Engineering Physics Master's Program

The M.S. in Engineering Physics program at Appalachian State University offers hands-on, laboratory-based courses that prepare students for entry into industry or a Ph.D. program. We work closely with our industry partners to ensure that our curriculum is modern and relevant. Graduates of this program tend to have tremendous flexibility in their careers because they can bridge the gap between scientists, engineers, and technicians, which make them highly valuable to companies and research labs.  Most of our courses have a three hour lab associated with it which provides students with vast amount of experience so that they are well prepared for future endeavors.

A hiring manager at one company that has hired many of the MS Engineering students in the last several years said, Overall, I’ve been impressed by the graduates that have come to interview.  It is rare we see someone from a different program that competes with the experience and professionalism that you and your team are able to develop with your students.

Over the last two years, of all our students who started searching for a job in the field before graduation

  • 86.4% received an offer before graduation and 
  • 100% received an offer within two months of graduation. 

The total employment rate within six months of graduation was 96.0% in the last several years. The average starting salary is $78,000.

The purpose of all concentrations is to prepare students for technical careers in industrial, governmental and independent laboratories. Graduates are also well prepared for a Ph.D. program. Students of the M.S. in Engineering Physics degree typically enter the program with little or no engineering experience and leave with a broad foundation in fundamental physics, hands-on practical and theoretical training in electrical engineering, and experience in software engineering for automation and robotics.

In addition, they have the troubleshooting and problem-solving techniques and tools for dealing with sophisticated technical problems and the versatility required for long-term success in a rapidly evolving technical environment. Our graduates are very competitive in the job market and have been very successful in both industry and Ph.D. programs.  Graduates that do not pursue a Ph.D. program tend to get jobs as Systems Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Computer Programmers, Telescope Operators, Modelling and Simulation Engineers, and Test Engineers.  

The three concentrations that are offered are:

  1. Systems and Laboratory Automation Concentration
  2. Professional Science Master's (PSM) Concentration in Instrumentation and Automation
  3. Professional Science Master's (PSM) Concentration in Nanoscience for Advanced Materials

Two of the concentrations are Professional Science Master's (PSM) concentration. PSMs are a nationally affiliated degree that includes advanced training in engineering physics, along with technical writing and MBA coursework. In addition, many of our PSM students choose to pursue a dual degree with the MBA program. Overall, about 20% of our students spend an extra year to receive both an M.S. and an MBA. If business is not interesting to you, our systems and laboratory automation concentration allows you the flexibility to take engineering physics courses only or to pursue some coursework in other departments such as technology, mathematics, or computer science. This concentration also has a thesis option.

The M.S. Engineering Physics program has been hailed by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) as among the unranked list of the top 13 programs of Masters-granting institutions nationwide [PDF]. Our graduate faculty - those that teach and/or do research with graduate students - includes Dr. François Amet, Dr. Michael Briley, Dr. Jennifer Burris, Dr. Anthony Calamai, Dr. Daniel Caton, Dr. Sid Clements, Dr. Tonya Coffey, Dr. Richard Gray, Dr. Brooke Hester, Brad Johnson, Ben Madison, Dr. Courtney McGahee, Dr. James Sherman, and Dr. Chris Thaxton. The faculty have extensive experience in industry, government agencies, and academics in fields ranging from electrostatics for NASA missions, to nano-scale materials characterization, stellar and Earth atmospheric studies, granular flows and fluid dynamics, atmospheric physics, biophysics, and optics. Primarily, the graduate curriculum and graduate student projects are focused on the Physics of Engineering - specifically of the study and development of instrumentation and automation for applications such as remote sensing, signal processing, astronomical control systems, manufacturing and testing controls, and robotics.

 Our program also has dual masters' degrees with the following programs (typically takes 2.5-3 years to complete) . . . 

  1. Business Administration (MBA)
  2. Mathematics
  3. Technology - Renewable Energy Engineering (official Fall 2019)
  4. Technology - Appropriate Technology (official Fall 2019)
  5. Applied Data Analytics (will be official in Spring 2020)

Application for admission to the program is open to any graduate of an accredited college or university who holds a bachelor's degree in physics, engineering, computer science, electronics, mathematics, or a related area.  The GRE can be waived for students that have a B average in their core Physics and Mathematics courses.

