Timeline and Requirements


  • Course Requirements: The graduate curriculum consists of eight core courses (typically completed in the first two years of study) and a number of 3-credit electives. Each core course will typically be offered once every two years. The elective classes are typically offered every three years. A selection of <3 credit courses are also offered focusing on developing professional skills rather than astronomy content.
  • MS Requirements: To receive a Master's degree, students must complete seven out of the eight core courses with a >= 2.7 grade, and a GPA of >= 3.0 computed over the best 7 of the completed core courses.
  • PhD Requirements: To receive a Ph.D. degree, in addition to satisfying the Master's Degree requirements the student must complete additional three >=3 credit graduate elective classes with a >= 2.7 grade, and pass the Qualifying, General, and Final exams. The electives may include graduate-level courses outside the Astronomy Department that are supportive of the student’s research direction.

As outlined in the Graduate Mentoring Program Book (pdf), graduate students are encouraged to regularly meet with the Graduate Program Advisor to discuss degree requirements and planning. We strongly recommend consulting the department’s handbook for the most detailed and up-to-date information on the Ph.D. program structure and requirements. In the case of any conflicting information between the provided handbook and this page, assume the online Mentoring Program handbook is correct.

Teaching Requirements

Generally, if you aren’t supported on a fellowship or research grant, you will be given the opportunity to earn a salary by being a T.A. Everyone must serve as a TA for at least three (3) quarters before they get their Ph.D.; typically, grads TA their entire first year to meet this requirement. There are also TA positions available for online-only courses. In addition, some of the night and summer classes have traditionally been taught by upper level grads. Note that being a TA for summer classes only satisfies 1/3 of a quarter TA appointment.

Additionally, pay raises are associated with obtaining the Master’s (transitioning from “Premaster” to “Intermediate” pay scale level) and becoming a Ph.D. candidate (transitioning from “Intermediate” to “Candidate” pay scale level). More information is provided on the Financial Support page. 

Course Requirements

Most students take standard classes for their first two years and then concentrate almost exclusively on research classes with faculty in later years, with some exceptions for certificate or dual degree programs. 


Students must register for at least 10 credits each quarter. Typically 6 of these are from formal courses, with additional credits coming from Seminar (575 – 1 credit), in which each student presents a paper of general interest, and Colloquium (576 – 1 credit), in which visiting faculty give lectures to the entire department. The remaining 2 credits may come from other courses of the student’s choice, or from independent research with a faculty member (ASTR 600). 

During the Summer quarter, students should register for 2 credits unless otherwise advised. After completion of the General Exam, students should register for ASTR 800 level dissertation credits.

Core Curriculum

The “core” curriculum for graduate students is a series of 8 courses , of which the student needs to complete 7. Students generally complete the required courses during the first two years of study and skip one of the eight core courses at their discretion. A typical sequence of core course is as follows, with the ‘A’ and ‘B’ sequences offered in alternate years. Depending on when a student enters the program, they may take Year ‘A’, with emphasis on stellar astronomy, followed by Year ‘B’, with emphasis on galactic and extragalactic astronomy, or vice versa. 

Autumn Exoplanets and Planets (558) Interstellar Matter (541)
Winter Thermodynamics/Hydrodynamics (507)
Radiative Transfer/Stellar Atmospheres (519)
Galactic/Extragalactic (511)
Spring Stellar Interiors/Evolution (531) Cosmology (513)
Summer   Observing (581) -or during the year?

In addition to the core courses, there are other courses which the student may elect to take, both in the Astronomy department, and in other departments, such as Nuclear Astrophysics (cross-listed with the Physics Department) and courses in Planetary Astronomy and Observation and Instrumentation. In (rare) cases where core courses are not offered within the first two academic years, 3-credit electives in the Astronomy Department may be substituted; however, the seven core courses must still be completed for the Ph.D. 

Visit Courses for a full listing of graduate courses offered by the Astronomy Department.


