Welcome to UMD Astronomy! Since I was on sabbatical last year, let me introduce myself -- Cole Miller, Graduate Director -- and give you some information about registering for courses in the fall. By now you should have received a large package of information about UMd Astronomy and forms to fill out from the Astronomy Main Office. The great thing about graduate courses is that they do not ever fill up, so you can register up to when the semester begins. There are some good reasons to register early (potential VISA issues, deferring student loans, access to the gym and pool on campus) and some reasons to delay (student fees are due immediately after you register).
In any case, you do want to be thinking about which courses to take. In Fall 2013, the Astronomy Department offers the following courses:
ASTR601 Radiative Processes
ASTR606 Stellar Structure and Evolution
ASTR695 Introduction to Research (1 credit)
ASTR699 Research, section 0801 (1 credit)
All of you are required to sign up for ASTR695, which is a one-credit course that covers some basic computer programming skills and where you'll learn about the research that we do in the department. The course meets once a week and there are no assignments or tests. The course page is here, and I have put in a number of links that I hope are useful. By the end of the fall semester it is important that you have a mutual agreement with a professor about your second-year project; in the spring semester you will start on that project, perhaps with reading or perhaps with the beginnings of research.
You also need to take Radiative Processes (ASTR601), which is a prerequisite for all of our other courses.
You should sign up for our ASTR699 research course for only 1 credit in the fall to maintain part-time status (and lower student fees).
Taking two solid courses, along with ASTR695, ASTR699, and a TA-ship, is a pretty full load. So you need just one more course to add to ASTR601! How should you decide? Choose the course of greatest interest to you, but also note that the qualifying examination, which you will take the summer after your second year will test you on material you will encounter in ASTR601, ASTR606, ASTR610 (instrumentation), ASTR615 (computation), ASTR620, ASTR622 (cosmology), ASTR630 (planetary science), ASTR670 (interstellar medium and gas dynamics), and ASTR680 (high energy astrophysics). Thus it makes sense to take the majority of these during your first two years. We only require eight graduate classes, and these should be taken during your first two years, so you can design your schedule to a degree. ASTR615 and ASTR622 will be offered in the Spring 2014 semester, and in the Fall 2014 semester we will have ASTR601, ASTR630, and probably ASTR610 (although ASTR670 is a possibility).
Most of you will take one of the following combos in Fall 2013: (ASTR601, ASTR606, ASTR695, and ASTR699) or (ASTR601, ASTR620, ASTR695, and ASTR699). But you might also want to consider taking a class from another department (e.g. Physics) - many of these count as an elective class toward your degree. It is possible to take three classes, but this is difficult and if you do it you should wait until at least your second semester at Maryland. In addition, you should be aware that when you are taking more than 8 credits in a semester your fees increase (note that you and not the department will pay these fees!) and at more than 10 credits your tuition increases (this might be covered by the department or your advisor, but you should check).
Important note: do *not* officially audit a course! You won't get credit for such a course, but it *does* count towards your total number of credits when it comes to fees (which jump up when you have more than 8 total credits). If you are interested in a course, but not so much that you want to take it for credit, contact the instructor to see if you can sit in informally.
It is also important to note that a University requirement for getting a master's degree is that you should have accumulated at least 30 total credits. Two standard courses get you up to 6 credits in a semester, thus if you add two more credits (which still keeps you on the low side of student fees), you'll get to 32 in four semesters. You can do this the first semester by having ASTR695 for 1 credit and ASTR699 for one credit, and in subsequent semesters by registering for ASTR699 for two credits on top of your two normal classes.
Some webpages with useful information include:
astro home page