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Astronomy PhD Degree

The Northwestern Astronomy PhD is designed to provide students with a broad training in astronomy while enabling them to get started quickly with their graduate research. The Astronomy PhD is a flexible program that allows students to complement their astronomy training with a selection of physics courses or courses from other quantitative disciplines such as applied mathematics, statistics, computer science or engineering relevant to their research. Please note that GRE exam scores are not accepted as part of our application process.

Students pursuing astronomy or astrophysics research in our department will benefit from the vibrant environment and opportunities offered by the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Exploration in Astrophysics (CIERA).

Research and the Thesis


When do students start doing research?

We encourage students to become engaged in research as early as possible in their studies. Incoming students on University Fellowship support are especially encouraged to begin part-time research in their first year. To acquaint themselves with the research opportunities in the department, most new students work with one of the faculty during the summer of their first year of graduate study. (However, there is no requirement to do so.)

When do students choose an advisor?

Students may choose a thesis advisor and/or topic at any point in their first two years.

When is the Candidacy Exam (Prospectus)?

A proposed thesis topic must be defended before a faculty committee no later than by the end of the student's fourth (4th) year at Northwestern.

How long does it take students to complete the degree?

The thesis must be defended by no later than the end of the student's ninth (9th) year at Northwestern.The median number of years to completion is five (5) years.

Can students receive their Master's degree along the way?

Yes, students may apply to receive a Master's degree en route to their PhD degree. This may be helpful on applications for outside funding.

Interdisciplinary Work

Discover the IDEAS program to learn about additional graduate training opportunities and our Certificate in Integrated Data Science.

Course Requirements

How long will it take to finish the required coursework?

Most of the astronomy graduate courses are offered every other year, so students will typically take 2 years to finish their course requirements.

Where are descriptions of the Astronomy courses?

See online descriptions of graduate courses and scroll to the bottom of that page to see astro courses.

Professional Development, STEM, and Outreach

Explore a wide variety of education and outreach opportunities while you are in graduate school.

How to Apply

Please note that GRE exam scores are not accepted as part of our application process.

Advanced Tools for Research

Further Questions?

Contact the Graduate Program Assistant.

Please refer to our Resources page for direct links to The Graduate School (TGS) for information that can guide you in your academic career.

Our Program Handbook can also answer many questions you might have.