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Astrophyics or Physics

  1. Jan 28, 2008 #1
    I have applied this year to universtiy to study Astrophysics. However I have recently been having doubts over whether to study physics or Astrophysics, this is mainly due to being unsure of career prosepects (other than taking a PHD in astronomy or another science) with an Astrophysics degree. If I don't do a PHD is it true that I will have more career prospects, in careers other than science, if I do a physics degree than a Astrophysics degree?

    I would appreciate it if anyone could shed some light on this matter.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 28, 2008 #2
    In most programs, the astronomy/astrophysics degree is nearly identical to the physics degree for the first two years or so (with the exception of an introduction to astronomy course or two). My suggestion is to stick with what you've been accepted into now. You will have no problems at all switching to general physics if you decide later that you want to switch.

    As for graduate school prospects, in most cases, an astronomy/astrophysics degree is a physics degree, but a more specialized physics degree. I really don't think it makes any bit of difference to graduate schools if you want to pursue a physics Ph.D. whether you have a physics or astronomy/astrophysics bachelor's degree. If you wanted to pursue an astrophysics Ph.D. when you have a general physics bachelor's, you may need to take undergraduate-level astrophysics courses in order to prepare you for graduate-level astrophysics courses.

    Within the United States, bachelor's degrees aren't really that specialized. You will learn the same skill set pursuing an astronomy/astrophysics bachelor's as pursuing a physics bachelor's. As long as you communicate your skills well enough to a potential employer, I don't think having an astronomy/astrophysics bachelor's would be disadvantageous.

    I think you're thinking too far ahead. Wait until you're at least through your freshman year before trying to decide on the gritty details of your future.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2008
  4. Jan 28, 2008 #3
    Laura's given some good advice. Basically there's no appreciable difference between physics and astrophysics majors at the undergraduate level (this isn't always true at the PhD level, though). Either physics or astrophysics would be good preparation for a graduate career in either of the two areas. If my advisor were here, he'd probably suggest doing the physics major and taking a few astro courses (this coming from an astrophysicist). Personally I majored in physics as an undergrad, and I never took a single astronomy or astrophysics class. Yet somehow as a grad student, I've stumbled into astrophysics. I admit that my first semester astrophysics course was rather difficult since I've never seen this stuff before. But on the bright side, I did very well in my quantum mechanics and E&M courses, and by some miracle I managed to pass half of my qualifier before my first year. I'd certainly chalk that up to the intensive physics program my undergrad institution has. Whether you major in physics or astronomy, it's very important to get a solid grounding in classical mechanics, E&M, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics.

    However...you've asked about employment opportunities. In all honesty, physics/astronomy isn't the most employable undergrad degree. If you want a job, you either need to go to grad school, or choose a second major. If you aren't interested in grad school, I'd suggest double majoring in physics (or astro) and engineering. That'll make it a lot easier to get a job should you choose not to go to grad school.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2008
  5. Jan 29, 2008 #4


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    To echo the previous two posters.
    1, Both are physics degrees, you can call yourself a physicist and get physics jobs. The only thing that is different is what is written on your diploma.
    2, Most physics jobs just require being able to think - so both work.
    3, Astrophysics has a slight 'wow' factor to the general public, so it can impress people in interviews ;-)
    4, Do what you enjoy, the way to do well in a degree is to be studying a subject you love. But remember that astrophysics is just a lot of atomic physics, EM plus a bit of GR. Don't decide to do astrophysics because you have a telescope and can name stars.
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