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Testimonies from our Alumni

  • "The PSM program at Appalachian State is a unique, diverse, and caring community where faculty focus on developing the best engineers possible.  From my experience, graduates come out of the program highly competitive and I have not found more reliable graduates out of any other program in North Carolina. Personally, the experience I earned and mentoring I received allowed me to immediately outperform engineers in the automation industry.  The additional MBA exposure and holistic approach to problem solving gives me an edge when discussing valuable topics with customer ownership as well as planning the future for my current company.   My work at App State allowed me to accelerate my career, and I'm excited for any chance we get to interview another mountaineer." - Ty Rinholm '14
  • "Troubleshooting and debugging can be one of the most frustrating and time-consuming components of engineering any novel embedded system or algorithm.  The Engineering Physics program provides students with ample opportunities and just the right amount of guidance to self-learn critical hardware/software debugging techniques.  The hands-on approach focus in lab to mastering embedded systems design and automation provided skills that were immediately useful for getting a brand new lab up and running."   - Reed Gurchiek '18
  • "The Engineering Physics program opened up opportunities and possibilities that led me to a place of creative freedom in the automation industry.  I am now able to participate in pushing technology forward and making the data collection and analysis process more streamlined and accessible to researchers." - Jenni Meyer '14
  • "The Engineering Physics program has given me a sense of accomplishment and confidence that has gone a long way for me in the corporate-engineering world and helped me advance my career.  I push this program every day even though I live 3000+ miles away.  My educational experience still holds with me every day - I reference projects, teachers, classes, and experiences regularly." - Scott Rodesiler '18
  • "I wouldn't trade my time at the ASU Physics and Astronomy department for the world!  I am still filled with wonder and awe at what I learned with this program."  - Lelyn Masters '16
  • "This program allowed me the knowledge and tools to pursue a career in automation seriously, and the fun the professors have with the lessons were inspiring." - Alfred Scher '17
  • "The Engineering Phyics master's program set me up to be very successful at National Instruments.  I chose the Professional Science Master's route which helped me bridge the divide between business and science/engineering.  This set me apart from my peers and has accelerated my career in industry."   - Josh Brehm '12
  • "This program has amazing teachers and well-structured courses that go beyond delivering the technical content; they train you to be an efficient problem solver.  This program develops a variety of major skillsets simultaneously, which not only provided a wide selection of careers to choose from when I graduated, it made my experience in the program more exciting." - Mary Clements '18
  • "The Engineering Physics program has helped me have a broad-spectrum education in software and hardware.  Working in industrial automation, there's firmware programming, hardware design/wiring, and software work.  It helps to have a diverse education and be very versatile to pick up new tasks and skills quickly.  It's led me to be one of the employees at my company that can jump around between all different types of control technologies and software projects and be a successful part of the team." - Nikolai Hesterberg '16
  • "I was an undergraduate at Appalachian State University and liked it so much I decided to come back for their Systems and Laboratory Automation Engineering Physics master's concentration.  I was not disappointed.  The Engineering Physics master's program was phenomenal.  The instructors are friendly, approachable, intelligent, articulate, and qualified.  They care about you.  The student population when I was there was priceless and friendly.  It was very much a community.  The program is superior at exposing you to the material and giving you the opportunity to learn hands-on.  It also helped give me cognitive tools for success and how to think about problems.  It is a good and fun degree for anyone who likes science, physics, programming, interfacing, and solving problems.  I would still be there if I could.  For me, the best strength of this degree is that you can learn to learn anything." - Z. P. '16
  • "The Engineering Physics master's program taught me both individual skills (coding, calibrating sensors, digramming and diagnosing circuitry, operating a Scanning Electron Microcsope, etc.) as well as a strong set of generalizable problem-solving and communication abilities that have been invaluable to me in my career.  As far as what I have observed of other members of my cohort, I can confidently say that graduates have skills that are both very hireable, as well as inbuing them with critical thinking and communication skills that leave them more well-rounded individuals as a whole." - Sam Volstad '16
  • "Bar none, the best value for the money in setting students on a firm path for a technical career in any number of organizations.  I learned the fundamentals of computing and electronics which underpins much of modern society.   This base-line knowledge has allowed me to better understand and more quickly assimilate a range of topics in my field of telecommunication network technologies that extends into networking gear and electronics and prevailing communication protocols at a more fundamental level of understanding beyond my peers." - Paul Tyma '13
  • “The Engineering Physics program at ASU gave me an excellent foundation on which to build my technical skills.  The focus on real-world troubleshooting of circuits and software applications, as well as the emphasis on ‘learning on the fly,’ has been crucial to my success as a controls engineer in an R&D environment, where the task at hand changes daily, and the requirements are a constantly moving target.”  - Anna Morris '10

For more information, contact the program director - Courtney McGahee (; 828-262-2047).

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Physics graduate students group photo