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Astronomy Major (BA)

Current Astronomy BA majors advisor: 
Ed Murphy (

If you have any questions, please email the Astronomy BA majors advisor or set up a time to meet.

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The Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy provides a firm grounding in basic astronomy, mathematics, physics, and computer science. It is not intended as preparation for graduate study in science. A listing of course requirements is given below. A senior thesis is required.

This program offers considerable latitude for the student to pursue interests in other subjects and is well suited for inclusion in a double major.

Arts & Sciences Area Requirements:

Lower division courses:

  • ASTR 1210, 1220 or ASTR 2110, 2120 (ASTR 1610 recommended but not required)

  • PHYS 1420, 2410 (or 1425, 2415)

  • MATH 1310, 1320, 2310 (the introductory calculus sequence)

  • PHYS 1655 (Intro Python) or PHYS 2660 (Fundamentals of Scientific Computing) or CS 1110 (or CS 1111 or CS 1112)

Upper division courses:

      ASTR 3130, ASTR 4998, and 12 credit hours (four courses) of 3000-5000 level astronomy electives are required.  One way to fulfill this requirement is:

  • Third year: ASTR 3130 and any two other 3000-5000 level Astronomy courses (ASTR 4993 recommended)
  • Fourth year: ASTR 4998 and any two other 3000-5000 level Astronomy courses

Courses recommended for students with a stronger interest in mathematics and/or physics:

  • MATH 3250: Differential Equations
  • PHYS 3140: Intermediate Physics Laboratory
  • PHYS 3210: Classical Mechanics

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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What is the purpose of the Astronomy BA major?

Not all careers in astronomy require a PhD.  For example, the BA major may be more appropriate for students who want to pursue careers in education, communications, journalism, or aerospace, etc.  Some students on a pre-health track major in astronomy.  For these reasons it is designed with fewer course requirements to make it easier to pursue as a double major.

In addition, the BS program can be challenging for students who decide to pursue the major at a later stage of college or after transferring to UVA.  The fewer number of course requirements allows students interested in graduate school to still take many of the physics and mathematics courses required by the astronomy-physics major, but without the pressure to fulfill all of the requirements.

Finally, with the evolution of astronomy as a field, there are more interdisciplinary tracks available.  Although most astronomers still need a significant physics preparation, there are increasing opportunities for astrobiology and astrochemistry, and there have long been connections to geology/geophysics in the form of planetary sciences that focus on planets and other objects in our solar system.  If you are interested in these areas, you may want to pair an astronomy major with a biology, chemistry, or environmental sciences.  This may be more tractable with the astronomy major with its fewer overall course requirements.

If your goal is to complete the astronomy major as preparation for graduate school in astronomy or any of these related fields, please make that clear to your advisor so they can advise you accordingly.  If you think the astronomy-physics program is better suited to your goals, you should discuss declaring that major with the majors advisor listed above.

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The Astronomy BA seems right for me.  How do I apply?

If you are not ready to fill out the form and just have questions, contact the astronomy BA major advisor listed above via email.  The key step in declaring the major is to fill out the declaration of major form that can found on the College of Arts and Sciences website.

On the major declaration form, you can list the majors advisor as the department contact. Please meet with the majors advisor to discuss filling out the form together.

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How should I choose the 3000+ level elective courses?

Choosing your electives depends on your goals for the major.  Our elective 3000 level courses are mostly intended to be open to non-science majors who are interested in astronomy and require relatively few mathematical prerequisites (with some exceptions). Hence, these courses are meant to offer an introduction to specialized areas of study within astronomy, but often without requiring significant prior course preparation.

This means that not all of these courses are ideal for graduate school preparation.  If your primary goal is to pursue graduate study in astronomy, you may want to look more closely at the 4000 level course options (e.g., ASTR 4810 Astrophysics, ASTR 4993 Tutorial, ASTR 4140 Research Methods in Astrophysics) for courses that are more focused on graduate school preparation.  However, this means that many of these courses have more significant course prerequisites in math and physics.

If you are not planning on attending graduate school, you should select the courses that are of most interest to you.  Please keep in mind that most courses are taught only in the spring or fall, and that these courses may not always be offered.

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How should I pursue undergraduate research and what opportunities are available?

There are numerous opportunities for undergraduate research.  Undergraduate research is most often performed for course credit (ASTR 4993 Tutorial; ASTR 4998 Senior Thesis) or paid summer research.  Many faculty and staff within the department supervise research, but there are also local opportunities to do research with astronomers and scientists at the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). 

Many undergraduate students also apply to external research opportunities and summer internships, such as Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs.  Application deadlines for many of these programs begin in January and acceptance into these programs can be highly competitive. Most programs require a letter from a research supervisor or related reference.  Hence, it is often useful to have local research experience before applying these external programs. If you are interested in such programs, you should ask your majors advisor about them – the earlier you start preparing, the better.

A list of local research project opportunities is maintained on this Google Sheet. Note that this is not a comprehensive list of available projects and there are many more faculty and staff who are willing to supervise research who are not listed here.

The National Science Foundation supports numerous REU programs and is a good place to start a search.  A list of current NSF-supported REU programs can be found here:

NASA also has a broad program of “internships” available.  The portal to these programs is here:

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What steps do I need to take for the Senior Thesis course (ASTR 4998)?

Visit the Senior Thesis page for full details.

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What do I do if I'm having a SIS-related issue? I have an issue with transfer credit, SIS is not showing requirements completed, or I am hoping to substitute another course for one of the Astronomy major requirements. 

If you have an issue with a transfer credit, completed courses, or if you want to substitute a course for a program requirement, speak with your advisor ASAP. In some cases, it is possible to grant exceptions in SIS for issues that might arise. It is, however, important to be aware that the granting of such exceptions are subject to Astronomy Department and College of Arts and Sciences policies.

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I have a question not covered here.  What do I do?

Promptly email the majors advisor if you have any additional questions or concerns. Don’t wait! The earlier issues or questions are addressed, the easier it is to modify plans and make adjustments.