Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S.

When pursuing a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics, you have the opportunity to confront fundamental questions about the nature of our universe and our place in it. 

Students in the program use telescopes at campus observatories. You may also use and analyze data from the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO Observatories, other ground-based observatories, and space-borne observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope. The program also offers extensive computing facilities in Swain Hall. 

The Department of Astronomy is part of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences. In the major, you work with world-class faculty who are recognized both for their contributions to the field and as excellent teachers.

An Astronomy and Astrophysics degree not only prepares you for graduate programs in the field, but it also prepares you for a large variety of other possible career paths. Businesses, industries, and government agencies actively seek Astronomy majors for their strong analytical and quantitative reasoning skills. 

The Department of Astronomy offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics encompasses study of the entire universeits past, present, and future. 

Topics covered in courses and research programs include: 

  • Our solar system - Sun, planets, asteroids, and comets
  • The life cycles of stars
  • The origin of the elements
  • Our Milky Way galaxy and other galaxies
  • Clusters of galaxies
  • The large-scale distribution of both luminous and dark matter in the universe
  • Dark energy cosmology

The Astronomy department also offers an Astronomy and Astrophysics B.A. degree and minor designed to supplement other math and science majors on campus. Students planning to attend graduate school in Astronomy and Astrophysics or a related area should pursue the B.S. degree (instead of the B.A. degree) for proper preparation.

Coursework

Getting started

Astronomy and Astrophysics majors start by getting a solid foundation in calculus and physics. During your first year, you will take Calculus I and II (M211-M212) as well as Physics 1 and 2 (P221-P222).

Students with a strong high school math and physics background are also encouraged to begin the General Astronomy sequence (A221-A222) during freshman year; this must be completed by the end of sophomore year.

Tracks and concentrations

The Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. degree does not include separate tracks. Depending on your interests, you will be encouraged to seek out additional coursework in related areas, such as mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, computer science and the history and philosophy of science and medicine, to gain useful skills and to widen opportunities.

If you are interested in graduate studies, you should meet early with the Astronomy and Astrophysics academic advisor.

Upper level coursework

As an Astronomy and Astrophysics major, you are required to take certain upper level courses in mathematics, physics, and astronomy. In astronomy, you will take a Modern Observational Techniques class (AST-A 305) and at least two 400 level astronomy courses from areas such as Stellar, Milky Way, and Extragalactic Astrophysics.

We encourage you to work with the academic advisor to discuss how the Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. coursework will help you achieve your goals and complement your other interests.

Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates

Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. majors often have an interest in additional minors or certificates and sometimes pursue other degrees on campus. With the help of your academic advisor, you may be able to combine several areas of interest. A Physics degree is the most popular pairing, with some students choosing to pair their degree with Math.

You should investigate degrees and minors that will provide you with important skills to complement your Astronomy degree. Check the bulletin for more information about these opportunities:

  • Computer Science major or minor
  • Physics major or minor
  • Mathematics major or minor
  • Chemistry major or minor
  • Biology major or minor
  • A minor in a foreign language
  • Liberal Arts and Management Program Certificate
  • Kelley School of Business minor or certificate

Sometimes students majoring in other schools, such as the Kelley School of Business, Informatics and Computing, or the Jacobs School of Music, express interest in also pursuing an Astronomy major. The academic advisor will work with you to find out if it is possible for you to combine your first degree with a concurrent Astronomy and Astrophysics degree.

Enhance your major

Working with faculty

When pursuing a degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics, you have the opportunity to work with faculty who have expertise and experience in the field. Take advantage of office hours to talk with your instructors about your performance in class, the content of assignments, and how the course helps you work toward your goals.

Prospective freshmen can apply to the IU STARS program and Cox Research Scholarship by filling out IU's selective scholarship application. IU STARS in Astronomy and Cox Scholars work directly with faculty mentors as soon as they arrive on campus. Acceptance to one of these programs gives you an outstanding opportunity to get involved in research your freshman year, acquire research skills, gain exposure to new areas of research, and receive mentoring from a leading faculty member.

Astronomy and Astrophysics majors are strongly encouraged to participate in research on campus at IUB because our department believes it is critical for you to get involved in research as an undergraduate. Our faculty members mentor students one-on-one in research projects, which are usually observational and involve acquiring and analyzing data. You will have the opportunity to receive on-site training in data acquisition at our WIYN telescopes at Kitt Peak, Arizona, and other world-class facilities. 

