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Astronomy Major Overview

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: March 19th, 2024
Astronomy Major Overview

Want to shoot for the stars? Or study them? Well, by majoring in astronomy – you can do both! Astronomy majors study the inner workings of the universe, including how stars, planets, galaxies, dark matter, and even the function of black holes. And, as the curriculum is largely math and physics-based, astronomy majors use data to observe and create models of the universe. 

If that sounds interesting to you (and you have dreams that are out of this world), keep on reading to learn all about the astronomy major!

Related: Top college majors for the future

What is an astronomy major?

Astronomy is a physical science dealing with the functions and processes of the universe. Thus, students majoring in the subject can expect to learn, create, and test different theories about the universe. In particular, students might learn about the theories regarding the origin of space or how major components of the universe have changed over time. In their own time, however, students can choose to explore whatever subtopic or niche of the field they want – and use the scientific method to organize and plan research projects.

While astronomy is offered as its own major in some universities, others offer astronomy and astrophysics as a joint major (a single major which encapsulates the curriculum of two distinct disciplines). While both of these set students up well for graduate or research work, there are a few differences between the two fields. The astronomy major tends to be more flexible, allowing students to also study coursework from other disciplines or areas of interest. As a result, astronomy majors tend to have more diverse career paths, including those in medicine, law, education, or even journalism. Astrophysics majors, on the other hand, tend to dedicate more time to research – and typically go into professions based specifically around astronomy or physics.

Coursework to expect

In terms of coursework, that for the astronomy major typically begins with math classes. Math courses give students the necessary skills to handle more complicated astronomy courses and work. Once students have finished calculus, linear algebra, and other math courses, they typically move onto physics or more specialized courses. Such classes may cover topics like quantum mechanics, electricity, magnetism, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics.

As students progress further into their undergraduate careers, they’ll be able to enroll in more advanced specialized courses. These might include cosmology, star formation, or planetary systems. Depending on one’s program, astronomy majors may also be able to enroll in computer programming classes.

As is the case for many STEM and social science majors, a major part of the astronomy major is partaking in research. So, besides one’s mandatory lab classes, astronomy majors also have the opportunity to work as research assistants under the guidance of professors or university faculty (if you aren’t quite sure how to reach out to professors, we recommend checking out “How to email your professor (With examples)”!). Alternatively, students may even conduct their own research and complete a thesis.

Related: Top majors and careers for introverts

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as an astronomy major:

  • Calculus
  • Linear Algebra
  • The Solar System
  • Astrophysics
  • Introductory Astronomy
  • Planetary Astronomy
  • Stellar Astronomy
  • Galaxies and the Universe
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • The Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Opportunities after graduation

With both a broad and in-depth knowledge of mathematics and physics, astronomy majors have a wide selection of career paths to choose from after graduation. Many go on to work in academic settings or conduct research, while others find science-related professions outside the world of academia. Some of these non-academic options include working in science policy, or even space exploration! Alternatively, many choose to pursue further schooling after receiving an undergraduate degree in astronomy. 

Jobs you can get with an astronomy degree

With that said, what are some of the actual jobs that those with an astronomy degree can secure? Well, luckily for you, we’ve gone through and created a list of potential jobs that you can pursue with an astronomy degree (with descriptions and salaries included)! Let’s take a look.

1. Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists

Atmospheric scientists (including meteorologists) closely study how the weather and climate impact both (1) human activities and (2) the earth itself. Using the information they find, they create forecasts and may advise clients on both the potential upsides and downsides caused by the changes in weather and climate. Alternatively, atmospheric scientists can help create new data collection instruments, to help themselves and other meteorologists collect and gather important information. Some of the data collected by atmospheric scientists includes temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind speed, precipitation, and more. In order to become an atmospheric scientist or meteorologist, one typically needs a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science or a related field. Those who want to work in research, however, need either a master’s degree or Ph.D. to do work in the field.

