Reaching for an Astronomy Degree? You’re in Good Company

If you’re thinking of pursuing an undergrad or grad degree in astronomy, you’re not alone.

In fact, 2011* set a record for most astronomy degrees awarded in the United States — Bachelor’s had the highest number ever (ever!!) while the number of Ph.Ds awarded missed tying 2008′s all-time high by one measly degree (160 were awarded in 2011, 161 in 2008).

U.S. astronomy degrees awarded 2001-2011. Source: AIP.

AIP statistics indicate that astronomy as an academic discipline is growing steadily, and career statistics from O*Net show that jobs in astronomy continue to experience steady growth as well.

What can you do with a degree in astronomy? You can (and probably will) teach at the university level, or might choose a career at a research institution, to name a couple of common paths.

In addition, the statistical, mathematical, and analytical skills that are part of an astronomy degree leave graduates with a rich skill set that applies to many other jobs in fields ranging from other types of research to teaching to computer science — in short, anything requiring an analytical mind and quantitative skills. You can hear more about such possibilities in our recent interview with CMU faculty.

Not sure whether you’re more inclined toward astronomy or a different variety of physics? Consider that just less than half of the academic departments offering degrees in astronomy are standalone departments. The other half combine physics and astronomy — which means you’ve got options, baby.


*the latest year for which statistics are available. For the full report, click here [PDF].

Degree statistics – AIP Statistical Research Center
Career statistics – O*Net OnLine

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Advice to Students

Physics can be hard, and you spend a lot of time doing homework, preparing for the GRE, etc. But do some activities that remind you why you love it, and keep you enthusiastic about what you’re studying. — Kendra Redmond, Program Coordinator and Assistant Editor, Society of Physics Students, Podcast Episode #1

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