You might also work with space-borne data acquired by the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer, Galex, and others. After your research has progressed far enough, you will be encouraged to present results at professional meetings, such as those of the American Astronomical Society or other national and even international meetings.  

The National Science Foundation funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. Talk with the academic advisor to learn more about these programs.

You can find other summer and semester-long research opportunities through the American Astronomical Society, NASA, and Pathways to Science

Honors

The Department of Astronomy offers a departmental honors program for students interested in getting involved in research. Most students enter this program during their sophomore or junior year. In the honors program, you will carry out research supervised by a faculty member in the department. During your senior year, you will write a research report and make an oral presentation describing the work in a mini-colloquium. Recent senior theses include research on a broad range of astronomical problems, carried out in close collaboration with faculty.

High achieving students may be recognized for Academic Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, or be eligible for admission to the Hutton Honors College.

Undergraduate scholarships and awards

Astronomy and Astrophysics majors are eligible for these scholarships and awards:

Other financial aid resources include:

Internships

Internships offer you a chance to develop both technical and transferable skills while making vital professional contacts with others in the field. Many students begin exploring internship opportunities, including overseas study programs with internships, as early as their freshman year.

The American Astronomical Society provides information about related internships. This site is a one stop shop for identifying internships for research in astronomy.

Other opportunities include:

  • Hubble Space Telescope Institute, Baltimore, Marylandsummer internships
  • National Radio Astronomy Observatorysummer student research program
    • Socorro, New Mexica, home of the Very Large Array
    • Green Bank, West Virginia, home of the Byrd Single Dish Telescope
    • Charlottesville, headquarters of NRAO, ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) and radio instrumentation labs
  • Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Ricosummer REU program
  • National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizonasummer research program
  • Northern Arizona University/Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizonasummer research program
  • University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, Honolulu, Hawai'isummer research program
  • National Solar Observatory, Tucson, Arizona and Sunspot, New Mexicosummer research program
  • Maria Mitchell Observatory, Nantucket Island, Massachusettssummer research program
  • Cornell University Astronomy Department, Ithaca, New Yorksummer research experience for undergrads
  • MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusettssummer research program
  • Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space SciencesBoulder, Colorado,  summer undergraduate appointments
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusettssummer undergraduate program
  • American Museum of Natural HistoryNew York, New Yorksummer undergraduate program in Earth Science and Astrophysics
  • LIGO Gravity Wave Observatorysummer REU program
  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory, Brookhaven, New York
  • The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • General Information on NASA/Space Research Opportunities
  • Jet Propulsion Lab Internship Program
  • Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, Texassummer internship program
  • Carnegie Institute of Washington Geophysical Laboratory, Washington, D.C.summer internship program
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • NASA Ames, Mountain View, California
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

Learn more about internships, including the possibility of receiving credit, through The Walter Center for Career Achievement, where you’ll find many resources for both domestic and international internships. You can also find out more about internship opportunities by contacting the academic advisor.

Foreign language study

Among the goals of a liberal arts education at IU Bloomington are the study of the international community and the development of basic communication skills in a foreign language. Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. majors study a foreign language through at least the first semester of the second year.

Graduates working in academia, business and industry usually work in teams, often with people from various nations and cultures. Foreign language study provides insight into other cultures and other patterns of thought and expression. Proficiency in a foreign language can enhance your research and career opportunities, particularly with certain types of employers, including:

  • U.S. Government
  • Nongovernmental organizations
  • Multinational corporations
  • Research universities

As one of the premier institutions in the U.S. for the study of languages, IU Bloomington offers courses and resources in over 60 languages.

Below is a sampling of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington.

Overseas study

Study abroad is an important part of undergraduate education in our increasingly interconnected world. As an Astronomy and Astrophysics major, you are eligible to apply for many study abroad programs. 

Science majors often look for mainstreamed programs that involve taking regular classes with the host nation's students. These mainstreamed programs allow you to take courses in your major as well as fulfill general education requirements. Astronomy and Astrophysics students often pursue language study and other coursework through the following exchange programs:

As a science major, you may also be interested in overseas internship opportunities. Overseas internship placements will likely be in English-speaking locations, since you may be placed in a lab or in a more technical setting. If you are interested in an internship in a non-English speaking location, you need to have substantial knowledge of and proficiency in the host language.

