Some master’s degree programs of study are open to students with a bachelor’s degree in any field. That isn’t the case for master’s in astronomy programs, which require incoming students to have a strong background in science and math subjects such as physics. You don’t necessarily have to have a bachelor’s degree in astronomy, specifically, to get into a master’s degree program in the subject. However, you will need a strong enough science and math background to pass the program’s prerequisites and serve as a foundation for graduate work.
Building a Competitive Application for a Master’s in Astronomy Program
Most degree programs look at the entire admissions package you submit rather than ruling you out solely based on your undergraduate major. This means every part of your application matters, not just the program of study described on your bachelor’s degree. An applicant who barely earned enough passing grades to graduate with a bachelor’s in astronomy degree might be a subpar candidate compared to an applicant with outstanding grades, letters of recommendation and research experience but a different major listed on their degree.
Making yourself the best candidate for a master’s in astronomy degree program without a matching undergraduate degree takes work. That work begins with selecting your courses. No matter how strong your overall application is, you’re not going to be a competitive candidate if you don’t have the science and math foundation you need for graduate study in astronomy. You will have to either put your electives toward studies in this field or choose a major that provides an equally strong science background.
Whatever courses you take – particularly in the science and math fields – make your best effort to achieve top grades. Your GPA and undergraduate college transcript are part of your application package. Having poor grades, especially in the classes that are most relevant to your field of graduate study, could leave admissions personnel questioning whether you can succeed in the advanced coursework required for this degree.
Choosing extracurricular activities and professional opportunities that make your application stand out can also strengthen your chances of getting into an astronomy degree program. Join a society of physics students and consider volunteering in educational outreach programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Get involved in research opportunities and experiences on campus. Even if your research work isn’t directly in astronomy, taking part in laboratory research in physics, chemistry or even biology demonstrates your commitment to science and research as well as your hands-on research skills.
An internship or work opportunity that puts you nearer to the astronomy side of work in physics and other sciences can be an asset to your application, especially if a supervisor is willing to write you a letter of recommendation.
A personal essay or statement of purpose is the part of your application where you explain why you want a master’s astronomy if you didn’t major in the subject as an undergraduate and to show why you would be a good candidate in spite of having a different major.
Meeting a Master’s in Astronomy Program’s Prerequisites
Expecting applicants to a master’s in astronomy program to have a bachelor’s in astronomy or a related science isn’t done to gatekeep people out of the profession. Graduate-level work in astronomy builds upon college-level knowledge of physics, math, astronomy and astrophysics. Although you may not need a bachelor’s degree in one of these programs specifically, you should expect to face certain prerequisites, or courses that you must have taken prior to enrolling in your graduate degree program. Without having taken these courses, you would have a very difficult time succeeding in master’s-level studies of astronomy.
Different schools may set different prerequisites for incoming master’s in astronomy students. Most programs expect students to know physics topics such as quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics and electricity and electromagnetism. They also require students to have a strong grasp of differential equations. Generally, students can meet these science and math requirements through taking considerable coursework in calculus-based physics, including physics laboratory classes.
If you took enough physics courses as an undergraduate to constitute a minor, you may be able to meet the prerequisites for a master’s in astronomy program. Aspiring graduate astrophysics students can also make up for a less extensive background in physics if you complete some introductory coursework in stellar and galactic astrophysics and in cosmology and extragalactic astrophysics.
An applicant who earned an unrelated bachelor’s degree may still have a chance to get into a master’s in astronomy program if they are willing to take the extra courses needed to either earn a second bachelor’s degree in physics or satisfy prerequisite requirements.