Tips for Applying to Graduate School in Astronomy

Before you apply, check out this page:

A graduate school veteran's advice (pdf)

Read about the Astronomy Job Market, where to apply for jobs, and more about preparing for, applying to and succeeding in graduate school.

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.

Online Book

Read - Fran Bagenal's article in STATUS, Applying to Graduate School, (see Getting In).

Graduate Student Resources (pdf)

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 or experiences.

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 experience.
  • November - Remind your recommenders that you'll need a letter (or online recommendation).

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 (pdf)

Questions to ask, including special concerns for women:

Good questions to ask of graduate schools (pdf)

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 of UT.

**NOTE: many internships and Summer Research opportunities require that you are still a student, read the eligibility section closely.


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

SULI fellowships are offered at 17 participating Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories/facilities

Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships

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)

10 January 2017
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin
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