Undergraduate Program


Our Bachelor of Science degree emphasizes the necessary background in physics and mathematics, plus 18 credits of upper level astronomy (see Degree Requirements). 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 League of Astronomers and Astronomy Undergrad Engineering Group are active student organizations involved in both outreach and educational activities. These include  operating the campus Theodor Jacobsen Observatory, doing photometry and spectroscopy using instrumentation on their 12 inch telescope, building a radio telescope facility on campus, and operating the Manastash Ridge Observatory.

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.

Undergraduate Major Admission

Major Admissions Requirements

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).

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

*In acknowledgement of the ongoing, extraordinary circumstances that began in Winter 2020, we understand many of you may have elected to pursue your required coursework for admission into the Astronomy major as S/NS. In addition, we are aware that many students’ overall GPAs were impacted negatively by the current International crisis starting in Winter 2020. For these reasons, we are considering Astronomy major applications with no hard GPA or course grade cut offs for Fall 2020 admissions. If you elected to take prerequisites as S/NS, or if your GPA is lower than a 2.0 in Physics 12X series courses, please include in your application a brief self-assessment of your readiness for upper-division Physics and Astronomy classes and your plans to address any deficiencies in your preparation.

Admissions & Advising

Admission is twice each year. Application deadlines are the third Friday of Autumn quarter and the third Friday of Spring quarter. Students transferring to the UW in Autumn or Winter quarter may also apply the third Friday of Winter quarter. Please see our Advising page for detailed information about applying to the program, career paths, scholarships, and other student resources.

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.

  Course Topic(s) Credits
55 credits
Physics 121 Mechanics 5
Physics 122 Electromagnetism 5
Physics 123 Waves & Optics 5
Physics 224 Thermal Physics 3
Physics 225 Intro. to Quantum Mechanics I 3
Physics 226 Particles & symmetries 3
Physics 227 Mathematical Physics I 4
Physics 321 Electromagnetism I 4
Physics 322 Electromagnetism II 4
Physics 334 Electric Circuits Lab. 4
Mathematics 124 or 134 Differential Calculus 5
Mathematics 125 or 135 Integral Calculus 5
Mathematics 126 or 136 Multi-variable Calculus 5
Mathematics Electives
6 credits, from:
Mathematics 207 Ordinary Differential Equations 3
Mathematics 208
or Applied Mathematics 352
Linear Algebra 3
Mathematics 209
or Applied Mathematics 353
Partial Differential Equations & Fourier Analysis 3
Mathematics 224 Advanced Multi-variable Calculus 3
Mathematics 326 Advanced Calculus 3
Core Astronomy
15 credits
Astronomy 300 Astronomy Computing 3
Astronomy 321 Solar System 3
Astronomy 322 Contents of Our Galaxy 3
Astronomy 323 Extragalactic Astronomy & Cosmology 3
Astronomy 324 Intro. to Astrostatistics & Machine Learning 3
Astronomy Electives
9 credits, from:
Astronomy 419 Exoplanets 3
Astronomy 421 Stars: Observation & Theory 3
Astronomy 423 High Energy Astrophysics 3
Astronomy 425 Cosmology 3
Astronomy 427 Methods of Computational Astrophysics 3
Astronomy 480 Intro. to Astronomical Data Analysis 5
Astronomy 481 Intro. to Astronomical Observation 5
Astronomy 482 Scientific Writing 2
Astronomy 497 Topics in Current Astronomy 1-3, max 9
Astronomy 499 Undergraduate Research (with advisor approval) max 15
Astronomy 5XX Astronomy Graduate courses (with instructor permission) 1-3
Physics Electives
6 credits, from:
Physics 323 Electromagnetism III 4
Physics 324 Quantum Mechanics I 4
Physics 325 Quantum Mechanics II 4
Physics 328 Statistical Physics 3
Physics 331 Optics Lab. 3
Physics 335 Electric Circuits Lab. 3
Physics 421 Atomic & Molecular Physics 3
Physics 422 Nuclear & Elementary Particle Physics 3
Physics 423 Solid State Physics 3
Physics 431 or 432 or 433 Modern Physics Lab. 3
Physics 434 Application of Computers to Physical Measurement & Data Acquisition 3

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. Some engineering courses may be allowed to substitute for some of the physics above (as approved by advisor).

Departmental Honors Requirements

  • ASTR 499 (6 credits)
  • 3.7 Departmental GPA
  • 3.5 Cumulative GPA

Please email astroadvising@uw.edu for more information on how to apply for departmental honors.

Capstone Option

In addition to the formal degree requirements, it is strongly recommended that every student gain a knowledge of computer programming. Introduction to Programming for Astronomical Applications (ASTR 300)  is highly recommended to be taken prior to astronomy 400 level courses and UNIX knowledge is required for ASTR 480. 

As a capstone sequence of hands-on research and dissemination of results, the following is highly recommended: ASTR 480, followed by either ASTR 481 or ASTR 499 or an REU project, and ending with ASTR 482. Furthermore, ASTR 480 & ASTR 499 are highly recommended if you are planning to apply to graduate school.

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

Visit Courses for a full listing of undergraduate courses offered by the Astronomy Department; a more descriptive list is available in the Astronomy Course Catalog