Undergraduate Program


The Astronomy Department at the University of Washington offers a full curriculum of courses in various fields, including planetary astronomy, stellar structure and evolution, interstellar matter, galactic structure, extragalactic astronomy, observational and theoretical cosmology, and a summer observing course using a 30-inch telescope with modern instrumentation.

The Bachelor of Science degree emphasizes the necessary background in physics and mathematics, plus 18 credits of upper level astronomy. It is designed for students who plan to attend graduate school or work at astronomical facilities. The small size and informal atmosphere of the department encourages close working relationships between faculty and students. The above picture shows some of our current and past astronomy majors. The undergrad students have created an Undergraduate Astronomy Institute, which is active in outreach activities, operating the Campus Observatory, organizing an on-campus astronomy club, doing photometry and spectroscopy using instrumentation on their 12 inch telescope (provided by Student Technology Fees), and putting together a radio telescope facility on campus.

Further information about professional careers in astronomy can be obtained by writing to the:

American Astronomical Society
2000 Florida Ave. NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20009


Undergraduate Learning Goals

  • Understand the principle findings, common application, and current problems within Astronomy as a scientific discipline.
  • Be versed in the computational methods and software resources utilized by professional Astronomers.
  • Have experience operating modern Astronomical instrumentation and analyzing a range of experimental data.
  • Be able to assess, communicate and reflect their understanding of Astronomy and the results of Astrophysical experiments in both oral and written formats.
  • Learn in a diverse environment with a variety of individuals, thoughts and ideas.

General Department Resources

The Astronomy Department, in partnership with five other universities, operates a 3.5-meter telescope equipped with sophisticated instrumentation at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, and is a founding partner in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a unique project to create the first digital atlas of a substantial fraction of the sky. The Department also operates a 30-inch (0.76-meter) telescope at the Manastash Ridge Observatory in Eastern Washington equipped with a good CCD camera. Here is a picture of our undergrad majors at the MRO telescope.

On-campus research facilities include CCD’s on rooftop small telescopes, a clean room, electron microscopes and desktops for on-campus operation of the 3.5-meter telescope. Data reduction, analysis, and theoretical research are performed on an extensive computer network within the Department. Easy access to supercomputers elsewhere is routinely provided. The Department moved to a new building in 1994.

Undergraduate Major Admission & Degree Requirements

Major Admission Requirements

1. Minimum requirements for consideration for standard admission: PHYS 121, PHYS 122, and PHY 123 (or transfer equivalent; may be presently enrolled in PHYS 123), with a 2.0 or greater cumulative GPA in the physics classes; and either [MATH 124, MATH 125, and MATH 126] or [MATH 134 and MATH 135] (or full transfer equivalent; may be presently enrolled in MATH 126 or MATH 135).

2. Admission is twice each year. Application deadlines are the third Friday of Autumn quarter and the third Friday of Spring quarter. *Winter Quarter Transfer Admission: Students transferring to the UW in Autumn or Winter quarter may also apply the third Friday of Winter quarter. Here is the application form.

3. Meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission. Admission is capacity constrained, and is based on a holistic review of the student’s record as follows:

A) Academic performance. This aspect will include a review of overall GPA and content of all courses completed; frequency of incompletes or withdrawals and number of repeated courses; and an academic record that demonstrates interest in science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics.

B) Personal Statement. This statement will consist of a brief (500 – 1000 words) description of the student’s interest and goals in the Astronomy major, and will address strategies for success in the major. In exceptional cases with extenuating circumstances, a personal statement may also include a petition for a waiver of one of the stated minimum requirements in item 1. A more extensive list of additional topics one may wish to address in the personal statement are provided in this Google doc.

Degree Requirements

The two major career paths in astronomy are professional research (generally requiring a Ph.D.) and scientific and technical support positions at observatories or in private industry. Our program prepares graduates for entrance into a graduate program or an immediate astronomy-related career. The undergraduate program also emphasizes the development of communication skills and the use of computers for data analysis in addition to formal training in astronomy and physics.

In addition to the Proficiency (Basic Skills) and Areas of Knowledge (General Education) requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences, the following curriculum (91 credits) is required for those students who wish to graduate with a major in Astronomy.

