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Is earning an astronomy degree hard?

What's involved in earning an astronomy degree? Does involve a lot of math, physics, and theoretical classes? What classes would one take?

Thank you comment icon You should be able to go to any college/university website and see for yourself. Every such site I've ever been to lists exactly what the requirements are for each major they offer. Fred Rosenberger
Thank you comment icon Thanks for the advice. Genevieve
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Jinhua’s Answer

Hi Genevieve,

I'm Jinhua. currently a senior student at UMass Lowell, Lowell, MA. I just hit the web of my college and checked the courses list to get an Astronomy degree. Apparently, it usually involves Physics ( most), Chemistry, Math classes and some fundamental classes.

More importantly, if there's any chance, go to some colleges and have a guide tour. High schools usually organize a local college tour to their teenagers students. Also, finding what area you are truly interested in is the most important one. But no worries, many colleges don't request freshmen to decide what their major gonna be in their freshmen year, you will have so many experience to find which area you want to focus on when you into college.

Get more information on my school website. Universities might adjust some courses but the big direction ( Physics and chemistry) won't be so much different.
https://www.uml.edu/catalog/undergraduate/sciences/departments/physics/degree-pathways/dp-physics-astronomy-astrophysics-fall-2021.aspx
Thank you comment icon Thanks for looking into this for me! :-) Genevieve
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Joseph’s Answer

How difficult subjects are is very subjective and depends on what you enjoy and what you're good at. People do have a perception of the space sciences as being hard (think of the phrase "it's not rocket science") - but if you're that way minded where mathematics and physics is your thing and you enjoy abstract thinking about things out there that are too big to have an intuitive understanding of, I wouldn't say it was much more difficult than many other subjects.

In terms of class subjects, degrees titled "Astronomy", "Cosmology", "Astrophysics", "Physics and Astronomy" or similar are often almost interchangeable. There are slight differences in the exact subfields of the science that these titles relate to, but at undergraduate level, the bulk of what you study will be fairly similar, and you don't necessarily do more practical observation work with an "Astronomy" degree or more pure physics with a "Physics with..." degree . Different courses do cover slightly different subjects, but the differences come down more to the specific institution you study at and what the lecturers prioritize rather than the exact name of the course. Personally, I did a "Physics with Astrophysics" degree, but ended up doing more practical observational astronomy than a friend at a different university doing an "Astronomy" degree, for example. You'll typically study a core of basic physics subjects used in astronomy - including mechanics, electromagnetism, atomic physics, optics, and thermodynamics; the mathematics to back these up including a bunch of calculus, numerical analysis, statistics, vector calculus etc; and a range of astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology-specific topics which might including things like stellar evolution, galaxies and black holes, observational astronomy, relativity, evolution of the universe, and similar. Due to handling large amounts of data and specialist data formats, you'll probably also cover some basic programming and data handling too.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for taking the time to help me out! Genevieve
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Connor’s Answer

The classes involved in an astronomy degree are certainly difficult. You will likely have to take multiple years of Calculus as well as Linear Algebra and possibly Differential Equations for math (which can be pretty intense if you aren't into pure math). You will also likely be required to take some foundational physics classes, Electricity and Magnetism, Classical Mechanics, possibly Quantum Mechanics and Thermodynamics if you are pursuing astrophysics. Most schools I've seen actually don't require chemistry or biology if you are doing a physics related degree, though I would check that as your school may differ! Lastly, of course, is the astronomy classes themselves, which can range from theoretical classes like Orbital Dynamics and Cosmology to very hands on classes on Observations and Instrumentation.

I mentioned initially that astronomy degrees are difficult, but it is also not the *most* difficult degree out there. It could always be worse. If you try a few astronomy classes and feel it is too difficult I highly recommend reaching out to other students in your class. They may be having similar struggles! I worked together with some twenty students in my department throughout my major and probably wouldn't have passed without their help!
Thank you comment icon Thank you!! Genevieve
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Genevieve’s Answer

Hello! I was pursuing this path while I was applying for undergrad degrees. There is a LOT of math and physics in astronomy and someone who does astronomy as a career often pursues higher ed degrees. So for a bachelor's level, you're probably going to see more physics programs which focus on astronomy or astronomy programs with a significant portion of them being physics and math classes. You will take a lot of geology, biology and chemistry classes as well. In the masters/PHD level, you'll start to narrow your focus. Do you want to be an engineer and send people to space working for NASA? You'll take more engineering, physics, chem and bio classes. Do you want to study cosmology (the study of the universe and it's existence)? Then you will study a lot of advanced physics like quantum physics classes and philosophy classes. Regardless, astronomy is an objectively more academically rigorous area of study, albeit, one of the most interesting!
Thank you comment icon Thanks Genevieve! (btw, its nice meeting another Genevieve! :-) ) Genevieve
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