Students interested in pursuing a master’s degree in astrophysics will have a limited number of colleges or universities from which to choose. Where available, students without an undergraduate degree or courses in physics will find a master’s in astrophysics extremely challenging. Most graduate programs involving astrophysics courses are within the school’s astronomy curriculum. In this post, we will look at some of the available options.
The Division of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Southern California (UCLA) offers a graduate program in these two sciences. Although it is a joint department with shared faculty, students may select either the Astronomy or Physics Division. The application requirements state that students should have a bachelor’s degree in physics or astronomy or a closely related field, like mathematics or chemistry. However, one cannot enroll strictly in the master’s degree without applying for a Doctor of Philosophy. Any undergraduate major other than physics or astronomy is subject to department approval.
Similarly, the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University doesn’t have a separate master’s program in astronomy or astrophysics. Candidates applying to the Ph.D. program must have advanced courses in astronomy or physics and two advanced courses in mathematics. Admissions state that not having any astronomy classes does not disqualify your application.
Accepted students perform research at the Harvard College Observatory, which shares general facilities with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). The SAO, established in 1890, has collaborated with Harvard since 1955, and in 1973 they formed the Center for Astrophysics to coordinate research and observation.
The Master of Science in Astronomy at The University of Nevada in Las Vegas (UNLV) allows students to designate a thesis or non-thesis track. The former might appeal to those who want to get ahead start on what it takes to formulate, conduct, and report on research. This selection would be beneficial to individuals who plan to progress to a Ph.D. Candidates for the UNLV program should not be fooled by the title of the degree – astronomy. Graduates will know astrophysics, mathematical physics, cosmology, classical mechanics or quantum theory, and observational astronomy. Additionally, graduates qualify to continue their studies in an astrophysics doctorate program.
UNLV stipulates that all applicants to the M.S. program have an undergraduate degree in physics, astronomy, or related discipline. Also, you must have 18-semester credits of upper-division physics. The thesis and non-thesis tracks require 30 credits with a minimum of 24 credits in astronomy or physics courses in both options. In the non-thesis path, there are two required courses in astrophysics, followed by choosing two core courses from a list of six. You could steer towards astrophysics instead of astronomy by selecting High Energy Astrophysics and Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae and Active Galactic Nuclei.
A student might struggle in a master’s program without an undergraduate foundation in physics, judging from the two examples above. Even if admissions accepted you with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or mathematics, you might have to take additional courses to make up for your lack of physics knowledge.
The School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University has an M.S. in Astrophysics and Astronomy. This program emphasizes astronomy with nineteen of the twenty Other Requirements related to astronomy; Stars and Interstellar Medium I, II, and III(9 credits), Galaxies and Cosmology I, II, and III (9 credits), and an Astrophysics Seminar (1 credit). There is also one credit of a School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) Colloquium.
Applicants need the standard three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a statement of purpose, and proof of English proficiency. The good news is that your baccalaureate can be in any field from a regionally accredited institution! No physics is needed.
What about studying overseas? With roots dating back to the Liverpool Mechanics’ and Apprentices’ Library in 1823, Liverpool was the first city besides London to found a Mechanics’ Institute. Most notably, the Institute had the pleasure of Charles Dickens as a guest lecturer to 1200 men and women in February 1844. The evolution continued with various colleges added, for example, the School of Pharmacy in 1849 and the C.F. Mott College of Education in 1945, to the newest Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), established in 1992. The name comes from Liverpool’s renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir John Moores (1896-1993).
The LJMU has a Master of Science in Astrophysics taught by world-leading faculty that accepts international students. More importantly, this is a distance learning program that allows students to choose when they study. The core modules are Astrophysical Concepts, Astronomical Techniques, and an Astrophysics Project. You can complete your master’s degree in one year full-time or two years part-time in this learning format. The tuition for classroom-based students is 15,600 British pounds or about $21,660 U.S. dollars.
Applicants to the LJMU M.S. in astrophysics require knowledge of fundamental physics, calculus, and differential equations. Hence, an undergraduate degree in physics would be advantageous.