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Top Astrophysics/Astronomy Universities (USA)

  1. Mar 15, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone,

    My brother is starting to look at colleges and I was wondering if anyone had input on the top astrophysics/astronomy schools in the nation. He's rather set on going to the University of Arizona as he claims it is a good school. However, other "good" schools remain unclear (especially to my parents and myself). Any suggestions on which schools he should take a look at? The obvious ones (MIT and CalTech) have been brought up. Looking more for the excellent schools that fly under the radar of the public eye.

    He's likely going to go for his PhD. Assume he won't have any problems getting in to the schools when making suggestions.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2012 #2


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    Your brother needs to earn a bachelors degree in physics before he can apply to graduate school, and it is highly discouraged to attend the same college for a bachelors and your MS/PhD. So it really doesn't matter all that much where he starts, because if he does very well he'll still have a shot at a top graduate program. While classes in astronomy will help, they aren't necessary - the physics major is. If the school he attends will let him double major in astronomy and physics, fine, but if it won't, it won't hurt him. So he just needs to find a school with a good physics program and hopefully a few astronomers/astrophysicists on staff who he can do research with while working on his bachelors. U of A is a great school. Pretty much any state university would be fine. Everyone has trouble getting into top schools like the ivies, MIT, and CalTech.
  4. Mar 15, 2012 #3


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    @ OP: U of A is a great school, with associations with top observatories, their own mirror-production facilities, and collaborations with NASA and others to develop instrumentation and reduce/analyse the data sent back by the probes. He could do a LOT worse.
  5. Mar 15, 2012 #4
    eri: Didn't know that getting a BS and MS/PhD from the same place was an issue. Could you explain? Kind of curious...I plan on getting a MS from the same place as my BS.
    What he (and even what I) was thinking was that most schools make it easier to get into grad school via undergrads at the same school. Usually you don't have to take the GRE, know professors for research, etc.

    The problem is, there are so many state schools. Some of them must be better than others. Can you offer some suggestions, if you could? The insight would be much appreciated.

    Thanks Turbo! Didn't know that U of A was that "involved" to say the least. Are there any other schools that you can think of that's on par with Arizona? It's always nice to have options, especially if your #1 pick doesn't work out....that's something I don't want to happen to him.

    Thanks to both of you!
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2012
  6. Mar 15, 2012 #5


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    I don't know how many other schools have comparable programs, but if your brother is unsure of which sub-field he might specialize in, he could do a lot worse. I have a young friend from Mongolia that was tapped to help construct instrumentation during his Freshman year. He was not highly skilled in electronics, but he got the chance to do some important work. He also got some extra money (tuition-offset, I believe) by running the campus' observatory during non-critical periods. Sometimes, local outreach is a really good thing.
  7. Mar 16, 2012 #6


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    Most of the jobs for astronomers are in academia - at colleges and universities, or related labs. In academia, it's seen as 'academic incest' to have all your degrees from the same school. You don't have different professors, you don't see new points of view, you don't work with new people, you don't make new connections, and it looks like you couldn't get into any other school, even coming from a great school - they only take their own students out of pity in most cases, pity because they couldn't get into any other schools. But you would still have to take the GRE and physics GRE, and they would be predisposed to not accepting you for those reasons I listed.

    U of A is a great school research-wise, but friends of mine who did undergrad and grad school there complained about the teaching. Their intro astronomy class enrolls about 700 students, and they hold it in a huge auditorium. My friends who attended got great research experience but really felt as though most of the professors past the intro level didn't care about teaching at all. This is often the case at large state schools, where you might not even meet your professor - classes are often taught by graduate students instead.

    Other great schools for astronomy and physics to look into, assuming your brother is a fantastic applicant with a shot at most good programs, would include most of the ivies, MIT, CalTech, U Chicago, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, U Washington (Seattle), UT Austin, U Michigan, U Wisconsin, UVA, UMass Amherst, Rutgers, U Rochester, U Hawaii, and UNC Chapel Hill. Also, any high ranked liberal arts college with at least 4 faculty members in physics.
  8. Mar 16, 2012 #7
    So...this is even the case if he were to go to U of A for his BS? Would employers look down on this? Can it be compared to the attitude towards a thesis versus non-thesis based masters?

    Thanks for the list of schools. It will definitely give him options.

    Turbo, he has a plan, I just don't know the gruesome details. It's good to know that U of A gets undergrads involved.

    Do you have any thoughts on what Eri is saying about getting your BS and MS/PhD at the same school?
  9. Mar 17, 2012 #8
    For observational astronomy, it's one of the best schools in the world, certainly better than MIT in that area. It's also incredbly difficult to get into the graduate program there, although I'd imagine it's a fine school for undergraduate.

    For undergraduate, the main thing that you want is a school that doesn't destroy your interest in astronomy and astrophysics.

    The standard reference for this sort of thing is

    http://www.aip.org/pubs/books/graduate.html [Broken]

    It covers graduate programs, but it is a good summary of what research is being done where.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  10. Mar 17, 2012 #9
    I think it's a terrible idea to get your BS and MS/Ph.D. from the same school. One thing about moving between schools is that you get to see how research can be done in different ways, and get an appreciation for the differences between schools.

    Getting pushed out of some school that you love going to is a somewhat painful experience, but it's important for ones education.
  11. Mar 17, 2012 #10
    Thanks twofish-quant. I'll pass your advice on.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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