1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Programs Liberal Arts major and hard science Phd?

  1. Feb 28, 2012 #1
    Is it possible, or worth the trouble?

    A little background info: I'm currently a freshman at a small liberal arts college. I didn't give much thought to anything outside of the humanities when I chose to come here because I wanted to go to law school, which doesn't require any prerequisites. I have since however developed a strong interest in astronomy and astrophysics, and would love more than anything to attend a grad school in planetary astronomy.

    The problem is my school is kind of odd (would prefer not to out myself by naming it) in the sense that I do not have the option of majoring in physics, or any sort of hard science. If I stay here and still pursue astronomy, in order to get the knowledge base I will either have to:

    -take classes in the summer
    -take online classes concurrent with my existing curriculum, or
    -self teach

    Of course I also know that to be competitive I'll have to find a way to get some research experience (I'm gathering that this will involve spending summers at another university). If anyone knows anything pertaining to my situation I would love to hear it (even if just to tell me to transfer somewhere else - though I otherwise am quite satisfied here and I'm hoping that there is in fact a way to make this work).

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 28, 2012 #2


    User Avatar

    You'll need a physics major and classes in astronomy, math, and computer science, as well as some research experience, to be a competitive applicant for a PhD program in astronomy or physics. If you can't major in physics at your own school, transfer somewhere you can. Even if you could teach yourself advanced physics, you'd have no way of demonstrating your knowledge to a graduate program. And they don't offer advanced physics classes over the summer.
  4. Feb 28, 2012 #3
    It's possible to enter a graduate program in physics or astronomy without a physics or astronomy degree; however, you will need to make up the typical undergraduate courses before you start graduate courses.

    Does your school have a mathematics department?
  5. Feb 28, 2012 #4
    Yes, but not the kind of classes I'd need for grad school.
  6. Feb 28, 2012 #5
    But mathematics courses are very important in physics and astronomy. If you don't want to leave your school, try to double major in mathematics or at least get a minor. It would be beneficial for graduate school.

    Your best option would be to transfer though.
  7. Feb 28, 2012 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Another option would be to take the additional courses you need somewhere else as a non-matriculated student, but make sure the courses you need don't have major restrictions that would keep you from taking them as a non-matriculated student. The only real benefit is if you'd lose credit for general education courses and have to redo those in addition to the new major coursework if you transfer.
  8. Feb 29, 2012 #7

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    No hard sciences, no mathematics that will help you? This sounds like a Great Books college. If so, it will leave you completely unprepared for graduate school. In three summers, you are not going to be able to shoehorn in an entire physics curriculum.

    You'll have some decisions to make.
  9. Feb 29, 2012 #8


    User Avatar

    Most grad schools won't mind if you have to take one or two undergraduate courses to catch up. Many students get into grad school in physics from liberal arts colleges, but might need to take something not offered at their own school first, like Quantum II. I had to do that. But they're not going to want to take you if it's going to take you more than a year to start grad courses - why should they? They've got plenty of applicants who don't need an extra year to catch up. If you really want grad school in physics to be an option, transfer somewhere with a physics major and opportunities for undergraduate research. That could easily be another liberal arts college. Or a university. Either way.
  10. Mar 1, 2012 #9
    Why not go to law school and specialise in space law?


    You could get a space science BSc degree/Certificate part time. The Open University has some good distance education classes in this area, and an international reputation for 'planetary science' research:


    It's a British University, but for a space lawyer an international qualifications would (surely?) look good on the CV...

    You could be the first lawyer in space!
  11. Mar 1, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    You might want to start by reading this:


  12. Mar 1, 2012 #11
    If I were you, I'd transfer out of that school as soon as possible. It's the easiest way.
  13. Mar 1, 2012 #12
    I know enough about law to know that space law as a field doesn't really exist. It would be like trying to be an international human rights lawyer before the UN existed.

    I have read through your article on the sticky. The problem is, as has been pointed out, that even if I had the knowledge required to do well on the PGRE grad schools wouldn't take me seriously if I didn't have hard physics classes on my transcript (of course, that's already making the rather large assumption that I would not need a full courseload of such classes to do well).

    Yeah, it looks like this is probably going to be my only reasonable option if I want to pursue this course. :(
  14. Mar 2, 2012 #13
    Of course it exists! Did you read the Wikipedia page? It might be difficult to get into, but the same is true about any space stuff...
  15. Mar 2, 2012 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Maybe we could send a whole bunch of them to Mars...

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  16. Mar 10, 2012 #15
    It's possible to get into grad school without having a major in the subject you wish to pursue, but you would need substantial background in the subject and you would probably not be a very competitive applicant. You also might have to start as a master's student rather than going straight to the PhD program.
  17. Mar 10, 2012 #16
    What are we talking here? I mean, what related courses does your college offer?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook