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Astronomy or Physics degree?

  1. Jun 17, 2011 #1
    Hello, after recently graduating high school, I'm planning on going to college soon, and I got a couple of questions regarding Astronomy and Physics.

    First, after recently getting interested in Astronomy, and always being interested in Physics, my question is how much is physics/mathematics involved in Astronomy? Not knowing that much of it, I figured one of you guys could give me a quick run-down on the fundamental of Astronomy.

    Second, I read that if trying for a degree in Astronomy it's much better to already have a good knowledge of Physics to begin with, which leads me to ask, would it be better to just major in Physics and then minor in Astronomy?

    Forgive me if I'm not making that much sense, just wanting to know this kind of basic stuff before I get into the wrong classes.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2011 #2
    What colleges are you applying to? Look at their Physics department and see how their Astronomy degrees are structured. Usually it wont be called 'Astronomy' it will be an 'Astrophysics' degree. And yes, you're right, those studying Astronomy have a solid foundation in Physics.
  4. Jun 17, 2011 #3


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    Some colleges have separate astronomy departments, and some don't, it's just part of the physics department. Astronomy is a sub-field of physics - an astronomy major would require some of the courses from a physics major and basically all the math (calc I and II, linear algebra, differential equations, math for physicists).

    What do you plan to do with this degree? If you want to go to grad school for astronomy or physics, major in physics and take astronomy classes on the side, or as a major or minor along with physics. Astronomy grad schools require the physics GRE, and you need basically a physics major to pass it. If you don't plan to go to grad school, start thinking now about what you'll do with a major in astronomy - there aren't many jobs that require it.
  5. Jun 17, 2011 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    If you want a job as an astronomer, you should major in physics. You will need to go to graduate school, and most physics degrees are far better preparation for astro graduate school than astro degrees.
  6. Jun 17, 2011 #5
    Physics is a much safer choice, and there is little barrier to go in the astronomy direction with a physics degree. If you want to pursue a career in astronomy, take astronomy electives and by the time you finish your undergrad, you should have a better idea of what you want to do and what your next decision should be.
  7. Jun 17, 2011 #6


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    Astro departments are typically pretty small, so it may be risky to say on a college application that you have your heart set on doing an astronomy major. Physics departments tend to be bigger and better funded, partly because there is more grant money flowing for physics research, and partly because physics is a "service department," i.e., engineering and biology majors need to take it.

    The amount of undergrad coursework in astro required for an astro degree is typically very small, and the courses are much easier than the physics courses that you'd need to take in order to be a viable astro PhD student (i.e., all the same physics courses you'd need to get a physics degree).
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