Grading in core courses is required to compare student performance to an absolute standard, with a 2.7 grade defined as indicating a “satisfactory performance in the course and evidence of sufficient learning to succeed in subsequent courses in the field.” The grading scale — the mapping of points achieved on homework assignments, projects, or exams to a 0.0-4.0 grade — may vary from course to course. However, a) the instructors must provide a clear explanation of the work needed to achieve a grade of 2.7 or higher, and b) the meaning of 2.7 grade must follow the definition given above. 

Satisfactory Progress

Coming Soon!

MS Requirements

  • Satisfying Graduate School Master’s degree requirements
  • Completing seven required Astronomy core courses with grade >=2.7, and a GPA of >= 3.0 computed over the best 7 of the completed core courses. Students who do not meet the criteria for the Master’s degree during the first two years have the option to retake courses in ensuing years until they pass successfully.
  • Completing two academic years engaged in research and coursework
  • Submit a Master’s Degree Request with The Graduate School

PhD Candidacy Requirements

  • Completing the Master’s degree requirements
  • Passing the Research Qualifying Exam (described here)
  • Passing the General Exam

Research Qualifying Exam

The Research Qual’s objective is for graduate students to produce a scientific manuscript and present their findings to the Department by the beginning of their fourth year in the Ph.D. program. Students intending to take the Qual in a given academic year should follow the tasks outlined in the Research Qual checklist

Qual Committee

Preparation for the Research Qual should begin at least 3 months before "Qual Day," at which point a student must notify the Qual Committee Chair that they plan to take the Qual. Two (2) months prior to Qual Day, students should send their qual document to their mentoring team, then alter it after receiving feedback. At least 1 month prior to Qual Day, a 5-10 page manuscript must be submitted to the Qual Committee, with a 1-2 page cover letter responding to the major comments of the mentoring team and detailing the alterations needed prior to submission to a scientific journal. If a student receives a passing grade on the written component, they will be scheduled for a 30 minute presentation during Qual Day, with 10 additional minutes for questions. The Qual Committee will provide a passing or failing grade to each student for the presentation.

General Exam

Graduate students who intend to take the General Exam in a given academic year must complete the tasks outlined in the General Exam checklist

Supervisory Committee

Students must establish a supervisory committee at least 2 months before the intended General Exam date. The committee consists of a minimum of four members: Chair, Graduate School Representative (GSR), and 2 additional members (one of which must be a member of the graduate faculty). After consulting with your research advisor for the members of this committee, please inform the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Program Coordinator of your committee members.

Dissertation Proposal

A 10-page dissertation summary is to be submitted to the Supervisory Committee prior to the General Exam. This document must include the scientific context for your proposed dissertation, a description of the proposed research, and a likely timeline for completion of major milestones. 

PhD Degree Requirements

  • Qualifying for Ph.D. Candidacy
  • Satisfying Graduate School doctoral degree requirements (GPA/credits/etc).
  • Completing three >=3 credit graduate elective classes, achieving >=2.7 grade in each. These may include graduate-level courses outside the Astronomy Department that are supportive of the student’s research direction. In cases where a grad-level class may be too advanced for those with just an astronomy background, one 400-level course can be taken in fields, such as in computer science, if approved by the student’s faculty advisor.
  • Completing the Final Exam 
  • Submitting a thesis (per University guidelines)

Final Exam & Dissertation

Ph.D. Candidates must follow the tasks outlined in the Final Exam checklist.

Reading Committee

At least 4 months prior to the Final Exam, a Candidate should review their Supervisory Committee, and make any necessary changes. Additionally, the student must establish a Reading Committee and should inform the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Program Coordinator of that committee's members. The Reading Committee members will review the Candidate's dissertation draft and, upon approval, return an approval form with their original signatures. While a Ph.D. Candidate is not required to send a copy to Supervisory Committee Members, one may do so with the explicit instruction that they are not required to read the draft or provide comments unless they wish to.