Astronomy graduate school Rankings

Schools / May 12, 2018

2012-03-22_13-19-34_982***Apologies. I just had to update the link again.***

First a couple of important points. The following advice and information is based primarily on my own experience applying to graduate school in 2011-2012. I do not speak for any graduate school, or have inside information about the admissions process. I simply wanted to make a website that has the information undergraduates need to apply to graduate school in astronomy. Previously, there had been other personal websites (one in particular that used to be hosted on UC Berkley’s website) but I have found that many have disappeared. In order to aid the reader in judging the reliability of the following, I will say that I am a current graduate student at Penn State, I was accepted to 5 schools outright, rejected from 5 more, wait-listed at 4 schools, and eventually was offered admission to 3 of the 4 wait-list schools. I was also offered fellowships at 2 of the schools. One final short aside, I have asked a few friends about their experiences. They have taken different paths but all were in my physics program at Boston University. I hope their input maybe of use to you as well although only one of them has thus far written up a statement (See Below).

With that out of the way, Welcome! If you are reading this, you have an interest in applying to graduate schools in the field of Astronomy and Astrophysics! The application process can be both one of the best and most annoying experiences you will ever have. To help guide you through the application process, I will lay out a timeline that I felt was very useful and helped me stay on track. First Year of Undergrad You are now a starry eyed new college student and should not have any real idea of what your future is going to be like. If you’re reading this and are a freshmen, kudos to you for being way ahead of the game. For many future astronomers at this point, they have already decided to pursue that path before even reaching college. I will admit, that WAS NOT me. I came in intending to study physics and premed, however I had always had an interest in astronomy. I simply never considered it as a viable career. Yet, in one of the best moves I’ve ever made, I did my best Peyton Manning impersonation and called an audible, adding astronomy onto my curriculum during my orientation. Ok, enough anecdotes here is what you need to know:

  • Most individuals applying to astronomy are physics majors, so at this point you should be intending to be a physics major and should be taking physics classes.
  • You should also be considering adding astronomy and mathematics (I chose a major and minor respectively and was happy with the choice), or at the very least taking a number of electives in each.
  • You may want to consider a computer science minor or major. I think that a minor would have helped me a little bit more.
  • Your second semester of college you should begin researching with a professor. This does not have to be your eventual mentor but you should begin experimenting with different areas and at least getting some experience. Do not worry about the first semester. You are still adjusting and most professors prefer you have a semester and the grades before they hire you.
  • BEGIN LEARNING HOW TO CODE. The life of an astronomer is that of a programmer, without the nice pay. I would recommend IDL or Python, whichever is available.
  • Consider researching with your boss during your first summer break (I didn’t but should have).

Second Year of Undergrad The second year will probably be your first real year of college. You’ve finished a lot of your electives/requirements and potentially are taking multiple physics classes per semester (this is very college specific). The important points for your sophomore year are the following:

  • Continue taking higher level physics courses and as many as you feel comfortable with.
  • Continue taking higher level math courses at least up through differential equations/linear algebra.
  • Hopefully by now you have found a mentor/research advisor who you feel comfortable with, is providing you with decent research, and is someone who is willing to help you with your career. Making friends with a graduate student also helps if possible.
  • At some point during this year you should begin working on your own research project and should push to make this happen.
  • Work with your advisor or find a summer REU to get more experience.
  • Participate in outreach opportunities. This comes in handy for the NSF Fellowship.