A Lot of Space in a Little Space

Perhaps nowhere else in the country is there such a concentration of major astronomy-related organizations as in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. That means a greater opportunity for you to experience firsthand ground-breaking discoveries and the newest ideas coming out of the field. On campus, many distinguished colloquia and seminar series bring experts from these organizations and from around the country to College Park to share theories and answer questions. There's also the annual October Astrophysics Conference, co-arranged by the university and scientists at Goddard, that concentrates on a single topic in astrophysics each year. And twice monthly open houses, held at a departmental observatory near campus, allow space-enthusiasts to witness timely events in the night sky.

Undergraduate students from all majors are involved in the Maryland Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (MSEDS). The club meets weekly for discussions on all things related to space, and publishes a newsletter with astronomical happenings, field trips to observatories and model-rocket launchings. Astronomy graduate students participate in the "Unjournal" club, which provides a weekly opportunity to present research and to field questions from fellow students without the pressure of a professor in the room.

Besides astronomy-related activities, Washington, D.C.--just 9 miles from campus--has hundreds of restaurants, dozens of museums, and thousands of opportunities for shopping. The Kennedy Center hosts world-renowned ballet companies, theater productions, and symphonies. The National Gallery of Art, the Hirshorn, and Phillips galleries offer art in a variety of forms. In nearby Baltimore, sports fans cheer for the O's baseball team at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Visitors can also tour a variety of attractions around the city's scenic Inner Harbor. Annapolis, site of Maryland's capital, features maritime charm and provides a great place for Sunday strolls--as long as you don't have a test on Monday!

International students will find the College Park campus to be a place of great diversity. Students come from 110 countries around the world, and minorities make up more than a quarter of the student population. An eclectic mix of speakers, cultural activities, films and concerts cater to different interests.

Tools of Exploration and Research

As a Maryland undergraduate or graduate student you will have access to the largest millimeter-wave interferometer in the world, the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland array (see the page on millimeter-wave astronomy for a more detailed description). Members of the program have also been successful in obtaining observing time on satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Gamma-Ray Observatory, and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, as well as at major optical observatories (Hale, Kitt Peak, Cerro Tololo) and on top radio observatories (National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Very Large Array, Westerbork).

Theorists will be particularly interested in the Advanced Visualization Laboratory which helps researchers develop visualization tools and models for numerical mapping of space phenomena. The Small Bodies Node of NASA's Planetary Data System is located in the department, and provides a one-of-a-kind archival resource on data related to comets, asteroids and interplanetary dust. The department also maintains a network of about 100 modern workstations and personal computers for research and educational purposes.

The department's Uco van Wijk library contains most of the major astronomical journals and books. The engineering library, nearby, contains an even greater number of resources, and serves physics, mathematics and engineering interests.

Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

The department offers a B.S., M.S. (with or without thesis) and Ph.D. through a challenging astronomy, physics, and mathematics-based curriculum. The undergraduate degree program is designed to prepare students for positions in government and industrial laboratories or for graduate work in astronomy or a related field.

Although an undergraduate degree in astronomy or physics is not required for admission to the graduate program, a strong background in physics and mathematics is essential.

Most students studying on the graduate level go on to pursue a Ph.D. The doctoral degree takes a minimum of four years to earn, and usually can be accomplished in less than six years. By the end of your first year, you will choose a research area under an advisor on the full-time graduate faculty. In your second year, you are required to conduct a research project of your own interest and to finish the project in a publishable format by the end of the spring semester. The normal course load during this time is three courses per semester. Subsequent admission to the Ph.D. program is based on the research project, success in your course work, and on a qualifier exam.

Both physics and astronomy departments have their own degree programs, but because of their close connection, it is possible for you to transfer between the programs for the purpose of thesis research or assistantships.


Full-time graduate students in good standing are awarded either a fellowship or a teaching or research assistantship. Many students hold a teaching assistantship for the first two years of graduate study. Teaching assistants receive 10 credits of tuition exemption per semester. Usually, you can only be funded for six years. Details on the pay scales for graduate assistants are circulated yearly.


All incoming graduate students have the same advisor--the "First Year Advisor." This advisor will meet with you to help with the course-selection process. By the beginning of your second year, you should chose an individual study committee that reflects your research interests. (There is a list of the current faculty members and their research interests.) The committee will then advise you on courses and your chosen research topic.

Admission Requirements to the Graduate Program

  • Undergraduate degree in astronomy or related field (normally physics)
  • Minimum undergraduate G.P.A. of 3.0
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Submission of GRE scores (GRE Advanced Physics test strongly recommended)
  • TOEFL exam required for students from non-English-speaking countries
[Photo of a Telescope]
Photo Caption:
Maryland's observatory hosts open houses for the community twice monthly. The facility is also used as a classroom for astronomy students.

Nearby Resources

  • Naval Research Lab
  • NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Naval Observatory
  • Carnegie Institute of Washington

Kartik Sheth

"I think Maryland has one of the most ethnically diverse campus communities. It makes a big difference if you feel like you fit in, and I feel like I do."

[Photo of Leslie Sherman]

Leslie Sherman

"When you apply to grad school, you want to get the gossip on the department, you want to know what kind of environment you'll be in for the next six years. Once I visited Maryland, I knew I wanted to come here. It's a very rigorous program, but the faculty want students to do well, so they work with you."

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