Become an Astrophysicist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn about the steps involved in becoming an astrophysicist. Research the education requirements to make an informed decision about pursuing a career in this field.

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Should I Become an Astrophysicist?

Astrophysicists explore physical properties of celestial objects, including stars, planets and galaxies; thus, they need a substantial amount of scientific knowledge. Becoming an astrophysicist requires training and skill in a combination of astronomy and physics. Students should identify prospective schools and maintain a high GPA in high school and concentrate on excelling in math, science, and computer science.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Some bachelor's programs exist, most professionals have doctorates.
Degree Field Astrophysics
Experience Summer internships in high school and college will help an applicant with competitive schools and professional positions.
Key Skills Math, science, and computer skills are all highly valuable.
Salary Median annual salary for astronomers was $105,410 in 2014. Physicists made an annual median of $109,600 in the same year.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Become Involved at an Early Age

Joining local astronomy clubs and participating in related events can be an early way for aspiring astrophysicists to meet people in the field and develop an understanding of the scientific community.

Step 2: Excel in High School Mathematics and Science Classes

Because astrophysics is a demanding and competitive field, entering a well-regarded undergraduate program could prove beneficial to a prospective astrophysicist's educational and career path. With that in mind, high school students should strive to maintain a high grade-point average and take advanced classes in science and mathematics to increase their chances of admission to a quality school.

Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Astrophysics

Undergraduate programs in astrophysics aren't common, so students might opt to pursue a physics or astronomy degree with a strong secondary focus on the other topic. Taking courses in computer science is important because the skills developed apply directly to astrophysical research.

Step 4: Get Involved in Research

With summer research programs and other opportunities for undergraduates available, the most competitive students often spend their 'vacations' developing hands-on experience in astronomical research. Some programs can be contacted through colleges or universities, while others are directly reached through national organizations, such as the National Science Foundation.

Step 5: Complete a Doctorate in Astrophysics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most physicists and astronomers, including astrophysicists, have a doctoral degree. Ph.D. programs in astrophysics require in-depth coursework in physics, astronomy, mathematics, computer science and statistics, as well as original research culminating in a dissertation. Doctoral programs generally take five years or more to complete.

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