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May 28, 2011 10:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on going back to school for Astronomy/Astrophysics, but I need help figuring out what classes to take at the Community College level here in San Francisco and how best to apply to a school like UC Berkeley. Complicating matters is the fact that I went to school for 4 years for film (don't ask) at Drexel University but didn't graduate. Luckily I spent my first two years at Drexel on a general science track. What I really need help with is figuring out what classes I should take at a school like City College of San Francisco. Also, when is the soonest I can/should apply to UCB? Alternately, what San Francisco adjacent schools have really good astronomy/astrophysics programs?

Supposedly there's some sort of system that shows what classes transfer from community college to called I really cannot make heads or tails of it. I met with a transfer counselor and his advice was "these classes will probably transfer, but they might not." I think I'm supposed to take ASTRO1, ASTRO 20 and English 1C at CCSF to transfer to a UC school. But, I'm not even sure that they really will transfer. I'm registered for Astronomy 1 for this summer, but i don't even see Astronomy 20 listed.

I also think I can apply to UC Berkeley for the winter/spring term pretty soon as the deadline to apply for this fall was last fall? So weird. Should I just wait and apply for Fall 2012? I don't want to wait! Oh, and what kind of extracurriculars can I get involved in that would look good on my application (and also be fun [I don't think installing SET@home on my desktop counts]).

Sorry this is so long. Hopefully, later on, the hive mind can do my homework.
posted by runcibleshaw to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm working on going back to school for Astronomy/Astrophysics, but I need help figuring out what classes to take at the Community College level here in San Francisco and how best to apply to a school like UC Berkeley.

If you already talked to an advisor at UCB and they didn't help, good luck with this. I'd suggest trying another advisor? You might also ask if you can petition for acceptance of transfer credits prior to taking them.

I can give you one bit of general advice, though, having done something very similar... If you actually take an AA/AS from your local community college, most unis will honor courses that went toward a degree even if they wouldn't necessarily let you transfer 60 random credit hours.

As for your older years of college, it depends how old. You might get a few courses counted as gen ed requirements if not too long ago, but don't expect anything technical to transfer.

Finally, keep in mind UCB's residency requirement - They require at least two full semesters there... A fairly lax rule, comparitively (four semesters seems like the norm), but they also have a whole slew of special extras regarding core work toward your major itself.
posted by pla at 10:39 AM on May 28, 2011

My info may be way old, but Berkeley only accepts new students in the fall, so you will probably have to at least wait until Fall 2012 to start classes. If you are accepted in the fall, you can defer to a later semester, but I don't believe that you can apply for Spring semester.

Also I believe that Vista College in Berkeley (now Berkeley City College, I guess? As I said my info is OLD) has a transfer agreement withe Cal so if you complete their requirements, Cal must let you in. This may also be true of Laney College, but I am less certain of that. Good luck!
posted by Duffington at 10:48 AM on May 28, 2011

Are you planning a degree in Astronomy for fun, or as a career? If the latter, what kind of career? Professional researchers or professors essentially all have PhDs; this necessitates caring about getting into graduate PhD programs. Perhaps counterintuitively, such programs prefer that people major in physics (rather than astronomy). There are some astrophysics programs that are OK, but such programs ought to include as many physics courses as a normal physics BA/BS would involve.

There are jobs one can get in and around astronomy with only a bachelor's degree or with just a master's (for example, analyzing data for certain space-based missions, or writing code), and for these jobs an astronomy degree would be fine. But it's helpful to have an idea of your desired goal before you start.
posted by solbailey at 10:49 AM on May 28, 2011

The best place to start is on-line since that information is more official than what a staff person tells you. I would study up on the transfer rules for the UC system. You can start here and track by major across all campuses or by campus. Some campuses have guaranteed transfer program where is you complete the necessary courses with the required GPA they guarantee you a place. (UCSC does this, UCB does not).

I would also check the website for your cc - search on "articulation" as well as "transfer" and see if they map their classes to the school requirements. Then with a print out of the UCB requirements have another meeting with the cc transfer person to help you figure out which classes will meet their requirements.
posted by metahawk at 12:03 PM on May 28, 2011

A counselor at the community college you would want to attend may be more helpful. They would have the knowledge of their curriculum that would transfer.

UC Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University both have good programs and might be an undergraduate jumping off point to then continue at Berkeley for graduate school.
posted by Edward L at 1:13 PM on May 28, 2011

I can't help with transfer within UC system, but IAMAAstronomer.

If you have personal reasons for wanting to stay in the Bay then Berkeley is great. It also has a reputation for excellent undergraduate physical sciences teaching.

But don't forget UC Santa Cruz, which is acknowledged as one of the best astronomy departments in the world, both in terms of quantifiable research output and reputation, and in California is probably second only to Caltech. If the transfer rules for UCSC are more achievable for you than Berkeley then that's great, because astronomy research is a field where it's at least as good a place to be as UCB, if not better. Obviously research output and undergraduate teaching effectiveness are not always correlated, but I find it hard to believe UCSC astronomy sucks at teaching.

I don't know what kind of transfer rules and prerequisites you're going to have to deal with, so what follows is in general terms: if you're serious about a career in academic astronomy (i.e. doing a PhD and then working in academia or for a government research institution) then you need to take physics and the accompanying maths requisites. Forget about astronomy. Well, take astronomy courses if you enjoy them and you can spare the time. They won't hurt when you apply to grad school, since it shows commitment. But in terms of the material you cover, grad schools won't care about the astronomy (they reteach it in the first year or two), and if you've taken them at the expense of maths and physics then you're likely to be rejected.

