Last Updated on August 28, 2023
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Degrees for astronomy
What You Need to Know About Becoming an Astronomy Major
Most programs are designed to provide students with the research experience and core knowledge for graduate-level work in astronomy, astrophysics or physics. (GETTY IMAGES)
An astronomy and astrophysics major studies how the universe formed and the stars, planets, black holes, dark matter and galaxies that exist within it. With a curriculum centered on physics and mathematics, astronomy majors also use data to observe and model the universe. Students may go on to pursue advanced degrees or work in a variety of science-related fields.
What Is an Astronomy Major?
Astronomy is a physical science that examines the processes that power the universe. Students learn the theories behind the origins of space and how elements of the universe have evolved over time. Astronomy majors use the scientific method to ask new questions and start research projects.
While some schools offer astronomy and astrophysics as a major, other schools separate the two subjects into distinct majors. Both astronomy and astrophysics programs may serve as a foundation for graduate or research work, with some differences. Astronomy majors have a more flexible curriculum and can combine coursework with other areas of interest, and these students may go on to careers in medicine, journalism, law or education. Astrophysics majors focus more on research and may aim for future career paths related specifically to astronomy or physics.
Common Coursework Astronomy Majors Can Expect
Astronomy coursework begins with math classes, such as calculus and linear algebra. Students may also study physics as well as more advanced classes exploring topics such as electricity, magnetism and optics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics. Coursework may be more specialized in astronomy or astrophysics topics after the student’s first year, and topics may include cosmology, stars and star formation, planetary systems, and high-energy astrophysics. Depending on the program, astronomy majors may also take classes in computer programming.
A key component of an astronomy major’s education is research. Students may take lab classes and participate in a research project as part of their graduation requirements. Astronomy majors can work with other students in a group project, conduct a portion of a larger research project or complete their own research, which may include a written thesis.
How to Know if This Major Is the Right Fit for You
Astronomy majors should be curious about what fuels the universe, and they should have a desire to better understand what exists beyond Earth. Astronomy requires creative problem-solving and reasoning skills, and students who excel in math and science and have an innate interest in space may be well-suited for this major.
What Can I Do With an Astronomy Major?
Astronomy majors, with a broad education in physics and math, have many options after graduation. Most programs are designed to provide students with the research experience and core knowledge for graduate-level work in astronomy, astrophysics or physics. Graduates may also work in science policy, science education or space exploration, or pursue further education for careers in fields such as banking and investment, law, or medicine.
Schools Offering an Astronomy Major
|SCHOOL NAME||LOCATION||FEATURED RANKING|
|Princeton University||Princeton, NJ||#1 in National Universities|
|Harvard University||Cambridge, MA||#2 in National Universities|
|Williams College||Williamstown, MA||#1 in National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Amherst College||Amherst, MA||#2 in National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Butler University||Indianapolis, IN||#1 in Regional Universities Midwest|
|Columbia University||New York, NY||#2 in National Universities|
|Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University–Prescott||Prescott, AZ||#2 in Regional Colleges West|
|Swarthmore College||Swarthmore, PA||#3 in National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Berry College||Mount Berry, GA||#4 in Regional Universities South|
|Wellesley College||Wellesley, MA||#5 in National Liberal Arts Colleges|
How to become an astronomer
CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an astronomer.
- Step 1: Is being a astronomer for me?
- Step 2: High School
- Step 3: Bachelor’s Degree
- Step 4: Master’s Degree
- Step 5: Doctorate Degree & Ph.D. Dissertation
- Step 6: Postdoctoral Fellowship
- Step 7: Career Options
- Step 8: Professional Associations
Is becoming an astronomer right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do.
Still unsure if becoming an astronomer is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer career test to find out if this career is in your top matches. Perhaps you are well-suited to become an astronomer or another similar career!
Take standard and advanced high school courses in physics, mathematics, and chemistry. This first step is the foundation for the study of astronomy.
Earn a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Science, with a focus on astronomy or physics. Some universities offer a degree specialization in astrophysics, which is a mix of astronomy and physics.
Earn a master’s degree in the physics/astronomy field. This two-year step in the process to becoming an astronomer is focused on specialized courses, research opportunities, and the writing of a master’s thesis that explores a specific topic or idea in astronomy.
Doctorate Degree & Ph.D. Dissertation
Complete a Ph.D. in a specific area of astronomy, such as radio, solar, cosmos, or galactic astronomy. Before committing to a particular sub-discipline, take time to determine which area is of greatest interest to you. The Ph.D. portion of your studies will include internships and fellowships that will provide invaluable experience in the field.
