How Long Does It Take to Become an Astrophysicist?

Becoming an astrophysicist is no easy feat. It requires a significant amount of time and dedication to earn the necessary qualifications. To become an astrophysicist, you'll need to invest four to six years in a bachelor's degree program, followed by five to eight years of postgraduate work. This includes earning a master's degree and doctorate, as well as making two or three postdoctoral research appointments.

The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most physicists and astronomers, including astrophysicists, have a doctorate. Doctoral programs in astrophysics require in-depth courses in physics, astronomy, mathematics, computer science and statistics, as well as original research culminating in a dissertation.

Not surprisingly, given that astrophysicists must earn doctoral degrees and make two or three postdoctoral appointments, just as doctors must have residency after medical school. But then, you didn't want to be a doctor anyway, and chances are you've always had your head in the stars and your eyes up to the sky. Astrophysicists are paid well above the national average salary, but getting there can seem overwhelming and the field is very competitive. The term astrophysicist is often used interchangeably with astronomers, but there are slight differences between them, plus a third related work called a cosmologist. In practice, the lines between these careers blur and may depend on the environment in which you work, how many others with these degrees also work there, and the type of research you're working on. It may surprise you to learn that astrophysicists spend only a small part of their working time looking through telescopes. Most of their day involves performing calculations on the data available to form theories, conducting research to prove or refute theories, preparing presentations to show and discuss at conferences, writing articles about their research and theories, and answering questions from other scientists who challenge their work.

As an astrophysicist, you could also participate in drafting grant proposals in the hope of securing funding for your research. Adequate funding is needed to pay your salary and hire more professionals in the field. Astrophysicists with a lot of experience and knowledge can also teach at the university level. To become an astrophysicist, you'll first need a bachelor's degree. Earning a degree in astrophysics is ideal, but not all colleges or universities offer it as a college degree. Another option is to get your degree in physics. Then, you'll need both a master's degree and a doctorate.

Many students study a subspecialty based on what interests them most. In the field it can take five to eight years, depending on what you study and your pace. So to get to that point, you've invested up to 14 years in college. Experience is vital to the career of an astrophysicist, as evidenced by the various postdoctoral appointments required in the field. Although, in theory, someone with a single appointment could get a permanent job, the field is so competitive that jobs are more likely to go to those with multiple appointments because they will have more experience. Experience also counts when working on these appointments.

At first, you will be closely supervised by your mentor or boss. As you gain experience, you will have more responsibility and will be able to work independently. Salaries also increase with experience, regardless of whether you work in business, research or academia.