3 answers

What are good astrophysics schools?

Updated Horizon City, Texas

I want to go to a college that will help me get the best education in astrophysics, and I’ve been having trouble finding schools that would be good to study this. #astrophysics #college-selection #astronomy #career #college

3 answers

Natalie’s Answer

Updated Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hi Anthony,

I have a great resource for you, http://www.collegesource.org/search/criteria.asp, that allows you to research possible schools by major, location, size, etc. If you want schools by you, Baylor U, Rice U, U of Texas at Austin and U of Oklahoma offers programs. If you are willing to travel further for school, you may want to consider MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, U of Chicago, Harvard, Princeton, U of Pittsburgh and Rutgers University. Make sure your skills are strong in the math and sciences.

Good Luck!


manish’s Answer

Updated Middletown, New Jersey
#anthony - yes being Georgia Tech alumni i can definitely vouch for it. One of my classmates was doing PhD in one of the many topics in astrophysics. But Princeton, Uni of Maryland also have great programs. Please do look at those as well. Let us know what more questions you have. Thanks

Greg’s Answer

Updated Sunnyvale, California

When I was choosing 30 years ago, I looked more for physics generally than astrophysics, but I ended up doing my dissertation in the latter anyway. The 8 schools that were at or near the top of the rankings for physics then were Stanford, UC Berkeley, Caltech (near JPL!), U Chicago, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. But there are lots of other schools with strong astrophysics departments, particularly if you're interested in observational work--UT Austin (MacDonald Observatory), U Hawaii (Keck Observatory), U Arizona (Steward Observatory), UC Santa Cruz (Lick Observatory), Johns Hopkins University (Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates both Hubble and the upcoming James Webb space telescope), and many others that collaborate with the Hawaiian and Chilean observatories. (UCLA has Andrea Ghez, for example, who has used the Keck telescopes to observe the stars orbiting our galaxy's central black hole 26,000 light years away.) And those are just the optical ones! Radio telescopes and interferometers, gravitational-wave observatories, ultraviolet/x-ray/gamma-ray space telescopes...observational astronomy is exploding, and there are many universities involved with almost every instrument, simply because they cost too much for any single institution to support.

In short, the "big names" are a starting place, but only that--I can't overemphasize how important a strong observational presence is even to a theorist. The latest data from the super-telescopes will hold unforeseen surprises that open up entire new subfields of astrophysics, so being "close" to the data will be invaluable. (That said, there are "big data" initiatives underway even now, including the Dark Energy Survey, which will produce such vast quantities of data that discoveries will continue for decades. This is already the case with past surveys, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.)

Finally, be sure to visit your top two or three schools in person before deciding! I had my heart set on Princeton and was sure I wanted to go there, but after visiting both there and the University of Chicago, I chose the latter. The professors seemed more down-to-Earth and engaged with the students, and in the end, that's why you're going to grad school, right?

Greg recommends the following next steps:

  • Check out some of the schools and observatories above to get an idea of what research is currently underway.
  • If (when!) you spot an interesting subfield, do some web-searching to find out who works in the field, where they're from, and what else those schools are up to. Repeat as needed.
  • Take a look at the astrophysics, cosmology, and general relativity sections of arxiv.org to get a sense of the names in each field. Or, even better, check out astrobites.org to see summaries (written by grad students) of key papers in various astrophysics subfields. They do one a day, and since it's already curated, you'll have a very good sense of what's going on in the overall field today simply by skimming the summaries of the past year's posts.