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Courses Is availability of astrophysics/astronomy courses important for an undergrad?

  1. Oct 22, 2011 #1
    My son, a high school senior, is on the verge of applying to college. The potential problem we are encountering is that he thinks he'll want to study astrophysics, but his top college choices are mostly small, liberal arts schools that offer neither astronomy or astrophysics as a major. And some appear to offer just 1-2 astronomy classes (though I suspect that they all offer at least that).

    The question we have is whether this really matters.

    I guess this question really addresses two things:

    First, if he attends a small college and majors in physics, will his actual course-work differ much from the experience of attending a school that offers a major in astronomy or astrophysics?

    Second, will he be at any disadvantage when it comes to applying to graduate school if he has taken very few astronomy or astrophysics classes?

    I suppose I'll also mention some schools he's currently considering, just in case anyone has any first-hand knowledge of their physics departments:

    Clark University (his first choice at the moment, but for the lack of a major in astrophysics)
    Washington University in St. Louis
    University of Rochester
    University of Wisconsin
    Franklin and Marshall
    University of Indiana
    Miami at Ohio

    Thanks for any thoughts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 22, 2011 #2


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    I have personal experience with several of the liberal arts colleges on your list. I know several people who have graduated from there, gone on to good grad programs in astronomy and physics, and who are now working in astronomy as a result. Those are all great choices. I attended a small liberal arts college myself (not one your son could attend), and did just fine in astronomy. Heck, a recent Nobel Prize winner in (astro)physics (John Mather) graduated from Swarthmore, another small liberal arts college. As long as they have a decent-sized physics department and hopefully employ at least one person doing some kind of astronomy research, he'll be fine. They don't need a separate astronomy program, and your son needs to major in physics anyway. Astronomy as a major as well would be nice, but it's not required, and not always offered. He needs a strong physics background to get into grad school for astrophysics.
  4. Oct 23, 2011 #3
    I asked a similar question recently. My situation is a little different (I'm a transfer student and my target school is disolving their Astronomy department), but I think some of the answers may offer a bit of insight. (The consensus seems to echo Eri's sentiment)

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