Guide to Retention of Undergraduate Physics Majors

Version 1. January 28, 2021

Retention includes ensuring that students who are already physics majors complete your program. This section focuses on strategies for creating a welcoming, inclusive, and student-focused environment in which students feel they are a part of a community and are more likely to stay. Successful retention strategies include improving curriculum, degree programs, and support structures for students, which are implemented throughout all years, with particular focus on the first and second years. For guidance on recruiting students who have not yet decided to major in physics, see the section on Recruiting of Undergraduate Physics Majors.


Effective retention strategies are critical to increasing the number of graduates from your program; creating and maintaining a healthy, inclusive community; increasing the diversity of students in your program; and strengthening the viability, vibrancy, and climate of your department or program. Having larger and more diverse cohorts of students can enable your program to offer more diverse courses and opportunities for students, to facilitate better study groups, and to provide an environment in which students with diverse backgrounds and aspirations will feel welcome and succeed. These factors increase students’ and faculty members’ sense of being part of a community working together toward common goals and building camaraderie, where students can both take leadership and get peer support to work through challenges. Creating a successful retention plan enables faculty to contribute to the future of the discipline and the community. Retaining the students who are already in your program is cheaper and more effective than recruiting new ones, although recruiting is still important (see the section on Recruiting of Undergraduate Physics Majors for details).

Effective Practices

  1. Make retention an explicit goal that your entire program supports through a comprehensive plan

  2. Nurture a community atmosphere and a departmental identity, culture, and climate of respect and student advocacy

  3. Implement a relevant, high-quality, accessible curriculum that is supported throughout your institution

  4. Offer degree programs or tracks that are flexible and relevant for students with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and career aspirations

  5. Create and leverage support structures for students

Programmatic Assessments

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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