Astronomy, the oldest of the sciences, originated in the human urge to understand the mysterious lights we see in the sky above us—the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars. Over the centuries, new tools have become available to study these cosmic icons—telescopes that allow us to see further and fainter, detectors that are sensitive to electromagnetic signals at non-visible wavelengths, and satellites that can observe from outside the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere. These tools have answered many questions, but raised even more. How did the Universe begin, and how did the stars and galaxies within it form? How will it end? Are there habitable planets around other stars—and has life emerged on these planets?

Why Study Astronomy?

  • Because it’s fascinating: Astronomy speaks directly to our natural urge to better understand our place in the cosmos.
  • Because it’s challenging: Astronomy studies objects that are distant beyond simple conception.
  • Because it’s adaptable: Astronomy utilizes a broad set of transferable skills, from a foundation in logical and quantitative reasoning through to data analysis, programming, and visualization.

The UW–Madison Astronomy–Physics program builds on a foundation of classical and modern physics, to embark on a comprehensive study of the observable Universe at scales extending from planets and stars, through to galaxies and the cosmic web. 

A bachelors degree from this STEM program can:

  • Prepare you for graduate studies for master’s or doctoral degrees in experimental or theoretical Astronomy, Astrophysics or Physics.
  • Prepare you for employment in industrial or governmental laboratories.
  • Provide a broad background for further work in other sciences, such as materials sciences, aerospace, computer science, geophysics, meteorology, radiology, medicine, biophysics, engineering, and environmental studies.
  • Provide a science-oriented liberal education. This training can be useful in some areas of business administration, public policy, law, or other fields where a basic knowledge of science is useful.
  • Provide part of the preparation you need to teach Astronomy and Physics. To teach these subjects in high school, you will also take education courses to become certified. You will need a doctoral degree to become a college or university professor.
Students who intend to continue astronomy in a graduate program are strongly encouraged to get involved in research early. To learn about research opportunities in the department, please meet with faculty advisors. In addition, leading or co-authoring a professional journal publication, or doing a Senior Thesis ASTRON 691/ASTRON 692 or Senior Honors Thesis ASTRON 681/ASTRON 682, is highly encouraged. The experience of actual research and of writing a major paper develop both technical and writing skills.

Students are encouraged to declare their major as early as possible. Before declaring the major, students must complete the first two of the three classes in the Introductory PHYSICS sequence.

Introductory Physics sequences are:
Sequence 1: PHYSICS 247, PHYSICS 248, and PHYSICS 249
Sequence 2: PHYSICS 201,PHYSICS 202, and PHYSICS 205
Sequence 3: PHYSICS 207, PHYSICS 208, and PHYSICS 241

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.

Bachelor of Arts degree requirements

Mathematics Fulfilled with completion of University General Education requirements Quantitative Reasoning a (QR A) and Quantitative Reasoning b (QR B) coursework. Please note that some majors may require students to complete additional math coursework beyond the B.A. mathematics requirement.
Foreign Language
  • Complete the fourth unit of a foreign language; OR
  • Complete the third unit of a foreign language and the second unit of an additional foreign language

Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include one 3+ credit course in the biological sciences; must include one 3+ credit course in the physical sciences
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 86th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.  Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non–L&S degree-seeking candidates:  

  • Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
  • Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
  • Music (Bachelor of Music)
  • Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)

Requirements for the Major

The major requires a minimum of 34 credits in the field of specialization, with at least 6 of these credits in ASTRON and at least 28 credits in PHYSICS.

