University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Graduate Program

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics

M.S. and Ph.D.-Astrophysics

A graduate student in astrophysics leads a busy, stimulating life. He or she may simultaneously be a student taking classes, a teacher of an introductory course, and an apprentice and colleague working on research projects. An individual faculty adviser helps each graduate student juggle these various responsibilities and decide about course work and research.


Incoming students must have a strong undergraduate preparation in physics and mathematics. A demonstrated interest in astronomy is also essential, although students can make up for a lack of formal astronomy training during their first year. The program is designed for students who wish to pursue research-related careers and combines a rigorous and broad theoretical foundation with experience in current, front-rank research.


During the first two years, students normally take the bulk of their course work. At the same time, they work with faculty members on one or more projects to help define their interests and to gain experience for more independent research later on. From the beginning students participate in our weekly research seminars and journal clubs to learn about a broad range of current research problems. By the third year, students working for a Ph.D. begin work in the area of their thesis.

Formal course work combines a core of astrophysics and physics courses, as well as advanced special topics courses. Students also build into their individual programs courses of interest to them in related scientific/technical areas. For the Ph.D., students are required to complete at least 40 regular course credits plus 24 thesis registration credits. The course credits should total 40 credits, 12 of which should be in a minor or supporting program. For the M.S., students must complete 14 credits of astrophysics, 6 credits in related fields, and 10 M.S. thesis credits. A non-thesis M.S. can also be completed with additional course work and research papers.


Ph.D. candidates demonstrate their competency in basic undergraduate physics and in graduate astrophysics through a written examination at the end of their second year. At the beginning of the third year, students take an oral examination based on a research project they have completed during the first two years. At the completion of the thesis, the Ph.D. candidate makes a public presentation of his or her work and the thesis committee conducts a final examination to award the degree. A final oral exam is also held for the M.S. degree.

[top]Financial Aid

A variety of financial aid packages is available to graduate students, and the Department supports most students through federally funded research assistantships and departmental teaching assistantships. Tuition is fully waived for graduate students supported as regular (half-time) research or teaching assistants; partial waivers are made for any students with more than semester-time appointments. The most highly qualified applicants may be nominated for Graduate School fellowships, which carry no employment responsibilities. Applicants are also encouraged to apply to the National Science Foundation for graduate fellowships. Other University fellowship competitions are available to more advanced graduate students.

The department also administers fellowship funds from the Graduate School that are used to support and encourage graduate student travel for observations or presentations of papers at meetings, or for occasional summer workshops or other study opportunities.


Astronomy students take courses in a number of departments of the University. For a description of astronomy graduate classes and common physics classes taken by graduate students, refer to Graduate Courses.