Rotating Question Curious About Astronomy? Ask an Astronomer

What kind of schooling is necessary to become an astronomer?

If I want to be an astronomer, what kind of degree will I need? How long will I have to go to school?

First you'll go to college for four (or maybe five) years to get a bachelor's degree. A bachelor of science (BS) in astronomy is best, but you can still get into grad school with a bachelor of arts (BA), or a degree in physics or even other fields.

It's important to get good grades in college and to score well on your Graduate Record Exam (a big ugly standardized physics test you take your senior year), but what really makes candidates for grad school stand out is their research experience. As soon as you can, talk to your professors about working on a research project. You might work on data analysis, instrument building, computer programming, or lots of other fun stuff. Also be alert to opportunities like the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, where you work at another university for a summer, or the summer student programs at the national astronomy observatories.

After college comes graduate school. You'll take more classes at first, and then shift into doing more research, and culminating in writing a doctoral thesis. You'll probably get some experience in front of a classroom by being a teaching assistant. It's really hard work, but to avoid scaring the pants off you, I'll smile stiffly and repeat what I've been told so many times: These are the best years of your life. You will be enjoying the best years of your life for five or six years (or more, or less, in some exceptional cases.)

There are a very small number of jobs available for people who only have a Master's degree in astronomy, primarily in public outreach and teaching. Unless you have a very specific idea of what you want to do, and you're sure you can do it with just an M.S., you should plan to get a PhD.

January 2002, Britt Scharringhausen (more by Britt Scharringhausen) (Like this Answer)

Still Curious?

Get More 'Curious?' with Our New PODCAST:

Related questions:

More questions about Careers in Astronomy: Previous | Next

How to ask a question:

If you have a follow-up question concerning the above subject, submit it here. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on our site menu, or go here for help.

Table 'curious.Referrers' doesn't existTable 'curious.Referrers' doesn't exist

URL: http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=24
This page has been accessed 79500 times since April 29, 2002.
Last modified: January 17, 2003 11:52:35 AM

Legal questions? See our copyright, disclaimer and privacy policy.
Ask an Astronomer is hosted by the Astronomy Department at Cornell University and is produced with PHP and MySQL.

Warning: Your browser is misbehaving! This page might look ugly. (Details)