2022 Median Pay: $83,780/year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 4% (as fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Aerospace Engineers

Using their engineering knowledge, aerospace engineers are primarily responsible for designing, manufacturing, and testing new aircraft and aerospace products. They also read through proposals for new projects, and determine whether each would be technically and financially feasible. When designs are completed, aerospace engineers then determine whether they meet the necessary engineering principles, environmental regulations, and any other requirements. To become an aerospace engineer, one must hold a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or another engineering field associated with the aerospace industry. Those who work on national defense projects may also need to pass a security clearance and background check.

2022 Median Pay: $126,880/year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 6% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Postsecondary Teachers

Perhaps better known as “professors” or “lecturers,” postsecondary teachers instruct students beyond the high school level. In order to effectively teach their students, postsecondary teachers typically create instructional plans that meet their department and university standards. Like any teacher, they also give students assignments, exams, and essays – which they score in order to determine a student’s final letter grade. They can also serve on their college’s academic and administrative committees. In order to become a postsecondary teacher, one typically needs a Ph.D. in their field of expertise. However, for those who want to teach at a local community college, a master’s degree may be sufficient. For certain fields and colleges, one’s university may also require that they have work experience in their field.

2022 Median Pay: $80,840/year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 8% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Physicists and Astronomers

While the exact duties of physicists and astronomers depends on their subfield, their general duties include studying how matter and energy interact. To do so, they plan and coordinate scientific experiments that test their hypotheses. Based on their observations, they then develop theories and models to explain how the natural world operates. Such findings are typically written down in papers to be published, or are presented at conferences and lectures. Physicists and astronomers may also write proposals in hopes of receiving funding for future research projects. If one hopes to get involved in the research or academic aspects of being a physicist or astronomer, a Ph.D. is required. However, only a bachelor’s degree in physics is required to become an entry-level physicist (in most cases).

2022 Median Pay: $139,220/year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 5% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Software Developers

Software developers create the computer applications and software that we use every day, utilizing users’ feedback to assess what they should next develop. After development, they continue to monitor their programs, making sure they run smoothly and successfully for users. In order to become a software developer, one typically needs to hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. However, some employers may prefer to hire those with a master’s degree or related work experience.

2022 Median Pay: $124,200 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 25% (much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Advanced Degrees You Can Pursue with an Astronomy Degree

After graduating with a bachelor’s in astronomy, many students decide to pursue further graduate or professional schooling. While graduate, law, and medical school are some of the most popular options for astronomy majors, here are just a few of the advanced degrees you can pursue with an astronomy degree:

  • Master’s/Ph.D in Astronomy
  • Master’s/Ph.D in Physics
  • Doctor of Medicine
  • Juris Doctor (the standard degree for lawyers)

Also see: How to choose a major

How do I know if a major is right for me? 

Knowing whether or not you’re majoring in the right subject is tricky. Even after being in college for multiple semesters or years, it is not uncommon for students to wonder whether they truly enjoy their major. However, many students also love their majors, and end up sticking with the same one for their entire college experience. So, if you’re thinking about majoring in astronomy, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Do you find creative problem-solving enjoyable?
  • Do you have strong mathematical, physics, and science skills?
  • Are you passionate about the universe and how it works?
  • Do you enjoy working with conceptual (as opposed to tangible) ideas and frameworks?

If you answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, then astronomy may be a great fit for you. With that, we wish you good luck. Have fun in college, reach for the stars, and apply for all the scholarships you qualify for! 

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Frequently asked questions about astronomy majors

How long does it take to become an astronomer?

Great question! Most astronomers hold a Ph.D. in astronomy, physics, or a related field. This is typically received after one finishes their master’s and bachelor’s (undergraduate) degrees, which take two and four years to complete, respectively. So, altogether, one can expect to dedicate around nine years towards becoming an astronomer (4 years of undergrad + 2 years for a Master’s + 3 years for a Ph.D).

how many years to become an astronomer

Most astronomers have doctorate degrees in astronomy and physics. According to the American Astronomical Society, astronomers usually earn a bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees in a physical science such as astronomy or physics before their doctoral degree. In all, it takes roughly 10 years to become a research astronomer.

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