Physics Credits
121 Mechanics 5
122 Electromagnetism and Oscillatory Motion 5
123 Waves 5
224 Thermal Physics 3
225 Quantum I 3
226 Particles & Symmetries 3
227 Elementary Mathematical Physics I 4
228 Elementary Mathematical Physics II 4
321 Electromagnetism 4
322 Electromagnetism 4
334 Electric Circuits Laboratory 4
Mathematics: Credits
124/134 Calculus with Analytic Geometry 5
125/135 Calculus for Math Science 5
126/136 Calculus for Math Science 5
Plus 6 credits chosen from:
307 Differential Equations 3
308 Matrix Algebra 3
309 Linear Analysis 3
324 Advanced Calculus I 3
326 Advanced Calculus II 3
AMATH 352 Linear Algebra 3
AMATH 353 Fourier Analysis 3
Astronomy Credits
300 Astronomy Computing 2
321 The Solar System 3
322 The Contents of Our Galaxy 3
323 Extragalactic Astronomy & Cosmology 3
324 Introduction to Astrostatistics and Machine Learning in Astronomy 3
Plus 9 graded credits chosen from (at least 3 must be in 480 or 499):
419 Exoplanets 3
421 Stellar Observations & Theory 3
423 High Energy Astrophysics 3
425 Cosmology 3
427 Methods of Computational Astrophysics 3
480 Introduction to Astronomical Data Analysis 5
481 Introduction to Astronomical Observation 5
482 Scientific Writing 2
497 Topics in Current Astronomy (max 9) 1-3
499 Undergraduate Research or 500-level Astronomy courses (with permission) max.15
Related Courses — 6 credits chosen from: Credits
323 Electromagnetism 4
324 Quantum Mechanics 4
325 Quantum Mechanics 4
328 Statistical Physics 3
331 Optics Laboratory 3
335 Electric Circuits Laboratory 3
421 Atomic & Molecular Physics 3
422 Nuclear & Elementary Particle Physics 3
423 Solid State Physics 3
424 Mathematical Physics 3
431 Modern Physics Lab 3
432 Modern Physics Lab 3
433 Modern Physics Lab 3
434 Application of Computers to Physical Measurement 3

As a capstone sequence of hands-on research and dissemination of results, the following is highly recommended: ASTR480, followed by either ASTR481 or ASTR499 or an REU project, and ending with ASTR482.

The minimum grade point to fulfill the above requirements is 2.00 in every course. Note that some of the advanced physics courses required have prerequisites which are not included in the minimum requirements for an astronomy degree. In addition to the formal degree requirements, it is strongly recommended that every student gain a knowledge of computer programming (Astr 300: Introduction to Programming for Astronomical Applications – 2 cr- is highly recommended to be taken prior to astronomy 400 level courses and UNIX knowledge is required for Astr 480). Some engineering courses may be allowed to substitute for some of the physics above (as approved by advisor).

To graduate with Department Honors in Astronomy, a mean 3.7 GPA in astronomy courses is required as well as at least 6 credits of 499 research. See advisor if you want to be considered.

Astronomy graduate admissions are always highly competitive, and often those students with the strongest backgrounds in physics, math, and research experience have the best chances of admission, other considerations being equal. Hence a strong preparation in physics is extremely important for students who plan to enter a graduate program. Most of our students major in physics as well as astronomy, especially since the additional requirements are modest.

It is highly beneficial for gaining admission to graduate school to have completed several credits of independent research (Astronomy 499) with a faculty member.

A full descriptive list of Undergraduate Courses in Astronomy. For additional information/questions, contact Undergraduate Faculty Advisor Jessica Werk.

Equal Opportunity

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam era veteran. This policy applies to all programs and facilities, including, but not limited to, admissions, education programs, employment, and patient and hospital services. Any discriminatory action can be a cause for disciplinary action. Discrimination is prohibited by Presidental Executive Order 11246 as amended, Washington State Gubernatiorial Executive Orders 89-01 and 93-07, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Washington State Law Against Discrimination RCW 49-60, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, State of Washington Gender Equity in Higher Education Act of 1989, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans with Disabilities Action of 1990, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 as amended, other federal and state statues, regulations, and University policy. Coordination of the compliance efforts of the University of Washington with respect to all of these laws and regulations is under the direction of the Assistant Provost for Equal Opportunity, Dr. Helen Remick, Equal Opportunity Office, Box 354560, 4045 Brooklyn Ave. NE, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-6261, telephone (206) 685-3263/V or 543-6452/TTY.