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ASTROPHYSICS is the study of the universe on all physical scales—from nuclear reactions inside stars to the expansion of the universe as a whole—generally focusing on objects and physical phenomena beyond our own solar system. Areas of study include: stars (stellar astrophysics), their birth (star formation) and their death (stellar evolution); the discovery and characterization of other solar systems (exoplanetary science); the material between the stars (interstellar medium); large ensembles of stars (star clusters) and their interactions (stellar dynamics); our Milky Way galaxy and its local group of galaxies (galactic astrophysics); other galaxies (extragalactic astrophysics), their birth (galaxy formation) and their evolution (galactic evolution); the structure of the universe as a whole (large-scale structure); and the origin and evolution of the universe itself (cosmology). Astrophysics also includes the study of fundamental physics—forces, particles, the nature of matter and energy—in the astronomical context, including: particle astrophysics (e.g., solar neutrinos), gravity-wave physics, the extreme physics of compact objects (e.g., black holes), dark matter, and dark energy. Astrophysics involves experimental techniques (observational astrophysics), generally involving images or spectra from telescopes on the ground and/or space, or analysis of archival datasets (data mining); theory, which includes the application of physics first-principles to derive fundamental physical laws or relationships; modeling techniques (computational astrophysics), which generally involves use of massive computing resources to simulate complex objects and phenomena; and information science (astro-informatics), which includes development and application of algorithms for the analysis, deployment, and curation of large datasets (data-intensive astrophysics). 

The master of arts in astrophysics is awarded to students who earn a B average in a minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate study and complete the formal course requirements for the Ph.D. in astrophysics.

The Ph.D. degree in astrophysics requires 72 hours of graduate work, including 28 hours of formal course work, including 16 credit hours of core graduate courses in astrophysics, and 12 credit hours of elective graduate courses in astrophysics and/or physics or an approved field. A student must earn a grade of B or higher in every course that counts toward these 28 hours. The remaining credit hours may be earned through some combinatio

  • ASTR 7999. Master’s Thesis Research.
  • ASTR 8001. Order of Magnitude Astrophysics.
  • ASTR 8010. Radiative Processes. 
  • ASTR 8020. Special Topics in Astrophysics.
  • ASTR 8030. Stellar Astrophysics. 
  • ASTR 8050. Structure Formation in the Universe. 
  • ASTR 8060. Methods in Observational and Computational Astronomy. 
  • ASTR 8900. Independent Study. 
  • ASTR 8999. Non-Candidate Research. 
  • ASTR 9995. Half-time Ph.D. Dissertation Research. 
  • ASTR 9999. Ph.D. Dissertation Research.
  • Submit admissions application online 
  • Apply for financial aid, if you desire.
  • Compose a statement of purpose.
  • Request 3 letters of recommendation.
  • Order official transcript of grades from all the institutions that you have attended.
  • Physics Ph.D. program: Submit your GRE-General and GRE-physics scores.
  • Astrophysics Ph.D. program: Submit your GRE-General scores.
  • For international students: Submit your TOEFL score (Test Of English as a Foreign Language). Note that Vanderbilt University requires a minimum acceptable TOEFL score of 570 on the paper-based test which corresponds to 88 on the computer-based test.


All stipend information given below applies to the academic year 2016-2017. Graduate stipends, both teaching assistantships and research assistantships, are of the amount $30,000 and are paid over 12 months . Except for highly unusual circumstances, Vanderbilt University will also pay full tuition and health insurance.

Teaching Assistantships

A majority of entering graduate students receive teaching assistantships. Typical duties include teaching two, three-hour introductory laboratories per semester, or grading for an introductory course each semester. During the summer months, the student are expected to join a research group and perform research activities, as determined by the faculty leading the research group.

Research Assistantships

Research assistantships are available to support a student while working with a research group. The duties are arranged by the research group providing the support.

McMinn Fellowships

William A. and Nancy F. McMinn have endowed graduate student fellowships for outstanding students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. These fellowships provide up to $10,000 per year in addition to the regular teaching/research assistantship stipend. The fellowships are renewable for up to five years as long as the student remains in good standing. All students who apply for admission are considered for all special awards and fellowships.

Vanderbilt University Honor Fellowships and Scholarships

The Graduate School holds an annual competition for honor fellowships used to recruit our best applicants to Vanderbilt. All students who apply for admission are considered for these fellowships. All nominees must be seeking the Ph.D. degree.

UGF: University Graduate Fellowship $5,000 to $10,000 annual stipend
HSV: Harold Sterling Vanderbilt Graduate Scholarship $3,000 to $6,000 annual stipend
PGF: Provost's Graduate Fellowship for Students from Traditionally Underrepresented Backgrounds $10,000 annual stipend

The UGF, HSV, and PGF are for up to five years. The awards will be in the form of an annual topping-up supplements to the student’s base stipend.

No individual will be awarded both a UGF/HSV and a PGF.

Vanderbilt University Tuition Scholarships

University Tuition Scholarships are service-free awards that pay all or part of tuition costs. The following graduate awards are normally supplemented by a full University Tuition Scholarship, which usually includes student health insurance coverage: University Fellowships, Graduate Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Research Assistantships, Traineeships, and Teacher Training Awards.

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