Guide To Recruiting of Undergraduate Physics Majors

Version 2021.1

Recruiting includes promoting your undergraduate program, emphasizing its attractive features, and providing incentives for students who are not yet physics majors to join your program, in order to increase the number of majors and minors your department enrolls. This section includes guidance on how to develop a recruiting plan, promote the distinctive features of your program, and effectively recruit students at many stages, e.g., before they enter your institution, as they enter either directly from high school or as transfer students, and when they are in your introductory courses and courses for students in other programs at your institution. See the sections on Retention of Undergraduate Physics Majors and Departmental Culture and Climate for guidance on creating a program with a welcoming, inclusive, and student-focused culture that students want to join.


Effective recruiting practices increase the number of students entering your program and enrolled in courses, create and maintain community, increase the diversity of students coming into your program, and strengthen the viability, vibrancy, and climate of your department or program. Creating a successful recruiting plan enables faculty to contribute to the future of the discipline and the community.

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

Effective Practices

Effective Practices

  1. Develop a comprehensive and collaborative recruiting plan and review it regularly

  2. Create and promote flexible pathways for students to major or minor in physics

  3. Connect with students in introductory and, if appropriate, service courses

  4. Connect with prospective students and other students at your institution using existing infrastructure

  5. Connect with high schools and/or community colleges to recruit for your program

  6. Promote the distinctive features of your program

Programmatic Assessments

Programmatic Assessments

Reference 1 is an extensive study of the reasons students leave STEM majors, which successful recruiting practices must address. References 2–5 provide case studies and overviews of the features of physics programs that are successful at recruiting and retaining students. References 6 and 7 illustrate how the culture of physics often includes assumptions that only naturally brilliant students can succeed, the problems with such assumptions, and how adopting a “growth” mindset that assumes everyone can learn physics creates a culture in which more students feel welcome pursuing physics.

  1. E. Seymour and A.-B. Hunter (editors), Talking about Leaving Revisited: Persistence, Relocation, and Loss in Undergraduate STEM Education, Springer (2019).
  2. R. C. Hilborn, R. H. Howes, and K. S. Krane (editors), “Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics: Project Report” (SPIN-UP report), American Association of Physics Teachers (2003): Case studies are in Appendix VIII, pages 94–140.
  3. P. Heron, L. McNeil, et al. (editors), “Phys21: Preparing Physics Students for 21st-Century Careers,” American Physical Society (2016): Case studies are in Appendix 1, pages 52–66.
  4. AIP National Task Force to Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP), “The Time is Now: Systemic Changes for Increasing African Americans in Physics & Astronomy” American Institute of Physics (2020): Case studies are in Appendices 5 and 6, pages 126–149.
  5. J. Stewart, W. Oliver III, and G. Stewart, “Revitalizing an undergraduate physics program: A case study of the University of Arkansas,” American Journal of Physics, 81(12), 943–950 (2013).
  6. S.-J. Leslie, A. Cimpian, M. Meyer, and E. Freeland, “Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines,” Science, 347(6219) 262–265 (2015).
  7. R. E. Scherr, M. Plisch, K. E. Gray, G. Potvin, and T. Hodapp, “Fixed and growth mindsets in physics graduate admissions,” Physical Review Physics Education Research 13(2), 020133 (2017).
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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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