The Astronomy and Astrophysics Major at Ohio State

What is Astronomy & Astrophysics?

Astronomy and astrophysics is the study of planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole, including how these originate and how they evolve in time. The principal pursuits of the astronomer are to extend our understanding of the physical nature of the universe and to convey this understanding to students and the general public.

Astronomy is an observational, not an experimental, science. With only a few exceptions (e.g., meteorites, moon rocks), astronomers cannot actually handle celestial objects and are totally dependent upon incoming radiation from space. Observations over the entire electromagnetic spectrum (gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, microwave, and radio waves) are collected with both earth-based and space telescopes. These observations are then analyzed and interpreted using the tools of modern theoretical physics. The heart of the prospective astronomer's education therefore consists of a firm grounding in physics plus the advanced mathematics at the core of the physics.

Career Opportunities in Astrophysics

Many professional astronomers have faculty positions at universities and colleges or are affiliated with universities and colleges through observatories and laboratories. For these astronomers, teaching and research are the major areas of activity. The PhD degree is generally required for faculty positions. Some professional astronomers are employed by the federal government directly (e.g., NASA) or by federally supported national observatories and laboratories (e.g., the National Optical Astronomy Observatories and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory). A PhD degree in astronomy or physics is generally required for these positions, just as for academic positions. We encourage students who plan to pursue a PhD degree in astronomy or related field to double major in both astronomy and physics.

Individuals with MS and BS degrees in astrophysics may also find employment at observatories, planetariums, science museums, and in industry where they may assist in computational and observational research programs or participate in public education programs. At least one past OSU astronomy major used her training as a stepping stone to a career in science journalism. The possibilities are wider than you think!

The BS degree in astronomy and astrophysics is excellent preparation for graduate study in astronomy and in some other physical sciences, as well as a solid grounding for becoming a teacher in the physical sciences at the primary and secondary levels.

Some career information is available at these websites, prepared by the American Astronomical Society (the main professional society for US astronomers), and the American Institute of Physics (the main professional society for US physicists).

Salary Trends

Beginning salaries for faculty positions at colleges and universities range from $40,000 to $75,000, depending upon the candidate's skills, previous experience (generally gained in postdoctoral research positions), and the size, quality, and competitiveness of the school.

High School Preparation

Students who major in astronomy and astrophysics should be ready to start their calculus and science courses as soon as they begin college. This means that their high school mathematics should go up to and include analytical geometry and trigonometry, and their high school science courses should include physics and chemistry. Experience with computers is also very helpful.

How to Major in Astronomy and Astrophysics at Ohio State

Students may declare astronomy as their major and register as students in the Colleges of the Arts and Sciences at the arts and sciences office in Denney Hall. For additional information, students are encouraged to visit the Department of Astronomy on the fourth floor of McPherson Lab. Contact information for the Astronomy Department's Director of Undergraduate Studies is provided below.

General Education Requirements

Most students enter University College (UVC) upon enrolling at Ohio State and remain enrolled in UVC until they have qualified for and have been accepted into their chosen major and college.

While enrolled in UVC, students begin taking courses which will meet the General Education (GE) requirements. The GE is a body of courses designed to ensure that each student becomes acquainted with the basic areas of academic study. To meet the GE requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree, credit hours must be completed from the following areas of academic study: writing and related skills, quantitative and logical skills, natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, historical study, and diversity. Foreign language coursework (or demonstrated proficiency) is also required.

Astronomy Requirements

Modern astronomy is essentially physics applied to the study of celestial objects. Therefore, the required courses for the astronomy and astrophysics major have substantial overlap with the physics major curriculum, although certain advanced physics courses and laboratories are not included for an astronomy and astrophysics degree. In addition, students who major in astronomy and astrophysics are required to take an introductory sequence in astrophysics, an observational techniques and data handling course, and a more advanced course in either stellar structure or cosmology. Because of the substantial overlap between the astronomy and astrophysics and physics majors, many astronomy and astrophysics students pursue a double major in physics and astronomy and astrophysics. We encourage students who plan to pursue graduate study in astronomy to pursue a double major in physics and astronomy and astrophysics, as well as to apply to our Summer Undergraduate Research Program and complete an Undergraduate Thesis in Astronomy.

Sample Curriculum

An Astronomy and Astrophysics Bachelor of Science Degree Sample Curriculum is available online. This curriculum is intended for students who began study at Ohio State in or after Summer Quarter 2007, when the University made some minor changes to the GEC.  For students interested in a double major in physics and astronomy, the Physics Department website includes an Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics Double Major Sample Curriculum (PDF format). For students interested in teaching, the College of Education has information about a one-year M.Ed. degree for science teaching licensure, which includes information on coursework that should be completed before beginning the one-year master's degree program.

About Ohio State

The Ohio State University is recognized throughout the nation and the world for its innovative programs, exceptional faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities. In fact, Ohio State is consistently ranked among the country's best institutions for overall academic reputation and research activity. Because Ohio State is a major teaching and research university, our students receive excellent preparation for entry into top graduate/professional programs and the job market.

Offering over 170 majors and more than 11,000 courses, Ohio State allows students to tailor their education to their interests through double majors, minors, and personalized study programs. With hundreds of student activities and organizations, the university also offers a diverse set of extracurricular experiences to those who want to be involved.

Cooperative Education and Internships

Job seekers, even those with college degrees, sometimes find it difficult to get a job because they haven't gained any experience but they can't get any experience because they don't have a job. Overcoming this "Catch-22" is what co-op and internship education is all about.

Ohio State's cooperative education programs offer students hands-on experience in their chosen fields. These programs offer the chance to apply the theory learned in class to real-world work situations. Currently, Ohio State has cooperative education programs in many colleges and offers field or clinical experiences and internships in a variety of study areas.

Career Counseling and Job Placement

Ohio State's professional counseling staff specializes in personal development and academic growth. In addition, Ohio State's career and job placement offices around the campus offer help in career planning and, as students move closer to graduation, resume writing, writing application letters, and job placement.

These offices can help students match interests and strengths with a promising career. Ohio State also offers career support services for all students including disabled students, veterans, minority students, and international students.

Merit Scholarships

Ohio State offers a variety of merit scholarships to outstanding students. For a copy of our Selected Merit Scholarships brochure, call the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at 614-292-3980 or email