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Astrophysics vs. Physics

astrophysastrophys - Posts: 15 New Member
edited June 2008 in Engineering Majors
I am very interested in astrophysics, but only a handful of schools have great departments (Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley just to name a few). MIT, a school I'm looking at, does not have a specific Astrophysics major, just a physics major. My question is this: is there a huge difference in astrophysics and physics majors? Math courses are typically the same and astrophysics does require a lot of the physics major courses, but would I benefit in majoring in physics and then doing graduate astrophysics or something similar (vice versa)?
Post edited by astrophys on

Replies to: Astrophysics vs. Physics

  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Registered User Posts: 6,610 Senior Member
    You'd probably benefit from doing your undergrad in physics and taking most of your electives in physics-related fields. At any top-tier school there should be faculty doing some sort of research you're interested in, so hop on board with one of them. Doing a physics degree instead of an astrophysics one will make you much more diverse and give you more knowledge about other aspects of physics.

    I'm saying this imagining that this is sort of like deciding between aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering.
  • TreetopleafTreetopleaf Registered User Posts: 2,721 Senior Member
    From a pragmatic standpoint, and as the friend of a Radio Astronomy PhD who has worked in CS ever since, jobs are scarce. Anything you do as an undergrad to make yourself marketable, in case the PhD and Post Doc scenario doesn't work out, will benefit you two ways - in case of career plan changes, and in obtaining lab work during your education. Your CS or electronics knowledge will make you more attractive to profs looking to hire lab assistants. So if I were you I'd be looking for a school that would offer some Astronomy courses for undergrad plus a physics major that allows some opportunity to obtain marketable skills. Good luck!
  • jessiehljessiehl Registered User Posts: 3,328 Senior Member
    MIT, a school I'm looking at, does not have a specific Astrophysics major, just a physics major.

    There are tons of astrophysicists at MIT. There are people who major in physics with a minor in earth, atmospheric, and planetary science (with a planetary sci concentration) and vice versa, and people who major in physics with a minor in astronomy.

    The difference between physics and astrophysics depends on the school. I have a friend who was an astrophysics major at Wellesley, and there, astrophysics was just a full physics major with some extra astro classes tacked on.

    Majoring in physics and doing grad work in astrophysics sounds like a fine plan.
  • nshah9617nshah9617 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    If you completely love Astrophysics and can't imagine doing ANYTHING else, go ahead and major in Astrophysics.

    However, I feel that majoring in Physics alone would be a better option. First, you get a wider curriculum and IF you change your mind about astrophysics, you have other options. Next, Physics majors are very versatile and I'm sure that you can apply to Astrophysics graduate programs without any problems, especially if you are attending MIT.

    Finally, there might not be any astrophysics programs at the UG level but there might be many at the graduate level. As an UG, you can sign up for a few of these classes and if not, research/network with a professor who has a niche in astrophysics.
  • mregomrego Registered User Posts: 1,038 Senior Member
    Consider Johns Hopkins --- the Space Telescope Institute is right on campus and NASA Goddard is not far away.
    Or New Mexico Tech -- the Very Large Array of radio telescopes is only 60 miles away.
    Cal Tech has a lot going on with JPL and they operate Mt. Palomar as well and also they work with MIT on the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory).
    Mount Graham International Observatory (and Steward Observatory) is operated by the University of Arizona which has a good astrophysics program too.
  • astrophysastrophys - Posts: 15 New Member
    thanks for the advice. i understand the thing about being more marketable and versatile, and the broader education of a physics major is something i realized as well. i think it would be better to take the astrophysics elective courses (UG or G if possible) and try to talk with the professors who concentrate their research in my specific field of interest. besides, like treetopleaf said, i could decide to change my career slightly, or dramatically (i've heard of lawyers who majored in physics as UGs), and the more diverse education would benefit me in that regard. once again, thanks for the help!!! :)
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