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Physics major vs astronomy major

  1. Dec 17, 2015 #1
    I am attending college next year but I am really confused between two majors.
    I am interested in astronomy and my dream is to pursue my career doing astronomy and I can wait to study astronomy in college. I know that astronomy is completely physics but I am confused whether should I choose astronomy or physics as a major because at one side I can't wait to study astro and on the other side I know that to be good at astro i have to get a good understanding of physicist as an undergrad.
    If possible please do explain the difference between these majors for an undergrad.(what are the main difference between these courses.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 17, 2015 #2


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    Becoming a professional astronomer means earning a PhD in astronomy, astrophysics, or physics. All of those graduate programs expect a strong physics background (major, usually the Physics GRE, etc). So major in physics and either double major in astronomy or take astronomy classes on the side. Astronomy on it's own does not include enough math and physics to prepare you for physics graduate programs.
  4. Dec 17, 2015 #3


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    I agree with eri.

    With respect to your education it's better to start out with a broad base and narrow as you go. There should be lots of room to take the same astronomy courses as an astronomy graduate student would in a physics program - or at least the majority of them. Then you'll be qualified for graduate school in astronomy, as well as any other branch of physics. An astronomy graduate may not be as diversely qualified, depending on the program.
  5. Dec 18, 2015 #4
    So should i do double major in maths and physics and then go for astro in graduate college or should i just do double major in physics and astro.
    I think first option has advantage as I will have pretty good base in maths and physics before I go for astro in graduate. If i am wrong be free to correct me.

    thanks a lot to everyone for helping me
  6. Dec 18, 2015 #5
    I'm currently in college, and it can often depend on the requirements for the degree program at your university or college. For example, at the university I plan to transfer to, a Physics degree only requires four math classes, Calculus I, II, III and Ordinary Differential Equations. But, taking more math classes like Probability and Statistics, Vector Analysis and Partial Differential Equations could really benefit me, since Physics is really built on top of pure mathematics.

    I'm going for an Astrophysics major at that university sooner or later, and the only difference between the Physics and Astrophysics major are two Astrophysics classes and some electives, so I'm still getting exposed to the same level of Physics with an Astrophysics degree.

    Double majors can be difficult, it all really depends on the situation and I'd recommend talking to some advisers. And outside advisers, talk to students, professors and people working in the field you want to work in. You'd be surprised at the amount of people who will contact you or email you back to discuss it. I've sent an email to a PhD Professor researching at Harvard and he sent me a short email back, and I've also talked to a graduate student on the phone at a university not too far from where I live.

    Personally, I'd recommend a Physics major with a minor in Math, a dual major could be good, but make sure you're up for the challenge. It is a large responsibility if there isn't as much crossover between the degrees(as in the degrees don't share many similar credit classes). As far as Astronomy, I'd recommend taking the basic Astronomy classes, and maybe looking into a minor if your college/university offers it. If not, you really want to go for the Physics, and I personally would say if you had to choose over Math or Astronomy(which to be honest, I don't think you should) I would pick the Math. But again, you shouldn't do this! Take some classes in everything to expand your horizons, and if you're going to go the Math/Physics route, at least take some Astronomy electives to broaden your horizon.
  7. Dec 18, 2015 #6


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    There's no "best" answer to this. In some schools a double major in physics and astronomy is just a matter of a few extra courses replacing electives. In others the double major more or less requires an additional year of study. The same goes for physics and math.

    The down side to taking a double major is that is cuts into your electives. Some people are perfectly fine with that because they would choose more physics/astro/math anyway. For me, I usually did the best when I could change gears for one course out of five and so there was a lot of value it taking those humanities electives.

    One way to figure out a solution to this is to sit down and outline the courses you would take as a physics major for all four years. Then look at the astro and math courses that you would want to take to fill up your electives. If your choices would put you on a path for a double major, then go for it. And remember, there's lots of time to change your mind if it doesn't work out.
  8. Dec 18, 2015 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    If you want a graduate degree in astronomy, get an undergraduate degree in physics. Many graduate programs are in departments of physics and astronomy, and they are often wary of admitting astronomy undergrads because experience is that they struggle with passing the qualifying exam.
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