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Astronomy vs Astrophysics programs

  1. Feb 14, 2009 #1
    I'm currently wrapping up my two year degree at community college and am looking to transfer to a 4 year university in a year. I'm looking to major in astronomy/astrophysics, but I'm not sure what the difference is between those two terms. To me, they almost seem interchangeable. Some universities have an astronomy program. Some universities have an astrophysics program.

    Are there any general differences I should take into consideration? Or are those two terms for roughly the same line of study? Would a graduate program in, say, astronomy have any preference between astronomy or astrophysics for the undergraduate program?

    One thing I have noticed: When I tell somebody I'm studying astronomy, I might as well have said "astrology." However, if I use the word "astrophysics," their jaws drop.

    Lastly, and this is only a semi-related question... How important is the "prestige" of the undergrad school in getting accepted into a graduate program? The specific example I'm thinking of is University of Maryland's Astronomy program vs Towson University (a much smaller school) and their Astrophysics track in their physics department.

    Towson would be much cheaper, but nobody's ever heard of Towson. Would that impact how grad schools would look at me?

    Thanks for taking the time to read all of this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2009 #2
    I am an astronomy major at the University of Maryland. I would have to look at other programs, but my first instinct is that the degrees are exactly the same. I have looked at Towson's astronomy program, and it looks pretty solid. It looks like it gives a solid background in physics, which is really necessary.

    At UMD, pretty much all of the astronomy majors are astronomy/physics double major, myself included. Like with the Towson program, there are only a couple extra classes to take in order to get the double major.

    I cannot talk about Towson, but Maryland offers plenty of research opportunities for undergraduates, in both the physics and astronomy departments. If you have any questions about the Maryland program, I can try to answer them.
  4. Feb 15, 2009 #3


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    Since you are planning on going to grad school, you might be better off just majoring in physics. Astronomy programs by themselves rarely require the amount of physics you need to succeed in a graduate program - double major in physics/astronomy at the least. Even astrophysics programs often don't require enough physics, especially if you end up in a physics and astronomy dept for grad school which requires you do a full physics PhD (which is much more versatile than just an astronomy PhD).

    The prestige of the program you enter will play some role, but other factors play a bigger role - your GPA, physics GRE scores (if they require them, and most will), and research experience. Spend at least one summer doing research at your university or in an REU program.
  5. Feb 15, 2009 #4
    I'm in the same situation. I'm in California, and the university of santa cruz offers a physics/astrophysics major. Does this look good? http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/
  6. Feb 15, 2009 #5


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    I'd say the minimum preparation, physics-wise, that you'd need for grad school would be intro physics I and II (mechanics and E&M), modern physics, math physics I and II, classical mechanics, thermodynamics & statistical mechanics, E&M, and quantum mechanics. Any extras (E&M II, QM II, astrophysics, electronics, solid state, etc) are good too, but I consider the above courses necessary based on my own experience in undergrad and grad school. Hopefully some other people will chime in with their recommendations.
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