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Frequently Asked Questions

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Where should I send my application? To the Astronomy Department or to the Graduate School?

Your application should be submitted electronically to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences through their admissions page

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What GRE exams are required?

Beginning in 2020, the Department no longer accepts, nor considers, the Physics GRE as part of our application process. 

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I am in the process of finishing a Masters in Astrophysics. Would I be able to go straight into doing a Ph.D. and how long would this take?

We generally expect students who receive a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia to have passed through our own course of study, and do not allow students to skip over coursework required for both our M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. However, your previous experience/course work may be taken into account in putting together a specific plan of studies for you if you came here. For example, there may be some courses that you would not need to repeat here at UVA if it is felt that you have sufficient previous experience in this material. Our rationale for our policies with regard to previous masters work is to do what is best for the student. 
The average time to Ph.D. for our students is 5-6 years, including Master's Degree work.

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I've been offered admission for next year. By what date should I notify you of my decision? Are there any forms I need to fill out for this?

It is normal for graduate programs in astronomy to request decisions from students by April 15. It would help us greatly if you would comply with this date.

You will receive materials from the department and from the university by post. In the university materials there will be a form asking you to show your financial situation -- i.e., that you will be able to support yourself during your schooling here. Do NOT worry about this -- simply state that you are receiving full out of state tuition (or in state if you are a Virginia resident) and stipend support at the required levels from the Department of Astronomy.

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I've accepted admission to the department and to the school, but I am a foreign student. What do I have to do after that?

If you already have filed your financial statement with your application, then you can initiate the processing of your I-2O form for a visa. To do so, you should send your I-20 request packet to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Admission Office. Information can be found on the GSAS New Students page.


Grad Student Life in and outside the UVA Astronomy Department

This informal list of frequently asked questions will give you some idea of what it’s like to be a grad student in the Astronomy Dept, at the University of Virginia

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What are the requirements for the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees?

According to the Graduate School of Arts and Science: "Students must complete a minimum of 30 hours of graduate credit. Only graduate courses taught by members of one of the graduate faculties of the University, offered during the fall or spring term and graded on the standard A through F scale may be counted toward the graded coursework requirement unless otherwise specified in a program’s degree requirements." Additionally, you must pass the Master's Qualifying "Exam". Our MS Qual, usually taken before the start of the spring semester your first year, consists of a literature review of two important and relevant papers to your research and an oral presentation on your completed and planned research for the next 1.5 years. There is no written exam. 

Similarly, the PhD Qual, which is usually taken before the start of the spring semester your second year, consists of a literature review of one important and relevant paper and an oral presentation covering the research you have done over the past 1.5 years and a proposed thesis plan. 

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What courses do students usually take?

Graduate students will take a total of 8 courses over the first two years. There are no required classes, rather, students select classes in conjugation with their advisor to create a tailored class schedule that meets their personal needs. The astronomy classes are scheduled in a rotating sequence so that each course is offered every other year so the 1st- and 2nd-year students attend the same core classes. You can check the course listing to know what students typically take.

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What are the typical TA duties?

While there is no TA requirement for any students, most students usually TA for ~2 semesters over their first two years. TA appointments are nominally set at 20 hours/week. Typical TA duties include: running night labs (e.g. Constellation Lab, Telescope Observing), grading homework/exams/etc., holding discussion and/or review sessions, holding office hours, and occasionally giving lectures.

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What are the work areas for graduate students like? (Offices, desks, computers, etc.)

Each graduate student receives their own desk and offices are usually shared between 6-10 grads. Amazingly, each grad office has multiple windows. Other departmental office amenities include multiple meetings space, a lounge, and a kitchen stocked with drip, espresso, and pour over coffee supplies as well as teas and snacks. We have rather nice computer resources as a result of very good state support in this area.

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When does one begin research work?

All graduate students are required to start on a research project in their first semester. Some new students even arrive the summer before they formally start in order to get a jump on research. You can do research with any of the faculty members, or with the scientists at NRAO. You can take a look at the department’s Research page (or the pages of individual faculty members) to see what research is currently being done in the department. We strongly encourage admitted students to identify an advisor before starting in the fall. 

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What is the average time to a degree?

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at UVA encourages students to finish their PhD in five years. As such, our program is designed to let students meet degree requirements and graduate within five years. However, it is common for some students to take an extra year and finish in six years.

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What is the typical stipend?

Our stipends cover all 12 months and include tuition, healthcare, and gym access. Summer funding is not strictly guaranteed, however, the overwhelming majority of graduate students have not had problems maintaining funding through their advisors. Over recent years (2021-2023), there has been a ~17% increase in stipends in an effort to match the growing cost of living in Charlottesville.  

