Frequently Asked Questions on Admissions

  1. Why should I apply to the University of Texas Department of Astronomy?
  2. What are the admissions requirements?
  3. What does the Admissions Committee look for on an application?
  4. When will I hear from the Department about an admission decision?
  5. How can I tell if my application is complete?
  6. When should I take the GRE General Test and the GRE Physics Test?
  7. What if I don't do well on the GRE Physics Test?
  8. How do I finance my graduate education?
  9. How do I apply for an Assistantship?
  10. What about medical insurance coverage?
  11. What are the requirements for an MA in Astronomy?
  12. What are the requirements for a PhD in Astronomy?
  13. What courses fall into the required category?
  14. What are the current research projects in the Department of Astronomy?
  15. What about this rumor that UT fails a lot of students?
  16. Is there a qualifying exam?
  17. How long does it take to get a PhD?
  18. Where can I find out about housing?
  19. Where can I find information about living in Austin?



Why should I apply to the University of Texas Department of Astronomy?

The Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin is ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Faculty members have, over the years, won nearly every prize offered by the American Astronomical Society. The new Hobby*Eberly Telescope located at McDonald Observatory gives Texas astronomers direct access to one of the new generation of 9-m+ telescopes, one of the few that serves only a small community of collaborating universities rather than a national or multi-national community.

Other facilities located at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory include the 2.7-m Harlan J Smith Telescope, the 2.1-m Otto Struve Telescope, the 0.8-m telescope , and the 0.8-m Lunar Laser Ranging Station. All these facilities are available to graduate students. In addition to these optical telescopes, the Observatory has an agreement with the California Institute of Technology for a share of the nights on the 10-m CSO submillimeter telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

The department offers strengths in many areas and the advantage of a diversity of fields in which to work. Graduate instruction and research are conducted in observational and theoretical astronomy and astrophysics and in associated astronomical instrumentation. Observational and instrumental opportunities are available in optical photometry, polarimetry, fast photometry, spectroscopy, spectrophotometry, and spectropolarimetry as well as in infrared and millimeter astronomy, in radio astronomy, and in space astronomy. These topics are applied to the study of asteroids, comets, planets, interstellar matter, star formation, nebulae, stars in all stages of their evolution, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes, supernovae, the chemical and physical evolution of galaxies, quasars, and intergalactic matter. There are also instruction and research opportunities in theoretical astrophysics including interstellar material and star formation, stellar structure and evolution in single and binary stars, accretion disks, supernovae and nucleosynthesis, the formation and evolution of galaxies and quasars, the formation of large scale structure, and cosmology.

The University of Texas offers the rewards of a first-class university. Austin, a growing high tech center, continues to offer its unique and varied heritage of live music as well as sports, theater, film, and outdoor entertainment.

Generations of astronomy graduate students have found the department a stimulating and nurturing place to live and work.

We welcome you to join us.



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What are the admissions requirements?

Prerequisites for graduate work in astronomy are at least fifteen to eighteen semester hours of upper-division coursework in astronomy and physics, including courses in mechanics, electricity and magnetism, statistical physics, and quantum mechanics; and a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Examinations Physics Test. The Physics Test must be taken in addition to the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations, which is required for admission to the Graduate School. An applicant who does not present a satisfactory score on the Physics Test may, on recommendation of the Graduate Studies Committee, be granted a conditional admission to the program requiring removal of deficiencies in physics. A detailed evaluation is made of each new student's physics and astronomy background to identify any deficiencies that should be removed.



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What does the Admissions Committee look for on an application?

First, the Admissions Committee will check that you have the basic background in physics and mathematics that is needed for graduate level study in astronomy. Everything you send is important. One thing which benefits an applicant is undergraduate research experience. This does not have to be in astronomy (we frequently admit physics students who have taken few or no astronomy courses), but any research experience does boost your chances of admission. Good reference letters and a well-written personal statement are also important. Less important are GRE scores. Statistical analysis has shown that there is little correlation between GRE scores and success in graduate school. As a result, while GRE scores are considered as just one factor among many, they are not the deciding factor in any decision.

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When will I hear from the Department about an admission decision?

The Admissions Committee usually reviews applications around the end of January or beginning of February. Your application file must be complete in order for the Admissions Committee to consider your application. Once they have made a decision to admit, the Department makes a recommendation to the Graduate School via the Graduate and International Admissions Center. If the Graduate School application (see Part 1 above) is complete, a letter of admission will be mailed within a couple of days. If the Graduate School application is incomplete and the Department wishes to admit you, you will be contacted about completing your Graduate School application. The Astronomy Department will also send decision letters via email to all applicants notifying them of the Department's recommendation, whether positive or negative. These letters usually go out mid to late February.



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How can I tell if my application is complete?

You can check on your Graduate School application at this web address: Status of Admission Application.



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When should I take the GRE General Test and the GRE Physics Test?

Take any GRE tests in early fall of the year before you desire to begin your studies. It can sometimes take up to six weeks for the official scores from GRE tests to be reported to the University. This should be taken into account so that you take the tests early enough for the scores to be reported before the December 15 application deadline.

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What if I don't do well on the GRE Physics Test?

The GRE Physics score is just one of several factors considered in an admissions decision. Statistical analysis has shown that there is little correlation between GRE scores and success in graduate school. The Physics score will be balanced against how well you did in physics classes and is never the deciding factor in an admissions decision.



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How do I finance my graduate education?

