My first exposure to Astronomy was during my middle school years. While my school district lacked funds for every other subject, I was fortunate enough to study astronomy through my middle school’s planetarium. From learning how to locate Orion’s Belt to learning about the order of the planets (back when Pluto was still a planet… #longlivepluto), I was definitely fascinated about all that “stuff” in the sky. It was not until I took a college level astronomy course at my liberal arts college did I start to get a better understanding of the subject matter and what you can do with it. So you might be asking, what does an astronomy major do exactly besides pointing out planets in the sky? By the end of this article, you’ll get a basic grip of what an Astronomy major can do for you. So let’s begin!
What is an Astronomy Major?
Defined by Ohio State University, Astronomy is the study of both the origin and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies and other objects in space. While Biology and Chemistry are subjects in which you can conduct experiments, Astronomy is defined as an observational science since you cannot “touch celestial objects,” with a few exceptions such as meteorites. You will have a chance to grapple and learn topics such as the existence (or non-existence) of Black Holes, Space-Time relativity, and other mind-altering theories about our universe. While there are observational data and theories you will learn, your major will also consist of advanced mathematics and physics. Depending on how you feel about the physics component in your major, you could possibly double major in both Astronomy and Physics or have the option of majoring in Astrophysics, a common interdisciplinary major at colleges. Astrophysics has a greater focus on the interaction of celestial bodies with the laws of physics.
Uh-huh. So what can I do with it?
From your courses, Astronomy will not only improve your observational and analytical skills, but also advance your knowledge in mathematics and physics. Unlike most math and physics track requirements, there is a heavier emphasis on reading theories, reports, and papers on different topics about the sky that are based on observations. With this heavy emphasis, you will develop your critical thinking and reading skills from theories and observations you will construct in labs. Other lesser-known skills developed as an astronomer are writing and communication skills. Due to the observational nature of your labs and knowledge, it is necessary for Astronomy majors to be able to communicate their findings with other researchers and the general public. Here is a great blog post that provides additional examples of what you can do with your astronomy degree.
But what about after graduation?
Since the skills from Astronomy are adaptable to almost any career, below are some careers that are most relevant to your studies. However, keep in mind that in order to advance further into the field of physics and give you the most options within that subject area, attending a graduate school to specialize further in your area is recommended. With this in mind, it is important to seek out research experiences and maintain a high GPA in college.
- Academia (Professors, Teachers)
- Government Departments/Programs (NASA, etc)
- Science Museums
- Think Tanks
What undergraduate programs should I look at?
Like all majors, it does not truly matter which undergraduate program you attend. While most undergraduate Astronomy programs teach similar course material, it is important to seek out undergraduate environments that would provide you options to receive research grants and opportunities. Below are some undergraduate programs that are great places to research and start building your college lists:
- Case Western Reserve University – Astronomy
- Cornell University – Astronomy
- UC – Berkeley – Astronomy
- UT – Austin – Astronomy
- University of Hawaii – Astronomy