Tips for Applying to Graduate School in Astronomy
Before you apply, check out this page:
A graduate school veteran's advice
Read about the Astronomy Job Market, where to apply for jobs, and more about preparing for, applying to and succeeding in
To which schools should I apply?
This online database will help you compare graduate programs:
Graduate School Finder
Getting In: An Applicant's Guide to Graduate School Admissions, a very useful book.
Read - Fran Bagenal's article in STATUS, Applying to Graduate School, (see Getting In).
Graduate Student Resources
How do I write an effective essay/personal statement?
In Astronomy, an effective essay will be about 1 to 2 pages long with a
description of your education and experience as it relates to your
future graduate career. You should mention any research experience you
have or special projects you may have done in a course, and maybe try to
tie these, or other interests you have with a specific faculty member or
researcher at the University to whom you are applying. One thing to
remember is that this is very different than your essay to get into an
Undergraduate program, you have things to cite from your last few years
as an Undergraduate, don't spend too much time on any childhood wishes
Write a winning statement of purpose
TIP: WRITE THIS EARLY and have many people proof it for you, friends, graduate students, faculty - whoever you can get.
When do I need to request recommendation letters?
Find out deadlines for schools you are applying to; most are December or January - so ask for letters at least two months in advance... but
faculty can't send the electronic ones until you submit your online application. Make sure to let any recommender know the deadline,
where to send/submit a letter, and send friendly reminders.
Timeline for your senior year of college -
- August - Notify your recommenders that you'd like to ask them for a letter.
- October - Send list of the universities you are applying to with
deadlines to your recommenders. It's a good idea
to give your recommenders a resume listing your research and work
- November - Remind your recommenders that you'll need a letter (or online
Here is a template you can use to document
your requests and to give to your recommenders.
TIP: Ask your recommenders at least two months before the letter is due.
What is the minimum GPA required?
It is minimum 3.0 for any graduate program. But, for the top 10 schools in Astronomy, you should have at least a 3.5.
Is it important to publish a paper, or can I just try to get research experience?
Publishing a paper in a refereed journal (co-author or
author) would be the best outcome from a research experience, but more often students are able to create a poster and
possibly present it at a conference. This is invaluable experience even if it doesn't result in a full length paper. There are different avenues in
which to pursue some sort of publication; the College of Natural
Sciences has a Research Forum each Spring in which you may be able to
present a poster with no accompanying publication; and at the UT
Astronomy Bash Conference in Austin you may be able to present a poster
with an accompanying publication, so check for these options. When Graduate
Admissions faculty are looking at your application, they will want to see something about research and listing a poster,
presentation or paper is very important.
Should I visit my top choices for Graduate School?
It is a good idea to visit schools, if you can. You can see what the environment is like and if you think the school would be a good
fit for you. If you visit before you apply, try to
meet with faculty or researchers to be able to talk about what they are
doing with their research when you write your essay. (You may also find
out about their research on their department webpages.) Make sure and prepare some standard questions to ask at each school.
Some questions to ask while visiting Astronomy grad schools:
Sample questions for graduate schools
Questions to ask, including special concerns for women:
Good questions to ask of graduate schools
Will it hurt my chances if I take a year off before going to Graduate School?
No, especially if during that year you are getting more experience in research. Talk to your advisor before
you leave for any time away (e.g. REU), keeping them in touch will
assure that you are still fulfilling all of the residency requirements
**NOTE: many internships and Summer Research
opportunities require that you are still a student, read the eligibility section closely.
GET RESEARCH EXPERIENCE BEFORE YOU GRADUATE
BUT - some of these opportunities will take graduating undergrads:
(also check their regular "job" sites for temporary or "internship" positions;
OR - find faculty that do research that interests you and contact them to see if they would need a research assistant,
you might be able to get a paid research position after you graduate - you have to be proactive and search various university
sites to make this happen)
UT CNS Site - information on jobs and internships for science graduates
Ways to get job experience
LPI - Summer Program, they do consider graduating students
LPI Summer Program
NRAO - has "Undergraduate Summer Research Assistantships" for graduating seniors
NRAO Research Assistantships
Los Alamos, amongst other labs with the SULI fellowship:
Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships
Los Alamos also has the summer school:
Los Alamos Summer School Requirements
STSCi - Summer Student Program
The SSP is oriented around upper division undergraduates, but we have had students from all academic levels and a broad
variety of backgrounds. There are no restrictions on who may apply, and the SSP is open to foreign students. Complete information
may be found at:
AT&T Bell Labs - physics/computer science related internships (summer) - will consider graduating undergraduates
AT&T Labs Summer Internship Program (internship info)
Max Planck Institute - Germany - some internships for recent graduates - check first: