Astrophysics PhD Programs in California

May 28, 2019

Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and Pasadena are a few of the California cities with universities that offer PhD programs in astrophysics. Explore these programs in more detail and learn how to apply.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Astrophysics degree programs are typically offered through astronomy and physics departments and are available at several California institutions. These programs typically require a dissertation and may offer other additional hands-on experiences. Find out more about some of the state's available programs here.

California Schools with PhD Programs in Astrophysics

University of California-Berkeley

The University of California-Berkeley offers a PhD in Astrophysics that takes about 6 years to complete. The full-time program allows students to explore a wide range of research areas, including star and planet formation, galactic structure, and high-energy astrophysics. Students in the program must pass comprehensive exams, complete a doctoral thesis, and take on teaching responsibilities. The program also places an emphasis on outreach through field trips, science fairs, student groups, and other collaborations.

University of California-Santa Cruz

The University of California-Santa Cruz has a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics that can normally be completed in 5 years. Students can focus their research in various areas, such as cosmology, stellar spectroscopy, and advanced astronomical instrumentation. The program requires comprehensive exams, a doctoral thesis, and the submission of a journal article for potential publication. The program enrolls about 40 students at a time working towards their PhD.

University of California-Santa Barbara

The University of California-Santa Barbara provides a PhD in Physics with an emphasis in astrophysics. Students in the emphasis take astrophysics courses in place of the traditional core physics courses required for other PhD students. The program does require comprehensive exams and a dissertation. Coursework includes topics in quantum mechanics, extragalactic astrophysics, galactic dynamics, and interstellar medium.

University of California-Los Angeles

The University of California-Los Angeles has a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics that can typically be completed in 15 quarters. Students must serve as teaching assistants for at least 3 quarters, must pass comprehensive exams, and must complete a dissertation. Students are also expected to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher throughout the program. The program offers a variety of projects for students to participate in, and students in the program have earned numerous competitive fellowships.

California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena offers a PhD in Astronomy that focuses on astrophysical research. The program can be completed in 5 years and requires a comprehensive exam, doctoral thesis, and a 1-year teaching assistantship. Students can also attend a variety of seminars, conferences, and professional talks to round out their education. Students take core coursework in topics like the evolution of stars, galaxy formation, radiative processes, and high-energy astrophysics.

Common Entrance Requirements

Students applying to PhD in Astrophysics programs in California generally need at least a science-related bachelor's degree, typically in physics, astronomy, or astrophysics, and must have a strong background in physics and/or astronomy. Some programs may also look for any prior research experience a student may have obtained. Most of these degree programs require applicants to take the general GRE, as well as the GRE Subject test in physics. Common application materials for these degree programs include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose/personal statement, and/or a CV.

Students in California can earn a PhD in Astrophysics in about 5 to 6 years at schools in several different cities. These programs require a final thesis or dissertation and usually provide a wide range of research areas within the field.


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