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Undergraduate Program

Astronomy deals with the physical properties of the extraterrestial universe. Advanced astronomy courses, particularly astrophysics, depend on prior work in physics. Therefore, a student who plans to study astronomy should take an extensive program in physics. This is especially true of those students who contemplate graduate training. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a program in astronomy and astrophysics at the undergraduate level leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics. As a result of the extensive training in physics as well as astronomy, a student who graduates with this degree becomes eligible for admission to graduate study in either astronomy or physics, and in many cases in related fields such as meteorology or geophysics. The recipient of the degree may also look forward to a career in astronomy and physics education in secondary schools and planetaria. This degree is also desirable for future work in other areas, such as computer applications in industry.

The Astrophysics B.S. degree offered at MSU requires a carefully chosen set of astronomy and astrophysics courses plus a comprehensive preparation in physics. Thus our program has the advantage of giving you many options for your future. For example:

  1. From experience, we know that the undergraduate astrophysics education you will receive at MSU will provide you with an excellent preparation for graduate work in astrophysics. Our capable astrophysics majors are being accepted into the finest graduate astronomy programs in the country with full financial support.
  2. The integration of our astronomy program with a good physics program enables our students to have access to superior physics courses, and also to seek employment in physics research if undecided about physics versus astronomy.
  3. The Honors College programs at MSU present a unique opportunity to arrange an enriched course of studies to fit your individual needs, abilities, and goals. Through this program you will also be able to enroll in honors courses as soon as you are ready for them. Your academic adviser, a member of the astronomy research facility, will work with you in planning your program.
  4. Our students have the opportunity to take graduate courses in astrophysics and physics as undergraduates - this is possible because MSU has graduate programs in both areas.
  5. We have a substantial number of undergraduate majors in astronomy and astrophysics, large enough so that you will get to know several other students that share your interests and goals.
  6. The astronomy and astrophysics faculty have a reputation for excellent teaching. All of the courses taught in our department are taught by faculty actively engaged in astronomical research, not by graduate students.
  7. You have the opportunity to become a member of the School of Lyman Briggs, which is a small science residential unit housed in the Holmes Hall dormitory. In such a setting, there is a small-college atmosphere within a large university setting. Students may join or withdraw from Lyman Briggs at any time in their college career.
  8. If you are interested in earning a teaching certificate for high school science teaching while earning your astrophysics degree, MSU is an excellent choice.
  9. The astronomy faculty at MSU have research interests ranging over a rich variety of specialties in both observational and theoretical astronomy and astrophysics.

A student with an interest in this program should immediately consult with an astronomy adviser in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, even if astrophysics may not be the final choice of a major. The vertical structure of courses in the astrophysics program makes guidance important in the selection of a course schedule.

The key element of the astronomy program is a sequence of four courses, AST 207, 208, 304 and 308, which requires three years to complete. These courses are normally taken starting in the second year of an undergraduate’s education. AST 207 and 208 are taught during successive semesters in one academic year. AST 304 and 308 are ordinarily offered in alternate years, with majors taking one course during the third year and one during the fourth year. Majors must also complete a senior thesis during the senior year.

Calculus is necessary for both beginning astronomy and physics courses, and therefore should be started immediately on entering the university if possible. If your mathematics background is insufficient to begin calculus you might consider taking a summer course. The student should proceed as quickly as possible with the recommended mathematics and physics courses. Failure to do so may make it impossible to complete degree requirements in 8 semesters.

Degree requirements, and a SAMPLE SCHEDULE showing how to graduate in 4 years (PDF format)


Department of Physics and Astronomy
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI, USA