The department frequently offers grader positions for certain astronomy classes which can supplement income. Certain university, state, or national fellowships and grants may also add additional income on top of the base stipend. 

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How does one obtain summer funding?

It is possible to obtain research support over the summer from your advisor (if they have grant funding available). If research funds are limited then you can apply to teach one of the four astronomy courses that are offered in the summer. Teaching in the summer time is a good way to get teaching experience. It also takes up only 4 weeks (plus preparation time), so you do have time left to work on your research.
In recent years all students have obtained either research or teaching funds from the department, but summer funding is not guaranteed.

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What health insurance does the University offer?

The University health plan is administered by Aetna Student Insurance. You are required by the University to have a health insurance plan. However, the University (or an advisor’s grant) pays the health insurance premiums of all TAs, RAs, and students on fellowship who receive at least $5000 in support annually (which includes all fully-funded astronomy grad students). Student health is free for all full-time students during the school year (with appointments in the summer costing $15). The University has a very well equipped hospital with some of the best doctors in the country.

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How much does housing cost in Charlottesville, and where can I find apartment listings?

According the Zillow, as of March 2024, the average cost for a 1 bedroom is $1,550 (ranging between $500 and $5,000). The average cost of a 2 bedroom apartment is $1,865 (ranging between $1,100 and $5,000). Most graduate students choose to live with roommates to lower housing costs. There is also On-Grounds University Housing available at below-market rates - these typically fill up quickly so make sure you apply early. 

Popular neighborhoods for graduate students to live in include: Fry's Springs, Eagles Landing, Jefferson Park Avenue, Venable, Fifeville, Barracks Rugby, Commonwealth, Rio, and Belmont. If you plan on living further away from grounds and driving in to work, you will need to acquire a commuter permit and park in the designated lots. 

Below is a list of web sites with Charlottesville housing information to get you started:

  1. Typical real estate listing websites: Zillow,, HotPads, craigslist
  2. Some local realtors with apartment listings: Woodard Properties and Management Services Corporation
  3. The Blue Ridge Apartment Council (This is an excellent site which allows you to search apartment offerings from multiple realtors
  4. Some local papers post listings: The Cville Weekly, and The Daily Progress
  5. Co-Operative Housing at the University of Virginia
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How much does it cost to keep a car in Charlottesville?

Compared to other East Coast states, the costs associated with owning a car in the Charlottesville area are reasonable. A typical 22 year old graduate student with a fairly new car and a good driving record can expect to pay around $900 a year in car insurance. If you’re older or drive an older car, the rate will probably be around $650 a year. Once you’re over 25 rates go down even further to less than $500 a year (again depending on your car, driving record, etc.).

You will have to pay property taxes on your vehicle if it is registered in the state of Virginia. Find the most up-to-date information at the Albemarle County website

If you plan on commuting to work each day, you will need to acquire a commuter permit. Commuter lots are located along bus routes and only a brief bus ride away from the department. If you have an NRAO advisor you may be permitted to park at the NRAO. 

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Traveling around town

The university has a free bus system whose route includes a shopping center with a couple of grocery stores. Maps, hours of operation, and timetables are viewable at the University Transit Service website. The City of C'ville has buses which go to all the shopping malls, and these city buses are free for university students (maps found at here). Most graduate students do own a car but it is possible to navigate the city without one.

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What fun things graduate students participate in?

We have a very active social scene amongst the graduate students. We play in IM leagues year round, including: volleyball, softball, soccer, and basketball. We also organize group hikes in Charlottesville and the nearby Shenandoah National Park. There are occasionally group rock climbing sessions at the Slaughter Recreational Center. There is also a strong restaurant culture with our "Restaurant Club" which chooses a new place to eat each payday. There are many other ways to build community outside of work with trivia, breweries, parties, and more. 

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What fun things does the Astronomy department organize?

The department has two picnics each year hosted at a local park or the Fan Mountain Observatory in which all department members, friends, and family are invited to eat food, play games, and hang out. Each winter, the department join forces with NRAO to host a Holiday Party at a nice venue around town. Each spring, we hold a departmental banquet dinner where we celebrate departmental wins and announce people and news to look forward to.

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Other information about the department

The department has weekly colloquia on Thursdays (jointly with NRAO) and NRAO has informal lunch talks on Tuesdays. Hence there are a lot of astronomers who visit Cville throughout the year to give talks. Frequently, the department has visiting professors with whom you can meet to discuss research.