Skip to main content

Majoring in Astronomy

If you are interested in majoring in Astronomy-Physics or Astronomy please contact the Director of the Astronomy Undergraduate program as soon as possible. First-year course choices are important for the Astronomy-Physics major in particular. Please direct all undergraduate inquiries to the Director of Undergraduate studies at

The coursework of the two Astronomy majors offers students the opportunity to explore the frontier discoveries while simultaneously developing fundamental analytical and quantitative skills useful in many different careers. A total of 35 Astronomy courses are open to majors. The Astronomy major (BA) offers a concentration on science in the context of a liberal arts degree for students who do not intend to pursue graduate training in astronomy or physics. It is often part of a double major. The Astronomy-Physics major (BS) provides more rigorous preparation for graduate work in astronomy, physics, computer science, or related fields.

Note: The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. 


The University has one of the largest astronomy departments in the southeastern United States. The department‘s professors are committed to strong undergraduate teaching as well as to conducting astronomical research. As one of the top research departments in the country, faculty expertise spans a wide range of subjects from star clusters, to the evolution of our Galaxy, to black holes, to distant galaxies. Active faculty research programs keep classroom teaching up-to-date and are an integral part of tutorial and senior thesis projects. Faculty research is well supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies.


There are typically 30-40 declared majors at any given time. Students get to know each other well and often work together. Close contact with the faculty is part of the learning environment. Many students work one-on-one with faculty in tutorials or senior theses, and this work can be published in major research journals and presented at national meetings. Students can also work at the Department’s observatories or on summer research projects supported by grants. Advanced students can enroll in graduate courses.

Most students who complete our Astronomy-Physics degree go on to graduate programs in astronomy or physics, frequently at the best schools in the country. Students who complete the Astronomy degree are well prepared for a wide range of careers. Our graduates are employed by universities, NASA, federal observatories and laboratories, planetariums, and aerospace and computer corporations, or have gone into professions such as medicine, law, the military, business, science writing, and science education.

Special Resources and Student Research 

The department is very well equipped to support its students. We have a wide variety of telescopes available on Grounds: 6-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch aperture instruments as well as the historic 26-inch Clark refractor at Leander McCormick Observatory. At Fan Mountain Observatory, our local research observatory located 15 miles south of Charlottesville, we have 40-inch and 31-inch reflecting telescopes. All of these are equipped with digital CCD cameras, spectrographs, and other specialized instruments.

We offer excellent computing facilities to our students, based on a network of Linux workstations, all of which run sophisticated data analysis, numerical simulation, image processing, and display software.

As soon as a student declares the major, they are assigned an account on our computers and has 24 hour access to our library and other facilities.

One of the important features of the majors programs is the opportunity to participate in ASTR 4993 tutorials, in which the student studies an area of interest under the guidance of a faculty member. Any subject in the area of competence of the faculty can be examined in depth. These tutorials are distinct from ASTR 4998 (Senior Thesis), although it is expected that many students may choose to do thesis research on a problem growing out of a tutorial. ASTR 4993 may be repeated once for credit.

As part of tutorials and thesis research, students regularly work on observations obtained by faculty at leading worldwide facilities, including 4 to 10-m class optical telescopes, the VLA, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the 2MASS infrared all-sky survey. Students can also participate with faculty and staff in projects using national supercomputing facilities for theoretical computational simulations. The headquarters of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the North American ALMA Science Center are located on Grounds, and students can be supervised by NRAO scientists or engineers.

Undergraduate students have a number of options for funding research projects. First, they should check with their advisor to see if their advisor has  grant that could cover travel, summer wages, or equipment.

General FAQs

Expand content
Expand content

What is the purpose of having two different astronomy majors?

The majors are meant to cater to different career aspirations and student circumstances. The Astronomy-Physics BS program is intended to prepare students for graduate studies in astronomy and physics. Although there are jobs within the astronomy field that do not require going to graduate school, many professional astronomers have a PhD in astronomy, physics, or a related field. This includes university faculty and scientists at national labs and observatory facilities. Deciding whether you want to go to graduate school is an important choice since completing graduate school can open up more career opportunities within astronomy. Astronomy graduate programs generally have many more applications than they have slots for incoming students so admission tends to be highly competitive. 

Many astronomy PhD programs are joint between astronomy and physics or have astronomy as a subset of the physics program. Even separate astronomy programs like ours at UVA usually expect admitted students to have a solid undergraduate preparation in physics and the corequisite mathematics.  Some (but not all) programs have the Physics GRE as a requirement of their application process. The Astronomy-Physics major course requirements reflect these expectations. 

Expand content

How does the department communicate information to astronomy majors?

The department sends important communications via email to the astro-ugrads email list.  Declared majors are added to the email list when a major declaration form is submitted.  If you believe you are not receiving emails, you may add yourself to the list. To subscribe to the list, follow the below steps:

  1. Go to the UVA Sympa website and log in with NetBadge.
  2. Select "Search for lists" then "Search form" in the dropdown menu.
  3. Type “astro-ugrads" in the search bar.
  4. Click on the list, and in the left column click "Subscribe." 
  5. Type your first and last name in the box, then click the "I subscribe to list astro-ugrads."

Note that you will likely need to be logged in for the list to show up in your search results.  If you have challenges subscribing to the list, email the Administrative Assistant. 

Expand content

What activities does the department do to support and mentor undergraduate majors?

There are many activities, opportunities, and social events available to majors. It is important to sign up for the astro-ugrads email list above, since this the best way to learn about events and opportunities within the department. There is also an undergraduate astronomy club run by some of our majors. Many undergraduates participate in outreach programs, such as observatory public nights. Undergraduates are also welcome to participate in departmental DEI activities, and may serve on the DEI committee. 


Senior Thesis (ASTR 4998)

Astronomy-Physics and Astronomy majors are required to submit a senior thesis in their fourth year. For complete details, visit our Senior Thesis page.

Additional Information

For more information, students who have not yet declared a major, who are transferring, or who are in the Echols Program should contact the Majors Advisor:

Declared majors should contact their Major Advisor, either Steve Majewski (Astronomy-Physics BS) or Ed Murphy (Astronomy BA)

Minors should contact the Minors Advisor, Paul Torrey.