Physics Degree vs Engineering Degree

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Jan 26 2024

Deciding what to study at university can be stressful, especially if you keep being asked about your plans. This decision can be made all the more difficult if you’re struggling to choose between two similar subjects, such as physics and engineering. This article will detail the differences between an engineering and a physics degree, and offer some helpful tips to help you decide between the two.


What does a physics degree involve?

During a physics degree, you’ll learn about the fundamental aspects of physics, from quantum mechanics to nuclear physics. You’ll study physics theories, learning about how they’ve informed our understanding of the world around us and the research processes behind them. A research-based project in your final year gives you the chance to showcase the skills you’ve learnt.

Many universities offer different types of physics degrees. For example, you could study physics with philosophy or astrophysics, or complete an integrated master’s degree.

What does an engineering degree involve?

Engineering students learn about how physics theories can be applied to design and build new products. Unlike a physics degree, which focuses mostly on the theoretical, an engineering degree allows you to develop more practical skills. You’ll learn valuable experimental and design skills, completing a large design project at the end of your degree.

Just like physics, there’s a range of engineering degrees to choose from. If you’re not sure which speciality you want to go into, you can complete a general engineering degree. Otherwise, you could choose to pursue a biomedical or electronic engineering degree. 

Why study physics?

A physics degree is a great option for someone who’s interested in conducting research, and answering the universe’s unsolved questions. After your degree, you could pursue a postgraduate degree or apprenticeship in an area of physics you’re passionate about. 

Once you’ve developed your niche, you could find yourself conducting research in a laboratory or university, maybe even making discoveries that improve the world for the better. 

While it’s an exciting career path, research isn’t the only option for physics graduates. You could choose to qualify as a physics teacher or lecturer, getting the next generation passionate about physics. A physics degree also provides you with transferable skills that are highly valued in many industries, from science communications to law. 

Why study engineering?

Studying engineering is a great option for someone who’s more practically-minded, given the hands-on experience the degree provides. Through tutorials and laboratory sessions, engineering students build, design and test a variety of products. This hands-on experience will help you secure a job in this innovative sector, but many engineering students even go on to set up their own companies. Imagine the feeling of seeing a product you helped design improving the world for the better.

Deciding between the two options

Try to learn as much as you can about the engineering and physics programmes at the universities you’re applying to. You could start by attending open days and workshops organised by the university, where you’ll be able to speak to lecturers and students about the details of the course. Ask questions about module choices, what graduates are doing now and what makes this course stand out. Similarly, you could connect with graduates on LinkedIn, and ask them about their university experience and how they decided what subject to study. 

Furthermore, many universities offer a dedicated engineering physics degree. This degree combines core physics principles with practical engineering experience, allowing you to get the best of both worlds. 

Can I become an engineer with a physics degree (or vice versa)?

Given the similarities between physics and engineering, this is definitely possible! You may wish to take a postgraduate course or apprenticeship to gain some more experience, and figure out whether you truly want to change careers. Luckily, most courses ask for physics or engineering qualifications.

Finally, you’ll need to explain to employers why you’re making a career change. Perhaps you spoke to someone already working in the field, or you had a personal experience that made you more interested in the field. As long as you can convey passion and enthusiasm for the sector, you’ll stand out to employers.