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Advice for choosing colleges that offer astronomy/astrophysics majors?

  1. Sep 13, 2008 #1
    I'm applying for college and I seriously think I want to major in astronomy or astrophysics

    I did some research online and sent emails, but information I gathered about astro-related majors in colleges is still not much. for example, I don't know whether liberal arts colleges provide good astronomy education. I can't find some relatively recent rankings about astronomy/astrophysics major in universities or LACs.

    can anybody help me out, plz? thx
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2008 #2
    One thing you might try is looking for which schools have good graduate astro programs, and then see how hard it is to do undergrad research there with professors.
  4. Sep 13, 2008 #3
    I also have a question regarding this.

    Could a Major in Astronomy and a Minor in Physics be good enough for a Astrophysics PH.D?
    Honestly I like Astronomy more, but I would rather be a Astrophysicist then a Astronomer.
  5. Sep 13, 2008 #4
    So, one thing to note is that these days, there is no difference between an astrophysicist and an astronomer. 100 years ago, the term "astrophysicist" was used specifically to refer to a scientist who used the new techniques of spectroscopy to study the physics of astronomical objects, while an "astronomer" was someone who calculated orbits, parallaxes, ephemerides, etc.

    The two jobs have merged nowadays; I can say that I'm an astronomer or an astrophysicist depending on how I feel that day (hence why many PhD programs are "Astronomy and Astrophysics Departments").

    But, to get to your actual question, a major in astronomy and a minor in physics would be completely satisfactory if you wanted to apply to astro grad schools. Generally undergrad astronomy programs have you do a decent amount of physics anyways, and, to be honest, the sort of research experiences and recommendations you have are *much* more important to grad application committees than whether you were a physics or an astronomy major.
  6. Sep 16, 2008 #5


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    Frankly, you'd be better off majoring in physics with a double-major or minor in astronomy. Astronomy, astrophysics, and physics graduate schools require a lot of upper-level physics classes, and with only a minor in physics, chances are you won't be prepared for masters-level classes. At my university, we've got a graduate physics department that includes astronomers, so we can get a PhD in physics while studying astronomy or astrophysics at the same time. This will be very useful for getting a job later on, because like it or not, they assume physicists can do astronomy but that astronomers can't do physics. Many of the physics PhD students studying astronomy hadn't taken any astronomy classes as an undergrad; physics taught them most of what they needed to know.

    Liberal arts colleges can be fine. I went to one for my double major in physics and astronomy, and students still got into big-name schools from there (Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell).
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