The Astronomy Department makes an effort to provide support to all of its students through Teaching Assistantships and Graduate Research Assistantships. Both assistantships provide a salary and at least partial (in some cases full) reimbursement of tuition and fees. An attempt is made to keep salaries competitive with other graduate schools in astronomy, accounting for cost of living in various areas. All of our current students are employed in the department, as has been the rule throughout the Department's history: 19 of our students work as Graduate Research Assistants, 14 work as Teaching Assistants, and 3 have full fellowships. The Department regularly nominates its outstanding students for University Fellowships and encourages and supports applications for outside fellowships. See also information on Financing Your Graduate Education available from the Graduate Outreach Office.



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How do I apply for an Assistantship?

Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs) are usually arranged by the student with a faculty or research scientist doing work of interest to the student. This is done on an informal basis since most GRAs are employed by their Thesis/Dissertation Supervisor. New students are usually employed as Teaching Assistants unless they make arrangements for a GRA position prior to the beginning of the fall semester in which they enter the program. Some supervisors do not have grant money to support a student, in which case the student usually works as a Teaching Assistant.



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What about medical insurance coverage?

All Teaching Assistants and Graduate Research Assistants qualify for coverage under the University's Employee Insurance Program. University Fellowship holders receive a medical insurance supplement with the Fellowship towards purchasing Student Medical Insurance. Both programs offer coverage of spouses and dependents for an additional cost.



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What are the requirements for an MA in Astronomy?

Please note that we only admit students who intend on pursuing a PhD in Astronomy. We do not offer "masters only" admissions. If you are admitted to our PhD program, you have the option of applying for a masters in your second year.

Students must complete any six of the courses in the required course category. These include 380E, 382, 383C, 383D, 386C, 392D, 392J, 393F, 396C (information on these courses is listed below). Students must also complete 185C. In addition, two elective courses must be completed. If more than six courses in the required category are taken, the additional courses may be counted as electives. At least 33 semester hours, including Astronomy 398T, or 30 hours, including Astronomy 698 are required.

Students begin research during their first year. Research is done under the supervision of an advisor and committee. Research for a Masters Degree normally occupies one and a half years. Upon completing an acceptable research project, with thesis or report, the student is awarded a degree. Alternatively, a student is awarded a degree upon completion of preparation for teaching college-level astronomy, which includes teaching experience and preparation of a report. This program normally takes two full years.



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What are the requirements for a PhD in Astronomy?

Students must complete, with a grade of B or better, 185C and any six of the courses in the required course category. These include 380E, 382, 383C, 383D, 386C, 392D, 392J, 393F, 396C (information on these courses is listed below). In addition, two elective courses must be completed. If more than six courses in the required category are taken, the additional courses may count as electives.

Students begin research during their first year. Research is done under the supervision of an advisor and committee. PhD research normally requires about five years. In spring of their second year, students must present a summary of their research to date, and pass an oral Qualifying Examination. Students must apply for PhD candidacy by the end of the summer of their second year. Two presentations on research must be given in colloquia or seminars. Finally, the student must complete the dissertation and pass an oral examination on the dissertation.



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What courses fall into the required category?



Course

Title

AST 380E

Radiative Processes and Radiative Transfer

AST 382C

Astrophysical Gas Dynamics

AST 383C

Stellar Atmospheres

AST 383D

Stellar Structure and Evolution

AST 185C

Conference on Modern Astronomy (required of all students in the first year)

AST 386C

Properties of Galaxies

AST 392J

Astronomical Instrumentation

AST 392D

Mathematical and Numerical Methods for Astronomy

AST 393F

Survey of the Interstellar Medium

AST 396C

Elements of Cosmology

AST 381C

Gravitational Dynamics


More information on these courses can be found in the Graduate Catalog.



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What are the current research projects in the Department of Astronomy?

Information about papers and research can be found in the AAS Annual Reports, listed in the Research section of our website. Also, check out the web pages of our faculty, research scientists, postdocs and current graduate students.



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What about this rumor that UT fails a lot of students?

We've heard those rumors too and that's just what they are, rumors. The Department of Astronomy has never had a policy of admitting more students than we intend to graduate. Nevertheless, some attrition does occur.



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Is there a qualifying exam?

Yes. Towards the end of your second year, you will make a public oral presentation summarizing the research you have done up to that point. This is accompanied by a written report of the research which is submitted to your Research Committee for review. The Research Committee will also conduct an oral exam after the public presentation. The oral exam will cover the research you presented as well as three areas of increasing breadth in which you will be expected to be knowledgeable. In consultation with your advisor, you identify these three areas beforehand to your committee. The approved written report may be submitted to the Graduate School as your thesis for obtaining the MA degree.



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How long does it take to get a PhD?

The average number of years to obtain a PhD has been decreasing in our Department. Due to legislative measures limiting the amount of time graduate students qualify for in-state tuition, the Astronomy Department revised its curriculum to enable students to complete their degree within five full years beginning with the class which entered in the Fall of 1998. For students who graduated in 2000-2001, the median number of years to PhD was 5.6 years.



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Where can I find out about housing?

The University has dormitories and married student housing available through University Housing and Food. On campus housing costs approximately $5000-5200 for 9 months which includes meals. Most graduate students live off campus in apartments. There are links to apartment locator services at the page UT maintains about Austin. Off campus housing costs approximately $560/month for a one bedroom apartment, $750/month for a two bedroom apartment. If possible, it is wise to arrange housing in the summer, before all the undergraduates return to Austin.



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Where can I find information about living in Austin?

UT maintains an Austin web page with links to sites full of information about Austin.



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Our Address

Graduate Admissions
Department of Astronomy
1 University Station, C1400
Austin, TX 78712

studentinfo@astro.as.utexas.edu
FAX: 512-471-6016