written by: Erik Hinrichsen•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 12/8/2011
What's the best college to choose to get an astronomy job when you graduate? Although we detail a ranking of the best astronomy programs at colleges and universities in the US, your search shouldn't stop there. Make sure you give yourself a good chance of success with our tips on applications too.
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Astronomy is literally the study of the stars. The word has its roots in ancient Greek, and indeed the field of astronomy goes back to well before the days of Ptolemy. Today, the field is a science with many different areas of study, such as theoretical and observational astronomy. The best college to get an astronomy job is the best one in your particular area of interest. This is particularly important to understand because many schools tend to focus on one particular area of astronomy; they may not even offer a degree in your particular field. It always pays to research a school's focus before deciding to go there based solely on rankings.
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Preparing for Graduate School
Another important point to realize is that the best jobs in astronomy all require graduate degrees, often PhD's. To this end, the curious student should realize that undergraduate education in astronomy and physics are much the same across the globe, as the basic foundation of physics do not change depending on your school. The best undergraduate school to prepare for a degree in astronomy is the one that offers your field of interest and where you will succeed. Attending a quality astronomy program for undergraduate studies is only important so far as it prepares you for entry in one of the highly competitive graduate programs at top universities.
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The Best Astronomy Programs
All that being said, the very best astronomy programs do have something to offer to undergraduates. Students have the opportunity to interact with the best astronomy professors in the world, who are often deeply involved in cutting-edge research. Students at these schools should definitely take advantage of any opportunity to interact with these professors, whether it means asking questions after class or getting involved in research projects. A letter of recommendation from a well-known astronomy professor will greatly boost your chances of being admitted into one of the best astronomy schools for graduate study.
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Astronomy Program Rankings
The following are a list of some of the top ranked schools for astronomy in the United States. Several good programs exist outside of the country, particularly in the United Kingdom.
UC Santa Cruz. UCSC has a focus on Optical and Infrared observational astronomy
Princeton. The focus at Princeton is primarily on theoretical astrophysics.
California Institute of Technology (CalTech)
These 5 schools are in the top tier, well separated in prestige and research from other programs. Note that some schools, like MIT or Stanford, don't have a standalone astronomy department and so cannot be ranked here, but still excel in the area.
The following schools also have excellent programs in Astronomy, but are ranked lower than the elite five previously listed:
University of Washington
UC Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of Texas- Austin
University of Colorado-Boulder
University of Hawaii
University of Arizona
University of Chicago
Penn. State University
Ohio State University
These schools all provide excellent educations and will prepare any student who passes through them for a successful career in astronomy. The best college to get an astronomy job may well depend on your particular goals, but anyone of the listed schools will provide an excellent background