Course requirements for the major are:

Astronomy 1
Complete at least two of the following:6
Stellar Astrophysics 2
The Interstellar Medium
Galaxies 2
Cosmology 2
Solar System Astrophysics
Techniques of Modern Observational Astrophysics 2
Complete one of the following sequences for Introductory Physics: 328
Sequence 1:
A Modern Introduction to Physics
and A Modern Introduction to Physics
and A Modern Introduction to Physics
Sequence 2:
General Physics
and General Physics
and Modern Physics for Engineers
Sequence 3:
General Physics
and General Physics
and Introduction to Modern Physics
Mechanics, Electromagnetic Fields, & Thermal Physics (complete all):
Electromagnetic Fields
Thermal Physics
Atomic & Quantum Physics (complete either):
Atomic and Quantum Physics
and Atomic and Quantum Physics
Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
Complete one 300-level or higher laboratory course:
Radio Astronomy Laboratory
Electric Circuits and Electronics
Additional PHYSICS to reach minimum of 28 credits
Total Credits34

Residence and Quality of Work

  • 2.000 GPA in all ASTRON, all PHYSICS, and all major courses
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits in residence4
  • 15 credits in ASTRON and PHYSICS, taken on campus

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Major in consultation with the Astronomy–Physics undergraduate advisor(s).

Honors in the Major Requirements

To earn Honors in the Major, students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 University GPA
  • Earn a 3.500 GPA for all ASTRON and PHYSICS courses, and all courses accepted in the major, at the 300 level or higher
  • Complete the following coursework:
    • Four 300-level or higher ASTRON courses, with a 3.500 GPA
    • A two-semester Senior Honors Thesis in ASTRON 681 and ASTRON 682, with a grade of AB or better (for a total of 6 credits).

Thesis of Distinction

This award is granted at graduation, upon recommendation of a department to the dean, to any student not earning the Honors Degree who has written an exceptionally good or original senior thesis, without consideration of the student's record in other work. The faculty advisor appoints another faculty member to read the thesis and make an appropriate recommendation. These theses are retained in the department. The award is noted on the student's transcript.

Distinction in the Major

Distinction in the Major requires no declaration,and is awarded at the time of graduation. Students may not receive Distinction and Honors in the same major. To receive Distinction in the Major, students must have met the following requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 University GPA
  • Earn a 3.300 GPA in all major and major subject courses
  • Complete 6 additional credits in advanced-level Astronomy beyond the minimum required for the major.


University Degree Requirements 

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. Learn how astronomical observations are made and how astronomical data are analyzed. Become acquainted with basic principles of astronomical imaging and spectroscopy, detectors, and interferometry. Apply simple statistical concepts learned previously in required laboratory courses to astronomical data. Use simple scientific computing methods to plan astronomical observations and analyze astronomical data.
  2. Become familiar with current astrophysical theories and observations of basic systems such as planets, stars, interstellar gas, galaxies, and structure of the Universe (cosmology). Learn to apply physical principles and mathematical techniques learned previously in required courses to understand the natural laws governing these systems. Use simple scientific computing methods to analyze and physically interpret numerical models of astronomical systems.
  3. Learn how to read and critically evaluate scientific literature. Grasp the main points, scientific goals, and research methods used in an article and discern whether the article supports or conflicts with material presented elsewhere.
  4. Learn the basics of oral and written scientific communication. Written coursework will be assessed on the basis of clear writing, appropriate level of detail in reporting calculations, and computations and appropriate bibliographic references and citations as well as on scientific accuracy. Learn to give clear and accurate short oral presentations with appropriate supporting materials.
  5. Be trained in principles and standards of professional and ethical conduct. Learn when and how to cite references and when it is appropriate to credit the contributions of others or claim credit for one’s own work. Learn what constitutes a professional or unprofessional demeanor and how to apply principles of equality in an educational or workplace setting. Learn how to address a breakdown of professional ethics and standards if experienced or observed.
  6. Develop the skills to carry out a small independent research project. Learn to define the scope of the project, how to conduct an effective literature search, and perform computations, analyze data, and report on the literature as appropriate. Learn the basics of presenting the results of the project, whether as a paper, poster, talk, or some combination. The project may involve group work, or teamwork, depending on logistics and the nature of the project. Note: Not all Astronomy majors engage in independent research; this learning goal applies only to majors who have a formal research advisor to perform the assessment.

