Astrophysics Master's Degree: Requirements & Prerequisites

Jun 18, 2019

A master's degree in astrophysics has a couple of prerequisites as well as degree requirements. Learn more about required course topics and other components of this type of program.

The requirements for a master's degree in astrophysics include graduate-level courses in topics related to physics and astronomy as well as other factors. Before students enroll, they should be aware of several prerequisites as well as program details.

Common Requirements for a Master's Degree in Astrophysics

A typical master's program in astrophysics consists of roughly 30 credits of core coursework and electives, a qualifying exam, a research thesis/project, and an oral exam defending the thesis. Some schools, however, may allow students to complete a non-thesis track. Students can complete the program in a year-and-a-half, but some programs may require that students continue on to a Ph.D. in astrophysics. There is usually no foreign language or teaching/field experience requirements for these programs. Many schools do require that students complete all core courses with a GPA of 3.0. Below are some examples of core courses in the master's program.

Methods of Theoretical Physics

The theoretical methods used by physicists to study classical mechanics and quantum mechanics are presented to the class. Several topics are covered in this course including Fourier series, vector space, and orthogonal coordinates. Also, the field of electrodynamics is taught with the methods of theoretical physics.

Classical Mechanics

Several topics in classical mechanics are covered in this course including the two-body central force problem and Hamilton's principle. Students are expected to learn the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian equations of motion and small oscillations. Also, classical chaos and classical field theory are explored in this course.

Quantum Mechanics

Another high-level physics course to take is quantum mechanics. It covers several topics including axioms of quantum and wave mechanics, harmonic oscillators, and angular momentum theory. Another interesting topic in most quantum mechanics classes is matrix mechanics. Also, quantum numbers and angular momentum are introduced in this course.

Techniques of Modern Astrophysics

This course contains literature surveys and planning projects that are designed to introduce the concepts and techniques of astrophysics. Students will conduct research in computational astrophysics and observational astrophysics. Several topics are covered including noise sources and astrophysical backgrounds. Spectroscopic instruments are introduced as well.

Radiation Astrophysics

One topic in this course is the transfer of radiation through plasma. Also, the processes of photon-emission and photon-absorption are presented to the class. Students will be able to analyze the spectra of stars and galaxies. Another topic explored is optics and telescope design.

Stellar Astrophysics

This course is designed to cover the physics of interiors of stellar entities. The latest methods used to calculate stellar models is presented to the class. Also, the principles of stellar evolution is taught. A model of stellar formation and development, and the dynamics of supernovas are covered in this course.

Electrodynamics of Plasmas

Several topics are covered in this course including macroscopic plasma transport theory and charged particle diffusion processes in plasma. Also, students will learn about electromagnetic energy absorption that occurs during inelastic and elastic collisions. Waves in cold plasma are studied. Also, the dynamics of waves in warm plasma are introduced.

Prerequisites and Admission Requirements

Most schools require that students have a bachelor's degree and a background in physics-type classes before enrolling in a master's in astrophysics. Also, some graduate-level courses can't be taken until other courses are completed. An example of this is a course on electrodynamics of plasmas requires students have taken a class on extragalactic astronomy first. Courses in methods of theoretical physics and classical mechanics can also be prerequisite classes for higher level topics.

Potential applicants should fill out an application and send it to the graduate admissions office. Some colleges require a personal statement or an academic statement. Also, send transcripts of undergraduate courses and GRE scores (general exam and physics subject exam), as well as a letter of recommendation.

To summarize, students must successfully complete several courses, pass a qualifying exam, and present a final project to earn the master's degree in astrophysics. Typical prerequisites for the master's program are a bachelor's degree and prior physics classes.

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