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Astronomy Courses and Training Programs

Astronomy degree programs cover celestial objects, including planets, the moon and other objects outside the Earth's atmosphere. Learn about undergraduate and graduate degree programs in astronomy, as well as tips for choosing a school and career options.

What I Need to Know

Those who wish to pursue a degree in astronomy may receive a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or go on to the graduate or doctoral level. Expect math and science courses as astronomy and physics are closely linked. Upon graduation at the undergraduate level, you may find employment developing software, teaching, or working as a museum curator.

Programs B.A and B.S. programs available in astronomy; Master of Science in Astronomy, Master of Arts in Teaching
Courses Quantum mechanics, astrophysics, cosmology
Schools Look for equipment available to students, connections to research institutes, internship opportunities

What's the Difference Between a B.S. and a B.A. in Astronomy?

At the undergraduate level, many schools offer both Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Astronomy programs. A B.A. program generally requires fewer core courses, allowing you to double major in another field, such as education. On the other hand, a B.S. program is generally recommended if you want to pursue graduate school and may include a senior research project in the curriculum. You'll likely be taking physics and astronomy courses in some of the following areas of interest:

  • Quarks
  • Quasars
  • Nanoscience
  • Physics of sound
  • Origins of the Universe
  • Evolution of life on Earth
  • Stars and galaxies
  • The solar system
  • Astrophysics

What Classes Will I Take in an Advanced Degree Program?

You may take laboratory courses to supplement classroom material in an advanced degree program. Complete online learning options are generally not available for astronomy, though some introductory astronomy courses are either conducted wholly online or have online laboratories. Astronomy courses may cover the following topics:

  • Quantum mechanics
  • Radio astronomy
  • Galaxy and stellar structures
  • Life in the solar system
  • Cosmology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

What Are Graduate Programs Like?

Admission into a master's or doctoral degree program in astronomy can be competitive. Previous coursework in astronomy may not be required, though a background in physics is generally useful. In addition to the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), you may have to take candidacy examinations before you are permitted to conduct research.

A Master of Science in Astronomy program may be terminal, which means that it does not lead to a doctoral degree program. You can typically complete master's degree programs in four semesters, culminating in a thesis research project or a non-thesis qualifying examination. In a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Astronomy program, you need to complete a dissertation based on independent research and defend your research in a final oral examination before graduating. In some cases, doctoral candidates must also complete a teaching practicum, wherein you act as a teaching assistant or present lectures.

What Should I Look for in a School?

Facilities and equipment on campus - such as telescopes and observatories - may enhance what you get out of an astronomy program. A school's connections to important institutions in the field may also benefit you. For example, some schools work closely with professional research institutes, such as the Argonne National Laboratory. You may wish to pursue and complete a research-oriented internship to gain additional career training.

Research experience can be a crucial asset if you want to go to graduate school, so you may want to look for schools that offer such opportunities to undergraduate students. Some programs even have an undergraduate research journal where you can have your independent research published and recognized in a professional setting. Additionally, in some cases, seniors can complete an independent research thesis for honors credit.

What Can I Do After Graduating?

Those with a bachelor's degree in astronomy may continue their education in graduate school, which can produce more job opportunities. For example, with a Ph.D. in Astronomy, you are qualified to work as a professor or researcher at private or government research institutes. However, if you choose not to pursue a graduate degree, you may find careers in the following fields:

  • Secondary school teaching
  • Engineering
  • Museum curating
  • Consulting
  • Software developing