Following the University's motto, 'Ever to Excel', the research in the School is focused in three main areas of excellence: astrophysics, condensed matter physics, and photonics. The School aims to undertake world-leading curiosity-driven research in these areas, which pushes the boundaries of fundamental science and is of high impact, with benefit to the UK and beyond.

The high visibility and the successes of the School are confirmed through top ratings in various national and international rankings: for example, the School of Physics and Astronomy in St Andrews, in a joint submission with Edinburgh, was ranked joint third in the UK in REF 2014.