To earn your Ph.D. you will need to write a dissertation proposal. The dissertation, which can range from eighty to a hundred pages in length, is an in-depth study of a particular topic in astronomy. Some examples of dissertation topics are exploration of star formations, examination of mass planets, and analysis of radio pulsars. Following the writing of your dissertation, you will need to pass qualifying exams to graduate with a Ph.D.Step 6
A postdoctoral fellowship will make you a competitive job candidate. Once you earn your Ph.D. you can qualify for university research positions. These positions allow you to gain experience in the profession and focus on your area of expertise. Such fellowships may sometimes lead to fulltime positions, often in academia as a professor of astronomy.Step 7
In addition to the option of entering academia as an astronomy professor and researcher, there are other routes to applying your expertise:
Apply for positons at an observatory
Observatories offer the opportunity to interact with the public in the role of resident astronomer. The job generally also entails curating astronomy exhibits and writing books or papers on specific areas in the field.
Apply for positions in the aerospace or computer science industry
These positions offer the option to work in an area other than academia. They may be ideal for individuals who prefer to work directly with other astronomers and scientists.
Apply for positions at a space agency
Working for a space agency will allow you to collaborate with other astronomers and scientists on the study of the universe. The largest space agency in the United States is NASA.Step 8
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is the foremost professional association for astronomers in North America. The society holds annual meetings, publishes scholarly journals, maintains a job board, and advocates for the astronomical sciences.
The International Astronomical Union facilitates international cooperation to promote and advance the profession. The organization arranges nine international symposia each year. It also defines astronomical nomenclature, and serves as the authority for naming celestial bodies and their features. The society offers networking opportunities through divisions covering areas of specialization, commissions, and working groups.
degree in astronomy online
The 3 Best Online Physics and Astronomy Bachelor’s Degree Colleges of 2022
Having a constant interest in the study of the universe will lead you to an opportunity to study Physics. You will be able to focus on realizing how nature and properties of matter and energy work together. Astronomy is usually incorporated with Physics. So, if you are passionate about one or the other, you can study an online astronomy degree, or degrees majoring in Astronomy or Physics.
These two ultimate topics are experimental natural sciences, so as a learner in these fields, you will need to utilize scientific methods and approaches to formulate and come up with hypotheses based on real facts. You will need to study the natural world to come up with results in your thesis and research.
This degree usually covers core elements of traditional physics, combined with studies about the universe like cosmology, planetary science, and astrobiology. It usually lasts three years but will be flexible since it’s a distance learning program. Read along to know more about this field of study and find out which colleges offer an online bachelor’s degree in Physics or Astronomy.
What Does an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Astronomy Covers?
Generally, astronomy degrees usually involve a combination of theoretical and observational study approaches. Some courses will relatively focus on one method than the other. The observational approach will gear towards taking opportunities to travel to different locations while utilizing professional equipment at major observatories. It will depend primarily on the kind of online curriculum and university offers, though.
On the other hand, most of your time spent while enrolled in a B.S. program in astronomy will require you to spend a lot of screen time since computer-based analysis is a primary component of modern astronomy. Although there are no special qualifications for prospective astronomy students, you should demonstrate a strong interest in the subject. Entry requirements are quite flexible, and you can anticipate having various courses related to mathematics, physics, geology, statistics, chemistry, and biology. Check out the program provided by your schools and learn more about them.
What is an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Physics?
If you want to have a firm understanding of the natural laws and principles governing our universe’s activities and motion, then taking an online B.S. in Physics can be ideal for you. It’s a four-year natural science degree program, and you will get admitted readily by submitting similar requirements to those of classroom-style learning. The core disciplines of this program are math and physics. Other courses include classical mechanics, thermal physics, differential equations, calculus, and mathematical physics. These are all necessary for you to build your foundation based on physics laws.
Even enrolled in an online B.S. program, you should expect to complete lab classes since this will illustrate physics’ theoretical findings and properties. You will also be exposed to diverse elective courses so you can explore more aspects of physics like nanotechnology, cosmology, or lasers. After your graduate from this program, you will be able to take upon many job opportunities in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries.
What are the career pathways for a Bachelor’s in Physics or Astronomy Degree?
It’s completely natural to want to foresee your future career before you even enroll in an astronomy or physics degree. You would like to make sure to acquire a sustainable profession without proceeding to graduate school. And you don’t need to worry about that since, in often cases, your Bachelor’s degree will be sufficient enough to find a reliable job in different industries.
Finishing a bachelor’s degree in this field of expertise will prepare you for a career focused on the scientific world, and you will have diverse job options. Your tasks will cover investigating earthquakes to inventing new spacecraft and vehicles.
Here is a list of prospective job roles you can partake in after finishing a major in either Physics or Astronomy. Some professions may integrate both Physics and Astronomy degree than others.
