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What classes should I take in high school if I want to be an astrophysicist ?

I definitely want to have a strong grounding in physics and math, but is there anything else i’m missing?

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Andrew’s Answer

Mathematics is the language of science and technology, in which physics/astrophysics is part of it. Hence, it is imperative to take as many AP Courses in Mathematics (up to AP Calculus BC) and Physics as possible.

Competency and proficiency in computer coding is helpful in the future pursuit of a degree in astrophysics. However, it should be cognizant that mathematics is the foundation of your future academic endeavor, and you should invest most of your effort in it. Mathematics is the main course, and other skills are just deserts.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for your input! Noah
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Demitri’s Answer

Learning some electronics, computer science, statistics and linear algebra (esp. machine learning) can help as well. As an undergrad you might do things in lab courses like radio observation or things that involve signal processing, and so it helps to have some familiarity with electronics and computing tools like Matlab / Mathematica. Machine learning, i.e. K-means clustering is definitely used in astrophysics, i.e. grouping and classifying galaxies or other clusters of objects. In addition to big data processing there's big computing. I got into numerical simulations as an intern, so the dabbling in coding and computer science I did in high school helped.

On the computing side of things, I recommend Dr. Ng's Machine Learning course on Coursera, in which you can use Matlab or Octave (its free open-source alternative) to complete the fun coding challenges.
Thank you comment icon Thanks for the advice! Noah
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Joseph’s Answer

Physics and mathematics are obviously the key areas, but there are a few others to keep in mind.

Astrophysics often uses knowledge that sits on the border of physics and chemistry - a lot of the data that astrophysicists use comes from the spectral absorption and emission lines, and it is good to understand how that all originates in electron shells etc. There's sometimes a limited amount of that taught within physics, but it's often covered in more detail in chemistry classes, so might be something to look into. Chemistry can also be applied elsewhere in astrophysics - there's also the whole field of astrochemistry bridging the gap between the fields. There's only so much that will generally be applied in most astrophysics though - astrophysicists focus mainly on hydrogen and helium; and everything else they lump together as "metals" - even things like nitrogen and oxygen that no chemist would ever call a metal.

Perhaps more practically, astrophysics often uses techniques from electronics, computing and data science - if you can do a little bit of some of these, especially anything programming or data analysis related, it'll definitely help.

There's also transferable skills to be gained from a broad range of subjects - astrophysicists are often writing technical reports and journal articles, so it helps to have a high level of English language skills (although at school I found any technical writing topics to be vastly outnumbered by a bunch of relatively irrelevant literature and creative writing classes). International collaborations are also important, so foreign language skills can also be helpful sometimes, although you can generally get by with just English at most places you might go. You might also find more random transferable skills such as technical drawing and CAD from practical workshop classes to have occasional application too, although I wouldn't give anything like that much focus - I'm basically just saying that if there's other classes you're interested in and can take without disrupting your key studies, then do so - there's often a way to apply that knowledge unexpectedly further down the line.
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Amaron Singh’s Answer

Regardless of whether you enroll in astrophysics-related courses, the key is to focus on acquiring a solid base in fundamental mathematics and physics. This strong foundation will serve as a stepping stone for advanced learning in higher education. Don't forget to actively participate in Olympiads or similar competitions, and broaden your knowledge by reading extensively on the subject. Best of luck!
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