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 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.
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 universe—its 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
In addition to Astronomy and Astrophysics courses, the Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. requires advance physics and mathematics coursework.
An Astronomy and Astrophysics B.S. 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 Astronomy department 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.
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 (MATH-M 211-M 212) as well as Physics 1 and 2 (PHYS-P 221-P 222).
Students with a strong high school math and physics background are also encouraged to begin the General Astronomy sequence (AST-A 221-A 222) during first 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, Galactic, Extragalactic and Computational 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, Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, or the Jacobs School of Music, express interest in also pursuing an Astronomy and Astrophysics 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.
You can get involved in research as early as your first year. Prospective students 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 first year, acquire research skills, gain exposure to new areas of research, and receive mentoring from a leading faculty member.
Many incoming first year students apply to the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience (ASURE) program. ASURE students experience project-based learning enhanced by a community of supportive faculty and peers. Choose an ASURE path in the arts and humanities, social and historical studies, or natural and mathematical sciences. Consider joining one that will deepen your skills and knowledge in an area related to your major or a different one to become a more well-rounded thinker.
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.
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.
Undergraduate scholarships and awards
Astronomy and Astrophysics majors are eligible for these scholarships and awards:
- High school seniors can apply for the IU STARS program and Cox Research Scholarship by filling out IU's online Selective Scholarship Application.
- High school seniors may be nominated for the Wells Scholarship by their high school.
- Current majors can apply for the Indiana Space Grant Consortium Scholarship.
- Each spring the Department of Astronomy offers modest departmental prizes to outstanding students.
- Department of Defense offers support for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM programs through the SMART scholarship.
Options for pursuing scholarships and awards include:
- College of Arts and Sciences Scholarships and Awards
- Financial Aid at Student Central on Union
- IU Foundation Scholarships
- IU Office of Scholarships
- National Science Foundation Funding for Undergraduates
- Pathways to Science
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 first year.
Other opportunities include:
- Hubble Space Telescope Institute, Baltimore, Maryland—summer internships
- National Radio Astronomy Observatory—summer 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 Rico—summer REU program
- National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizona—summer research program
- Northern Arizona University/Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona—summer research program
- University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, Honolulu, Hawai'i—summer research program
- National Solar Observatory, Tucson, Arizona and Sunspot, New Mexico—summer research program
- Maria Mitchell Observatory, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts—summer research program
- Cornell University Astronomy Department, Ithaca, New York—summer research experience for undergrads
- MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts—summer research program
- Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Sciences—Boulder, Colorado, summer undergraduate appointments
- Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts—summer undergraduate program
- American Museum of Natural History—New York, New York—summer undergraduate program in Earth Science and Astrophysics
- LIGO Gravity Wave Observatory—summer 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, Texas—summer 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.
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 80 languages.
Below is a sampling of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington.
- Arabic Flagship Program
- Center for Language Technology
- Chinese Flagship Program
- Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships
- IU Language Workshop
- Language Tables
- Project GO
- Russian Flagship Program
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 programs that involve taking regular classes with the host nation's students. These programs allow you to take courses in your major as well as fulfill general education requirements. Astronomy and Astrophysics students can pursue language study and other coursework through the following exchange programs:
- Mainstreamed programs in Australia
- Mainstreamed programs in England
- Exchange at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
- An IU program in a language you have studied
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 Astronomy faculty, your academic advisor, and through the Office of Overseas Study.
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.
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.
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:
- Advocates for Community Engagement
- IU Corps
- Student Life and Learning
- The City of Bloomington Volunteer Network
- The Monroe County Public Library
Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and 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.
- 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.
- Launch your career
Plan your search
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.
Maximize your career preparation with a career course. Astronomy and Astrophysics majors should consider enrolling in ASCS-Q 296 College to Career II: Navigate Your Arts and Sciences Experience. The section dedicated to Natural and Mathematical Sciences provides the opportunity for you to explore the relationship between your field of study and life after graduation, while developing an academic and career development plan for post-collegiate success. If you are considering continuing your studies after graduation, you may wish to enroll instead in the section dedicated to graduate school preparation. Regardless of the section you select, you will leave the class with your resume, a cover letter or personal statement, and a LinkedIn profile ready to go!
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
- Atmospheric and Space Scientists
- Chemical Engineer
- Civil Drafters
- Computer Systems Analyst
- Data Analyst
- Design Engineer
- Electrical Engineer
- Electrical Engineering Technicians
- Geophysical Data Technicians
- 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
- Planetarium Director
- Policy Analyst
- Research Assistant
- Research Scientist
- Science Writer/Journalist
- Software Developer
- Software Engineer
- 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:
- Cultural Vistas Professional Fellowships
- Ford Foundation Fellowship Program
- Fulbright Programs
- The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
- Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships
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:
- Astronomy Ph.D.
- Astrophysics Ph.D.
- M.S. in Education
- Information Systems
- Computer Science
- Data Science
- College + Kelley program
The IU College of Arts and Sciences has thousands of active alumni. Check out the 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 and Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.
Is it for you?
The Department of Astronomy attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and interests. They typically have some of the following qualities:
- Is curious about the nature of our universe and our place in it
- Likes to be challenged
- 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
Contact the Astronomy and Astrophysics academic advisor and schedule an appointment to explore your options. Complete information about the requirements of the major can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.
- Department website
- Advisor email address