At one point or another, you have probably wondered and questioned how the universe began, how we got here, and if there are other life forms in existence. While there is no single and definite answer to each of these hard-hitting questions, there is a branch of science that aims to obtain evidence to provide answers. With an astrophysics degree, you can learn all about the universe and our place in it.
In this article, we will share more about what a degree in astrophysics is all about and some universities that offer it as a major. In most instances, the degree will be under the umbrella of physics or astronomy. In some cases, you can even choose to earn dual majors in related sciences.
Let’s get to it!
What is Astrophysics?
By combining physics and chemistry, astrophysics aims to explain the creation, life, and destruction of objects in the universe, like stars, galaxies, planets, and nebulae. Astrophysics is similar to its related sciences of astronomy and cosmology.
However, there are important differences between the branches. Cosmology focuses on the universe in its entirety, along with large structures. Astronomy is all about motions, characteristics, and positions. The three branches of science are closely related, so they have the tendency to overlap in their information.
The study of astrophysics has existed for centuries, but it evolved more during the Enlightenment period with Isaac Newton. Newton brought physics into the equation and was able to deliver a physical explanation to theories. The biggest differentiating factor was that Newton’s theories were both predictive and descriptive (rather than solely predictive).
What Do Astrophysicists Do?
Astrophysicists are researchers. They come up with theories and develop methods to test their theories. They also are responsible for contributing data to the field.
There’s an opportunity to specialize within the field. Regardless of specialization or not, some of the day-to-day of an astrophysicist includes:
- Measuring radiation from matter in space (i.e. stars and planets)
- Creating hypotheses and testing them
- Reporting and logging data
- Writing reports
- Teaching at a college or university
- Using instruments to observe space and objects
- Documenting the position of objects in space (i.e. the sun, planets, galaxies, etc.)
On average, astrophysicists can expect to earn a salary of $86,708 annually.
What are the Requirements for Astrophysics?
Prepping for a career in astrophysics can begin at a young age as it does require an intensive amount of education. In high school, it’s important to focus on math and science classes.
Once you make it to an undergraduate degree, it is recommended to major in a math or science-related subject to obtain a bachelor’s degree. For example, you can even choose to earn a degree in computer science, which will prepare you well to analyze data. Since astrophysics is full of research, data and analysis plays a large role in the position.
Upon completion of a bachelor’s degree, astrophysicists should go on to earn a doctoral degree as the field is highly specialized. Most positions, whether they be in government or the private sector, will require a doctoral degree because of research.
Types of Degrees
Although it’s optimal to earn a doctorate degree, it is possible to get a degree in any level.
Each degree takes a different amount of time to complete. Here’s a look at the general timeline you can expect:
- Associate – approximately 2 years
- Bachelor – approximately 4 years
- Master – about 1-3 years
- Doctorate – minimum of 4 years
Degree Programs to Consider
For anyone looking to get started on the journey to become an astrophysicist, here is a list of program offerings from schools around the country, along with some required coursework and the average tuition costs.
Iowa State’s Department of Aerospace Engineering provides the option for a bachelor’s degree in astronomy, aeroscience, or astrophysics. To graduate, students must complete 129 credits worth of courses. In these courses, you can expect to learn about fundamentals like structural mechanics, design, testing, flight dynamics, and aerodynamics.
The average program cost is roughly $16,197.
Mississippi State University
The Department of Aerospace Engineering at Mississippi State University has an average program cost of $15,950 and is strongly based in physical and engineering sciences, along with math.
Courses span: Test Engineering, Flight Mechanics, Vehicle Design, and Propulsion, to name a few.
At Virginia Tech, students have the opportunity to major in either ocean engineering and aerospace, or double-major in both. There are over 550 undergraduate students enrolled.
The average program cost is $22,462.
Once students finish the First Year Engineering Program, they can begin learning about aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University. The program’s average cost is $19,403.
Students can choose between a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering Technology or a dual Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering Technology.
San Diego State University
San Diego State has a few degree options related to aerospace, including: a bachelor of arts in liberal arts and sciences with a specialization in astronomy, a bachelor of science in applied arts and sciences with specialization in astronomy, and a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering.
The average program cost is roughly $13,428.
University of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma has a bachelor of science in astrophysics with a minimum total credit hours of 120. To complete the major, students take courses in astronomy, physics, and mathematics. Some of the course titles include: Intermediate Astronomy, Stellar Astrophysics, Observatory Methods, Introductory Physics I for Physics Majors, and Physical Mechanics.
The estimated cost for residents for tuition and board is just under $13,000.
University of Wyoming
The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers the University of Wyoming’s bachelor of science degree in astrophysics. To apply, prospective students must have at least a 3.0 GPA, high school transcripts, and test scores. Non-native English speakers must have a TOEFL score of at least 71. Courses include: Descriptive Astronomy, General Astronomy, and Survey of Astronomy, to name a few.
The tuition fee is approximately $6,860 for residents of Wyoming.
Reach for the Stars!
By earning an astrophysics degree and continuing education to complete a doctoral degree, you have the opportunity to learn about the universe and come up with key findings through testing and research.
While there is adequate education required, the field is infinite in its possibility because of how much is still unknown.