Bachelor of Arts in Astronomy and Astrophysics

When pursuing a major 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.

The Department offers a Bachelor of Arts degree as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The B.A. major is designed for students who are interested in astronomy as the subject of a liberal arts education, and allows great flexibility in the selection of courses because the focus is on breadth of knowledge rather than on depth or specialization. The B.S. major focuses more on depth of knowledge, and as such prepares students for graduate study and a subsequent career in astronomy and astrophysics, and also for careers in related technical fields. Bachelor of Arts majors frequently seek out additional majors, minors, and certificates available in the College of Arts and Sciences and elsewhere on campus, such as related to computing, journalism, or math. The academic advisor and faculty can provide advice to you about combining Astronomy and Astrophysics with another major or degree.

The Astronomy/Astrophysics major and coursework offer training in creative, disciplined, and quantitative analytical thinking that is valuable for a great variety of careers. B.A. majors often seek employment in the field and may pursue graduate degrees in related areas. Businesses, industries and government agencies also actively seek Astronomy majors for their strong analytical and abstract reasoning skills.

The major in Astronomy and Astrophysics encompasses study of the entire universe-its past, present, and future. Topics covered in courses and/or research programs include: 

  • Our solar system-Sun, planets, asteroids, and comets
  • The life cycles of stars
  • Exoplanets
  • 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 and cosmology

The Astronomy department also offers a minor designed to supplement other majors on campus.

Coursework

Getting started

The B.A. degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics focuses on breadth of learning rather than on depth. B.A. majors are encouraged to start by getting a solid foundation in calculus and physics during the first year. Students with a strong high school math and physics background are encouraged to begin the General Astronomy sequence (A 221-A 222) early. However, this degree is designed to allow flexibility in course selection and you will have choices for how to begin the major. The B.S. degree, on the other hand, requires more math and physics courses and has an honors program.

Tracks and concentrations

The Astronomy and Astrophysics B.A. degree does not include separate tracks. Depending on your interests, you may choose advanced electives from related areas, including Probability and Statistics, Scientific Computing or Programming, Data Mining, Visualization, Artificial Intelligence or Autonomous Robotics, Science Writing, and Mathematics or Physics courses. This breadth of options allows you to gain useful skills and widen your opportunities.

Upper level coursework

As an Astronomy and Astrophysics major, you are required to take at least three upper level courses in Astronomy, including A 305 Modern Observational Techniques and two upper level courses covering Stellar, Milky Way, Extragalactic Astrophysics, or other topics.

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

Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates

Your major represents about one third of your degree requirements. With the help of your academic advisor, you are able to combine several areas of interest with additional majors, minors or certificates. The B.A. degree opens up the possibility of combining diverse majors, such as Journalism, Economics, English, or History.

You should investigate degrees and minors that will provide you with important skills to complement your Astronomy degree. Here are just a few ideas:

Sometimes students majoring in other schools, such as the Kelley School of Business, the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, 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 may 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 may be encouraged to present results at professional meetings, such as those of the American Astronomical Society or 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 the preparation necessary for these programs. B.S. students are better prepared to be admitted to these highly competitive programs.

You can find other summer and semester-long Astronomy research and other opportunities through the American Astronomical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NASA, and Pathways to Science.

Honors

The Department of Astronomy offers a departmental honors program for students interested in getting involved in research. However, students interested in departmental honors should consider the B.S. degree. Recent senior honors 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. Internship application deadlines are typically in the fall semester.

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

Past Astronomy/Astrophysics majors have had internships at different organizations, including:

Other opportunities include:

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.A. majors study a foreign language through at least the second semester of the second year.

Graduates working in 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 career opportunities.

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 Astronomy/Astrophysics 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 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 3:30 pm and a guest speaker at 4 pm.

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

Volunteer opportunities

At IU 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.

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.

You might want to take a career course to help you maximize your time at IU. Students in the Natural & Mathematical Sciences should consider taking ASCS-Q296, College to Career II: Navigating the Arts and Sciences Experience.

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 field continue on to get professional or graduate degrees at some point during their career, usually immediately after earning their undergraduate degree. If you are considering continuing on to a Ph.D. program, you should consider the Bachelor of Science degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Talk with the Astronomy faculty, the academic advisor, career coach and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of the Department of Astronomy.

The Bachelor of Arts degree will equip students with many transferable skills which can be applied to a wide variety of industries. Common careers for Astronomy and Astrophysics majors include jobs in government, business consulting, research, observatories, aerospace engineering, planetariums, museums and education.

Initial and long-term destinations for graduates include positions in many job sectors:

Astronomy and Astrophysics majors have worked as data analysts, science writers, telescope operators, researchers, museum outreach facilitators, computer programmers and educators, among many other options.

Additional examples of occupations include:

  • Astronomers and Astrophysicists
  • Atmospheric and Space Scientists
  • Consultants
  • Design Engineers
  • Geophysical Data Technicians
  • Laboratory Technicians
  • Nuclear Monitoring Technicians
  • Observatory/Planetarium Directors
  • Online Content Manager
  • Policy Analysts
  • Professors
  • Software Engineers
  • Surveyors

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 and career goals:

Fellowships for post-graduate study

Fellowships are temporary opportunities to conduct research, work in a field, or fund your education. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profits, 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

If you are interested in graduate school, start thinking about your options early. To develop the skills you need for graduate study, it's important to make connections and build relationships with faculty and advisors.

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.

A Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics will help prepare you for entry into graduate programs in a wide variety of fields, such as media and communication, accounting, education, data science, information technology and computer science. For graduate studies in Astronomy, Physics or closely related fields, the B.S. degree is recommended.

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.

Astronomy and Astrophysics 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 IUB:

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 from a variety of backgrounds and interests. They typically have some of the following qualities:

  • Likes to be challenged
  • Is curious about the nature of our universe and our place in it
  • Desires flexibility and choice in major coursework
  • Wants to develop strong quantitative analytical skills
  • Is interested in careers in related fields, including science writing, data analysis, information technology, communicating astronomy to the public (for example via NASA), teaching, or innovatively combining astronomy with other fields
  • Is open to the possibility of graduate school in related applied areas or professional schools such as law school or medical school. For graduate studies in Astronomy, Physics or closely related fields, the B.S. degree is recommended.

Learn more

Contact the Astronomy/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