A common question of students with an interest in majoring in Astronomy (and their parents) is what one can do with an Astronomy degree after graduation. The answer for those with a desire to become professional astronomers is that a B.S. degree in Physics and/or Astronomy is a necessity, but is not sufficient. A professional career, either at a university or a research lab, requires a Ph.D. Given that astrophysics often attracts some of the best and brightest students in the sciences and that the number of permanent positions available is always significantly less than the number of Ph.D.s, the competition within the profession is stiff. The goal of the KU undergraduate program is to provide such students with the best training possible while helping them to gain admission to the best graduate programs that are consistent with their abilities.
To improve a student's chances for success, we recommend that astronomy majors double-major in either Astronomy and Physics or Astronomy and Math. This also gives the student more options if their interests or talents develop in unexpected directions by the time of their graduation. Entrance to a good graduate program normally requires a GPA within the major of 3.0 or better; higher-rated graduate programs require GPAs of 3.5 or above. Due to the combination of degree requirements for a double-major and the need to maintain a competitive GPA, we strongly encourage students to take 5 years to complete the program, though students entering KU with a significant number of AP credits have finished in 4 years.
In contrast, students within the B.A. program usually enter the program with an interest beyond Astronomy such as Science Education or Science Journalism. The B.A. provides access to a broad array of basic science that can serve as an invaluable foundation for such professional interests. The same insight often applies to B.S. students who choose not to continue beyond the undergraduate level; the problem-solving skills, mathematical training, and, computer skills serve a wide range of professions outside astronomy.
If you are a high school student pondering a career in Astronomy or Astrophysics, what can you do to prepare? Astronomy is applied Physics, applied using the tools of advanced mathematics, the technology of modern telescopes, and state-of-the-art computer software. As a high school student, you are encouraged to take any and all math and science classes available that can reasonably fit within your schedule, with an emphasis on Physics and, if possible, Pre-Calculus and Calculus. AP classes in Math or Physics should be taken as a preparation rather than a substitute for university-level classes. Detailed lists of the course sequences for a B.S. major in Astronomy and for a B.A. major in Astronomy may be found at the web site of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. As a crude comparison of your level of preparation, the average composite ACT score for incoming majors within Astronomy and Physics is between 28 and 30. At minimum, if you have any interest in majoring in Astronomy at KU, we strongly encourage you to contact and speak with a faculty member within the program to discuss your options and to aid in planning your course schedule at KU.
Additional information on astronomy careers is available from the American Astronomical Society »