What coursework should I complete before applying for a Master’s in Astrophysics?

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Many colleges and universities offer graduate programs in physics and astronomy individually or together, but not astrophysics. In these instances, several of the same courses are integrated into the respective degree, for example, classical mechanics, quantum physics, quantum theory, statistical mechanics, galactic astronomy, and thermodynamics. Moreover, some schools omit a separate master’s degree in astrophysics – students must commit to the Ph.D. program. Therefore, you earn the master’s degree in conjunction with the doctorate.

The University of California-Los Angeles offers a Master of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy in Astronomy and Astrophysics to students accepted into the Ph.D. Hence, there is no master’s degree you can earn separately from the doctorate. One of the standard admission requirements of applying to this program is a Statement of Purpose with a 500-word limit. Some of the questions to address in the personal statement are:

  • What are your areas of interest, including interdisciplinary ones?
  • What experiences have you had that prepare you for advanced study and research?
  • What additional information will help with committee selection?
  • How have you demonstrated an aptitude for this graduate program?

How will you provide evidence of your ability to tackle physics courses if you’ve majored in business or psychology? Even without the stipulation that UCLA applicants have a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics, physics, or astronomy; it seems evident that such a degree would be advantageous. Also, it seems doubtful that a student without a penchant for the sciences, like physics, chemistry, mathematics, and calculus, would decide on a doctorate program in astrophysics.

Before considering a master’s degree in astrophysics, you must examine the undergraduate program in this discipline. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) at the University of Michigan has a bachelor’s degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The school attests this is a math and physics-intensive path for those planning to progress to this field’s graduate degree. For example, the prerequisites consist of one math course and three physics courses. In addition, the university is home to the Michigan Institute for Research in Astrophysics.

Coursework in physics and astronomy are recommended before a master’s degree, just as calculus and physics are imperative before a baccalaureate. The Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago has a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics whose curriculum consists of 14 courses of 40 credits in physics. These hours cover General Physics, Electromagnetism, Quantum Theory, Thermodynamics, and Classical Mechanics. There are also five astronomy courses, four math courses, and two chemistry courses. How can a student excel in this academic environment without stellar math and physics grades in high school? It’s safe to surmise that high school students who struggled in math, chemistry, biology, and physics will not apply to an intensive math and physics curriculum.

The University of Nevada in Las Vegas (UNLV) answers the captioned question by referencing that applicants to the M.S. in Astronomy require a bachelor’s degree in physics, astronomy, or a related field. Therefore, catch-up classes won’t meet the admission requirements without the appropriate undergraduate degree. Offered with the option of a thesis or non-thesis, the astrophysics courses are incorporated into this degree. The 30-credits program requires a minimum of 15 credits of astronomy or physics in the thesis and non-thesis formats.

In preparation for the UNLV master’s degree, you could earn a B.S. in physics at this school. The coursework has 48 core credits of Physics and 36 credits of General Chemistry and Calculus. Again, this information supports the premise that a student’s journey into a graduate astrophysics program should begin in high school. At this level, they learn about the laws of motion and gravity, principles of magnetism and electricity, as well as light and sound waves. Undoubtedly, most students have done extensive self-study – reading about astronomy and physics outside of their scholastics, perhaps years before high school.

In summary, because of the preponderance of science classes in a master’s degree in astrophysics, one needs a genuine aptitude for the natural sciences, including mathematics, long before college. Mastery goes beyond self-study out of interest to expand one’s knowledge in a particular subject. Some have what seems a natural disposition to excel in certain subjects. Many students declare that – “I’m terrible at math or languages” – whereas others flourish. Individuals who state that they love math and science may be on the path towards a graduate program in astrophysics. Those lacking the disposition might find the challenge unbearable.

Related Resources:

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What Degree Do You Need to Be an Astrophysicist?

How Much Math Is Involved in a Masters in Astronomy?

Will I Be Considered for a Masters in Astronomy If My Undergraduate Wasn’t in Astronomy?

Am I Better Off Considering a Ph.D. in Astronomy at the Same School I Got My Masters?

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