing a vocational qualification in a physics-related subject (for example, the Level 3 BTEC in Applied Science) shows to employers that you’re passionate about physics, and have a number of practical skills.


Another option is to complete a physics diploma or certificate. Completing a diploma has a number of advantages: it’s cheaper and faster than a degree (two years vs three), and allows you to gain specialised knowledge in the field of physics.. 

Diplomas are also particularly useful to learn more about your area of interest. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a nuclear physicist, completing a certificate in nuclear research shows employers you have specialised skills. Many diplomas are offered online for flexibility, such as the Diploma of Higher Education in Physics by the Open University. 


An apprenticeship provides you with the best of both worlds: work experience and an education. As an apprentice, you’ll spend a minimum of 20% of your time receiving training, with the rest of your time completing work experience in your area of interest. 

As an apprentice, you won’t have to pay the costs of your training (or subsequent qualification) and will receive a salary for your work experience. There are apprenticeships to suit anyone, no matter your level of education, with apprenticeships equivalent to GCSEs or master’s degrees on offer.

The Level 7 research scientist degree apprenticeship is a 30-month course aimed at scientists (i.e physicists). Once you finish your apprenticeship, you’ll receive a qualification equivalent to a master’s degree.

Many employers offer full-time jobs to their apprentices once they’ve finished, but even if they don’t, the practical experience you will have gained will be highly valued by potential employers.