Master's in Astrophysics: Programs & Schools

Jun 06, 2019

This article provides detailed information about master's degree programs in astrophysics. Prospective students can get an understanding of the types of topics they will learn about in these programs as well as how to qualify for admission.

Master's degree programs in the field of astrophysics are available at a few universities around the country. Students interested in enrolling in one of these programs can learn more details about what will be expected of them, common curriculum requirements, and how to gain admission into these programs below.

Information About Master's Degree Programs in Astrophysics

Finding a master's degree in the specific field of astrophysics may be challenging, as this field is more commonly studied at the PhD level. However, there are some universities that offer terminal master's degree programs in astrophysics and significantly more that offer master's degrees in similar fields like astronomy and physics. In these programs, students can expect to spend around two years completing the degree requirements, which typically entail coursework as well as research. Some programs may also offer related PhD programs that students can transition into if they wish to continue studying. At the master's degree level, students will also typically engage in some independent research which may culminate in a master's thesis, depending on the program. Below, five topics that are commonly covered in the curriculum of these programs are highlighted.

Quantum Mechanics

Students in a quantum mechanics course can learn about some of the theories of quantum mechanics as well as how theories are practically applied. Some topics that may be covered in such a course include perturbation models, one-dimensional mechanics, and momentum. The course may also cover more advanced topics like single-particle theory.


A course in electrodynamics provides both a foundational and advanced study electrodynamics equations and applications. Topics in this course may include polarization, electrostatics, Maxwell's equations, plane waves, and special relativity. Additionally, an electrodynamics course may focus on energy loss, collisions, multi-pole fields, and radiation damping.

Interstellar Medium

Given that these master's degree programs have a focus on astrophysics and astronomy, it is also typical that students take one or more courses that cover various types of interstellar medium. Some topics that may be included in this course include stellar atmospheres, radiative transfer, thermal equilibrium, and photoionization. Such a course may also focus on interstellar medium in relation to a type of celestial body, like stars or galaxies.

Observational Astronomy/Astrophysics

In this course, students will learn about various techniques, methods, and instruments that are used to study astronomy and astrophysics. Different types of telescopes and other observational devices will be studied, in addition to instruments that measure x-rays, signal-to-noise ratio, and wavelengths. This course may also have a hands-on component in which students handle and use different instruments in a research project.


The topic of radiation is critical to the understanding of various astrophysics concepts. Students will learn about how radiation is transferred and how different types of celestial bodies are formed due to this process, such as stars and supernovae. The course will cover how photons are emitted through this process and then the processes by which they are subsequently absorbed.

General Admissions Guidelines for Master's Degree Programs in Astrophysics

To gain admission into a master's degree program in astrophysics, students will need to make sure they meet the program prerequisites in addition to submitting a complete application file. All applicants must possess a bachelor's degree in order to be considered, though it is not necessary for them to hold a degree in physics, astronomy, or a related field. However, programs do generally stipulate that they expect applicants to have taken coursework in topics like mechanics, calculus, thermodynamics, and physics in order to be prepared for the graduate level coursework.

When applying, students will need to submit their past academic transcripts along with letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a completed application form, and a CV or resume. In addition, results from the GRE are typically required.

To summarize the information above, students can earn master's degrees in astrophysics with which they can either then pursue a PhD degree or seek employment in a related field.

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