- Meteorological Technician
- Nuclear Physicist
- Atmospheric Physicist
- Computational Physicist
- Crime Scene Analyst
- Molecular Physicist
- Materials Researcher
- Optical Technician
- Medical Illustrator
How much can you earn as a Bachelor’s in Physics and Astronomy Graduate?
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that physicists and astronomers earn an average salary of $117,220 annually. On the other hand, Salary.com shows that astronomers in the U.S. have a median salary of $114,832 as of January 2022. But their salary range typically falls between $113,007 to $132,503, respectively. Many variables will influence your paycheck, and these will include your education, superior skills, and tenure in your profession. When it comes to physicists, PayScale shows a report that their average salary is around $96,449. Their total pay ranges from $51,000 to $153,000, and this data is updated since February 2022.
Moreover, here are the top industries in which physicists earned the highest salaries according to data in 2017:
- $170,740 – local, state, and private hospitals
- $163,520 – healthcare services
- $118,440 – the federal government
- $130,530 – scientific research and development projects
- $66,280 – local, state, and private colleges and universities
The demand for astronomers and physicists is relatively predicted to grow 14% until 2026, and this is significantly higher growth than other professions. You can expect to have higher demands for healthcare and social assistance, educational services, and scientific research and development.
Here are our consolidated list of 3 best colleges that offer an online bachelor’s degree in Astronomy or Physics, but these do not come in any order:
Arizona State University
Michigan Technological University
Arizona State University
Arizona State University offers an online B.S. program in astronomical and planetary sciences which offers intensive broad training in space exploration and creates opportunities for research advancement. You will be able to work in industries where you can apply your scientific knowledge and problem-solving skills. You can also use modern statistical data analysis techniques in real-life projects.
Expect to gain more knowledge and a solid understanding of astronomy and planetary science. You may use it as your foundation so you can proceed to a graduate study in law or other graduate programs related to your skillset.
- Tempe, Arizona
- the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- 36 total classes
- 120 credit units required
- Brief Calculus
- General Physics
- Physics of Astrophysics
- Engineering Systems and Experimental Problem Solving
- Top 25% in high school graduating class
- 3.00 GPA in courses with competency
- 22 ACT score for Arizona residents and 24 for non-residents or 1120 SAT score for Arizona residents and 1180 for non-residents
- $765 / credit hour (resident); $1200 / credit hour (non-resident)
- Federal Pell Grants
What’s Unique About the Program:
- If you’re not qualified to enroll due to lacking admission requirements, they can offer Earned Admission.
Being enrolled in an online B.S. program in Physics will train you to analyze situations, figure out how machines work, and experiment with new ideas. This 100% online learning style will allow you to meet your professional goals. Since Physics is a versatile form of science, your logical, reasoning, and problem-solving skills will be improved thoroughly.
Although your skills will be broadened through and through, their online program will hone you to meet working requirements in careers like a mechanical engineer, particle accelerator operator, data analyst, and physicist. Be ready to contribute to the community’s scientific activities once you partner with Liberty University and finally start a career in physics. You will achieve your professional goals soon.
- Lynchburg, Virginia
- SACSCOC, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- 8-week courses
- Transfer in up to 75% of the degree in total
- 100% online
- Multivariable Calculus
- Electricity and Magnetism
- Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
- Quantum Physics
- High School GPA should be 3.15-3.83
- SAT score 1020-1220
- ACT score 20-27
- GPA from high school or college
- GED scores
- $390 / credit hour (same for both in-state and out-of-state students)
What’s Unique About the Program:
- The Bachelor of Physics can be completed in just 3.5 years.
Michigan Technological University
If you enroll at Michigan Technological University, you will have many opportunities to collaborate with faculty on many research projects. With two semesters of research, you will be paired with a faculty member. You can even take advantage of these opportunities for continued research if you want. The university takes pride in its hands-on approach to education.
Aside from the faculty-student mentoring approach, they also boast an environment where you can practice peer-to-peer support. They have about 25 students per class so that you can become involved in your department actively and like a family. You may anticipate being exposed to many Physics disciplines, which you can apply when working in the industry.
- Houghton, Michigan
- The Higher Learning Commission
- Classical Mechanics
- Quantum Mechanics
- Electricity and Magnetism
- Thermal Physics
- High school GPA of 4.0
- average ACT score of 26.7
- average SAT Total score of 1260
- first-year students must rank in the top 20 percent of their class
- $16,130 / academic year for Michigan Residents
- $36,432 / academic year for non-Michigan Residents
- Student Employment
What’s Unique About the Program:
- Students can customize their degrees. It means they can choose from either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Physics. BA majors explore the degree with a liberal arts foundation and pursue their other interests. It is important to consider all this information when choosing an online school, college, or university!