a woman peers into a large telescope
Assistant Professor of Astronomy Kate Follette on the observatory deck of the Science Center

The Astronomy Major

If you are thinking about majoring in Astronomy, you should go to the departmental office, Science Center C025, and ask to talk to Professor Follette. In the meantime, this page provides an outline of the requirements for a major. (The catalog is the official word on these matters, so read it, too.)  

The Astronomy major is designed to introduce students to the computational techniques, statistical tools, instrumentation, and physical principles that underlie modern Astronomy.  Computational and statistical techniques are introduced in the first course in the major sequence, ASTR 200 (Practical Astronomy), and further honed in ASTR 228 (Introductory Astrophysics) and ASTR 352 (Advanced Astrophysics). ASTR 228 and 352 also draw on physical principles introduced in the three-course required physics sequence (PHYS 123, 124 and 225).

A joint Five College Astronomy Department offers courses beyond those offered at Amherst. All required courses are taught at Amherst, but students are also encouraged to take elective courses at the four other institutions: Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts . As a result of this five college partnership, students can enjoy the benefits of a first-rate liberal arts education while maintaining association with a research department of international stature. Students may pursue independent theoretical and observational work in association with any member of the Five College Astronomy Department, either during the academic year or the summer term. The facilities of all five institutions are available to departmental majors. Students may search for Astronomy courses through the Five College online catalog.  

Once you have decided to declare the major, you will need to obtain the appropriate form from the Registrar's page, complete it, and have the current Physics and Astronomy Department chair, as well as your current advisor, sign it, before returning it to the Registrar.

Preparation for Graduate School in Astronomy

Students wishing to pursue graduate work in Astronomy should consider a double major in physics and should endeavor to complete as many of the following additional courses as possible: Physics 230, Physics 343, Physics 347, Physics 348, Math 211, Math 260, and Math 271 or 272. In addition, a solid foundation in Computer Science and Statistics are highly recommended. 

Comprehensive Evaluation

The Comprehensive Evaluation for the Astronomy major will consist of an oral presentation of a published scientific paper (selected in consultation with Amherst faculty), and will take place in the second semester of a student’s senior year.

All students majoring in Astronomy must also attend at least nine public astronomy lectures during the senior year. Colloquium schedules are online here:

Physics & Astronomy Student Handbook cover

Student Handbook

Learn about the major, the department, courses, research and more in the Physics & Astronomy Student Handbook