Sample Four-Year Plan

This Sample Four-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it—along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools—to make their own four-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests. As students become involved in athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, volunteer experiences, and/or work, they might adjust the order of their courses to accommodate these experiences. Students will likely revise their own four-year plan several times during college.

First Year
MATH 221 (QR-B)5MATH 2224
Biological Science Breadth3ASTRON 200 (non-majors take 103)3
Humanities Breadth3Biological Science Breadth3
Foreign Language (if needed)4Foreign Language (if needed)4
 Communication A2
 15 16
Second Year
PHYSICS 247, 201, or 2075PHYSICS 248, 202, or 2085
MATH 2344Literature Breadth3
Social Science Breadth3Social Science Breadth4
Foreign Language (if needed)4MATH 32013
 16 15
Third Year
PHYSICS 249, 205, or 2414PHYSICS 3113
ASTRON 3103ASTRON 320 (or another ASTRON 300 level course)3
MATH 32123Social Science Breadth3
Communication B3Literature Breadth3
 MATH 32223
 13 15
Fourth Year
PHYSICS 3223Social Science Breadth3
Ethnic Studies3PHYSICS 4153
Elective4Humanities Breadth3
ASTRON 510 (or any 300-level (or higher) Physics lab)2Astronomy 300 Level OR Elective3
 15 15
Total Credits 120


For premajor advising and major advising, students should contact the Undergraduate Advisor Eric Schueffner ( or Faculty Advisors: Professor Elena D'Onghia ( and Professor Snezana Stanimirovic, (

We encourage students to meet major advisors as early as possible. Undergraduate Advisor Eric Schueffner (via Starfish) can assist students with curriculum and course scheduling, career planning, academic concerns, and overall performance and strategies.      

Those needing additional information  and guidance on the major can see our undergraduate coordinator Heather Sauer (2554 Sterling Hall,

To declare the astronomy–physics major, please contact Professor D'Onghia or Professor Stanimirovic to schedule an appointment.

Recommended Additional Courses

Math: Mathematics courses other than those required as prerequisites for PHYSICS courses are not required for the major, but the following courses are recommended: MATH 320 Linear Algebra and Differential Equations OR  MATH 319 Techniques in Ordinary Differential Equations and MATH 340 Elementary Matrix and Linear Algebra. If a student plans to work toward the Ph.D degree, the student should also take MATH 321 Applied Mathematical Analysis and MATH 322 Applied Mathematical Analysis. Additional mathematics (or statistics) courses should be chosen after consultation with the undergraduate advisor.

Computing: Computers are fundamental to astronomical research. An introduction through Introduction to Programming, or short courses run by the computing center should be considered. COMP SCI 220 Data Science Programming I is a good option.

Chemistry: A college course in physical or organic chemistry is useful for astronomy students. Physical chemistry is particularly valuable for those interested in the interstellar medium, comets, and planets.

Statistics: A background in statistics is valuable, particularly for students interested in observational astronomy. STAT 302 Accelerated Introduction to Statistical Methods, or STAT/​MATH  309 Introduction to Probability and Mathematical Statistics I/STAT/​MATH  310 Introduction to Probability and Mathematical Statistics II  for a more solid foundation, are suggested.

Languages: Spanish but also, French, German and Russian are also useful foreign languages for astronomy students, but are not required.

L&S career resources

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and liberal arts degree; explore and try out different career paths; participate in internships; prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications; and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers). In short, SuccessWorks helps students in the College of Letters & Science discover themselves, find opportunities, and develop the skills they need for success after graduation.

SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career. 

Students should set up their profiles in Handshake to take care of everything they need to explore career events, manage their campus interviews, and apply to jobs and internships from 200,000+ employers around the country.

Professors Barger, Bershady, Heinz, Lazarian, Mathieu, Stanimirovic, Wilcots, Zweibel

Associate Professors Townsend, Tremonti 

Assistant Professor D'Onghia

Student Coordinator: Heather Sauer

Assistant Professor: Vanderburg and Zhang