The College of Arts + Sciences also directly hosts a variety of study abroad programs, some even featuring IU faculty, that might be right for you. Learn more about study abroad opportunities and locations through conversation with [insert major here] faculty, your academic advisor, and through the Office of Overseas Study.

Student groups

The Department of Astronomy sponsors an Astronomy Club. This student-led group meets weekly to discuss and learn about astronomy. The club's activities include community outreach, graduate school preparation, guest speakers, journal article discussions, game nights, rooftop observing, and a semi-annual star party (where you will camp out and spend the night eating marshmallows and looking through amateur telescopes).

The Women in STEM Living-Learning Center at IUB is home to a group of undergraduate women of all levels who are driven to achieve in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.

For a complete list of Living Learning Centers, Academic Communities, and Thematic Communities, visit the Residential Programs and Services website.

As an Astronomy and Astrophysics major, you are also invited to attend the Astronomy Department Colloquia. Each Colloquium involves a tea at 3:30pm and a guest speaker at 4pm.

Explore beINvolved to connect with any of the 750+ student organizations that already exist, or to start a new one.

Volunteer opportunities

Here at IUB you are encouraged to seek out volunteer opportunities. Consistent volunteering allows you to develop leadership and organizational skills highly valued by employers.

There are numerous opportunities for volunteer engagement, allowing you to give back to the local community while developing useful job skills. The organizations below can help you connect with others from the university and beyond:

Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and organizations.

Professional organizations

Joining professional organizations is a great way to connect and network with professionals working in Astronomy and Astrophysics related fields. Astronomy and Astrophysics majors are encouraged to join the American Astronomical Society. Their website contains resources for related activities and careers.

Use the Indiana University Library system to search for Associations Unlimited, an online directory of associations, professional societies, non-profit organizations, and much more.

Build your skills

Through the major

The major in Astronomy and Astrophysics provides you with a set of skills and qualities that are relevant and transferable to many areas of study and work. These include:

  • Be exposed to many areas in astronomy and astrophysics and acquire a body of astronomical knowledge
  • Develop fundamental skills for astronomical problem solving
  • Learn about and show mastery of various modes of scientific thinking employed by astronomers in conducting astronomical research
  • Develop communication skills appropriate for astronomers
  • Learn professional skills and be able to demonstrate the skills needed for success in the workplace, whether in graduate school or on another career path

Through a College of Arts and Sciences degree

Your coursework provides many opportunities to develop the following five foundational skills that will serve you well in every career path:  

  • Question critically
  • Think logically
  • Communicate clearly
  • Act creatively
  • Live ethically

These foundational skills will aid you in landing your first job and advancing professionally throughout your working life. Not only are these the skills that employers say they value most in the workplace, they provide the best preparation for lifelong success in a world of complexity, uncertainty, and change.

Skills desired by employers

Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers asks employers what key skills and qualities they are looking for in recent college graduates.

The following are some of the most commonly desired attributes across many employment sectors:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Analytical and quantitative skills
  • Ability to take Initiative
  • Being detail oriented
  • Demonstrating adaptability
  • Technical skills relevant to the field
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Computer skills
  • Organizational ability

As you explore various career fields, pay attention to specific job descriptions and requirements. If there are areas where your skills or knowledge are lacking, talk with your academic advisor and career coach about how you can develop in those areas while you are at Indiana University.

Your academic advisor and career coach can also help you find ways to strengthen and deepen the knowledge you already have, becoming more prepared for whatever path you select after College.

Launch your career

Plan your search

A good starting point for exploring your career options is an appointment with your career coach.

The Walter Center for Career Achievement offers job search resources, career courses, job fairs, information about internships and full-time jobs, and help with social media networking through professional organizations. Get advice about how to write your resume, ask for letters of recommendation from faculty and workplace supervisors, and prepare for job interviews, too.

Explore and enroll in Career Communities to learn more about industries relevant to your interests. These offer unique information about each field, including alumni spotlights, opportunities and resources, and in-person events.

Taking ASCS-Q296 College to Career III: Market Yourself for the Career and Internship Search is a great way to prepare all of your documents and practice the skills needed for a job search. 

The job market

Astronomy and Astrophysics are constantly evolving, and trends show that there are always openings in the field. Research indicates that this major has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

One thing to consider when searching for jobs is to look at the education required for open positions. The majority of positions ask for higher degrees, either a Master of Science (M.S.) or a Ph.D. The majority of students in this major continue on to get professional or graduate degrees at some point during their career, usually immediately after earning their undergraduate degree.

Talk with the Astronomy faculty, the academic advisor, your career coach, and other students to gain valuable insights into the career paths taken by graduates with this degree. The American Astronomical Society provides career resources and lists of open jobs in the field.

Common careers for Astronomy and Astrophysics majors include jobs in government, research, defense, observatories, aerospace engineering, planetariums and museums, and teaching. Initial and long-term destinations for graduates include positions in many job sectors:

  • Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians
  • Analyst
  • Astronomer
  • Astrophysicist
  • Atmospheric and Space Scientists
  • Chemical Engineer
  • Civil Drafters
  • Climatologist
  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Data Analyst
  • Design Engineer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Electrical Engineering Technicians
  • Geophysical Data Technicians
  • Geoscientists
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Industrial Safety and Health Engineers
  • Laboratory Technician
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Museum Education & Outreach Coordinator
  • Natural Science Managers
  • Nuclear Monitoring Technicians
  • Observational Astronomer
  • Observatory Manager
  • Physicist
  • Planetarium Director
  • Policy Analyst
  • Professor
  • Research Assistant
  • Research Scientist
  • Science Writer/Journalist
  • Software Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Statistician
  • Surveyors
  • Teacher (e.g. high school science)
  • Telescope Engineer
  • Telescope Operator
  • Theoretical Astrophysicist

Want to see where your fellow majors go right after graduating from IU? Check out the Walter Center’s First Destinations survey!

Need more ideas? The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career information about hundreds of occupations.

Post-graduate short-term experiences

After graduation, a short-term experience or internship can help you make connections, gain life skills, and assess your interest in future careers. Talk with your career coach and use these and other resources to find opportunities that are a good fit with your educational experience and career goals:

Fellowships for post-graduate study

Fellowships are temporary post-graduate opportunities to conduct research, work in a field, or fund graduate school. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profit, and government organizations.

Good resources for finding fellowship opportunities include:

Students entering Ph.D. programs may sometimes arrive there during the summer following their undergraduate degree, to gain research experience before graduate coursework begins in the fall.

Graduate and professional study

Many Astronomy and Astrophysics majors consider graduate school, and approximately half go on to graduate or professional studies. Exceptional majors frequently go on to the very best ones in the nation. You should start thinking about graduate study early. Making connections and building relationships with instructors and advisors is a vital part of developing the skills you need for graduate study.

When applying to graduate or professional schools, you’ll need letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Make a practice of attending office hours early in your academic career, to get to know your professors and discuss your options for advanced study in the field.

An Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. degree will help prepare you for entry into graduate programs in a few different areas. The degree is particularly appropriate preparation for a Ph.D. program geared towards research. Therefore, many students consider applying to Ph.D. programs.

Majors in this field also pursue other related graduate programs in the sciences or professional programs. With careful planning, and in consultation with the Health Professions and Prelaw Center, you could also prepare to enter law school, medical school, or other professional programs.

Majors are encouraged to seek out graduate school opportunities across the country and around the world. Here are examples of related graduate programs offered at IU:

Alumni connections

Talk with Astronomy and Astrophysics faculty, the academic advisorcareer coach and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of this degree.

The IU College of Arts + Sciences has thousands of active alumni. Check out the IU College Luminaries program, which connects students with the College's most influential, successful, and inspiring alumni.

Join the Walter Center Success Network to remain in touch, network directly with College of Arts +Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.


Is it for you?

The Department of Astronomy attracts students who are enthusiastic about investigating the universe and our place in it. The typical Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. major:

  • Likes to be challenged
  • Is curious about the nature of our universe and our place in it
  • Wants to develop strong analytical skills
  • Is open to the possibility of graduate school in astronomy or other sciences, or other professional schools such as law school or medical school
  • Could be interested in careers in related fields, including data analysis, information technology, communicating astronomy to the public (for example via NASA), teaching, or innovatively combining astronomy with other fields

Learn more

Contact the Astronomy and Astrophysics academic advisor and schedule an appointment to explore your options. Complete information about the major requirements can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.

Department website
Advisor email address
astadv@iu.edu