If you're only planning to do an undergraduate degree only then you can get by without the maths and physics, but not doing them is going to seriously restrict the junior/senior level astronomy courses you can take.
posted by caek at 2:11 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

You should talk to an adviser at CCSF about when to go: if I were you, I would get as much undergrad taken care of before going to UC. That's what I did, and it means my time at Davis is not wasted on basic stuff and I can take lots of good electives. You have to have a particular GPA as well. I wouldn't worry about extracurriculars; Berkeley is going to want to see your grades and your classes and a personal statement most of all. It's better to spend time going to school if you're in a big hurry, and get excellent grades.

(As I said my info is OLD) has a transfer agreement withe Cal so if you complete their requirements, Cal must let you in. This may also be true of Laney College, but I am less certain of that. Good luck!

This is still true, and the East Bay CCs are all under the same umbrella. However, some transfer agreements, like the IGETC, are not helpful for something like Astro, where you should really be taking a year of calculus and physics, and not doing the IGETC stuff. You're right about transfer students only being accepted in the Fall.)

Anything in the catalog that transfers will be followed by CSU/UC, or just UC. Astro 20 is probably not offered in summer- I see it in the spring schedule.

I figured out all the classes I needed to transfer from my CC to two particular UCs on Assist. You just have to spend some time digging into it in different ways; the FAQ is helpful. According to its articulation agreement from City College to UCBerkeley you need to take (please double check with your adviser):

UC Berkeley Course = CCSF
ASTRON 10 Introduction to General (4) = 20 Introduction to (4)*
Astronomy Astrophysics

MATH 1A Calculus = (4)|MATH 110A Calculus I (4)

MATH 1B Calculus = (4)|MATH 110B Calculus II (4)

MATH 53 Multivariable Calculus = (4)|MATH 110C Calculus III (4)

MATH 54 Linear Algebra and = (4)|MATH 130 Linear Algebra and (5)
Differential Equations | Differential Equations
| OR
|MATH 120 & Linear Algebra (3)
|MATH 125 Differential Equations (3)

PHYSICS 7A Physics for Scientists = (4)|PHYC 4A & Physics for Scientists (3)
and Engineers | and Engineers
|PHYC 4AL Physics Laboratory for (1)
| Scientists and
| Engineers
PHYSICS 7B Physics for Scientists =(4)|PHYC 4B & Physics for Scientists (3)
and Engineers | and Engineers
|PHYC 4BL Physics Laboratory for (1)
| Scientists and
| Engineers
PHYSICS 7C Physics for Scientists =(4)|PHYC 4C & Physics for Scientists (3)
and Engineers | and Engineers
|PHYC 4CL & Physics Laboratory for (1)
| Scientists and
| Engineers
|PHYC 4D & Physics for Scientists (3)
| and Engineers
|PHYC 4DL Physics Laboratory for (1)
| Scientists and
| Engineers

* This course is a substitute for course which are required but not offered at CCSF:
ASTRON 7A and 7B
posted by oneirodynia at 8:23 PM on May 28, 2011

Response by poster: Okay. All good info. UCB offers an astrophysics program, not an astronomy program. I assume that astrophysics is heavier on the math (and physics) than astronomy, which I'm okay with. I like math (once I understand it, before that I hate it). Really I just want to find me some planets while there's still some left to find. I'll name my first planet "Runcible Planet".

Is this a career path? I don't know. My knowledge of how careers work is very limited as I have worked in food service or retail my whole adult life. I do know that I'm very excited about anything I read about the universe and how it works. My roommate recently took an intro astronomy class and I would help him do his homework because I already knew the enough about the subject (and the admittedly basic math) to solve the problems he was given. And I thought it was fun.

I used to think I wanted to go back to school for fine art, but then I did and I found out that having someone tell me how to make art made me want to stab them in the face. Art is a thing I can teach myself through practice and experimentation. Astrophysics, not so much.

metahawk - I looked at that link and it doesn't list astrophysics specifically. It does, however, say that I need to take linear algebra for physics. I've had several semester of calculus and physics with calculus but I don't think we ever touched linear algebra as exemplified by this comment. I'm going to see what I can learn on Khan Academy in the mean time.

I have not talked to anyone at UC Berkeley because they refuse to talk to anyone about anything until you actual submit an application and are accepted. But, I don't want to submit an application until I'm reasonably certain that I've taken the courses I need to. Bit of a catch 22 there.

I did however talk to a transfer counselor at CCSF who was as helpful as he could be, but in terms of what would transfer from my old undergrad classes he basically told me that he's not sure because there's no articulation agreement. I think I have all the general ed (IGETC?) requirements for math, english, physics, chemistry, etc.

So, it looks to me like I have to take Astro 1 at CCSF, which I'm already signed up for. I probably also have to take English 1C, probably in the fall. Then I have to take Astro 20 at CCSF which isn't offered until the Spring, but that should be okay because you can be taking course requirements in the Spring before you're admitted in the fall. I guess I also have to look into taking linear algebra (damn you matrices!).

Another hurdle for me is that I work 50 hours a week, so making time for school or any extracurricular activities is a bit tough. But, if anyone knows where I can get hands on with some astronomy work (like an internship) in or around the San Francisco, that would be cool. (I don't have the money to buy my own telescope right now, but I have been messing around with this program called Universe Sandbox, which is cool in the "you can blow up planets" sort of way).
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2011

I think you really need to do some more research on astronomy as a potential career. See if you can meet with an astronomy prof at UCB or another local school. Most astronomy departments have an open telescope night once a month; that would be a good time to get an introduction. Then talk to a prof during office hours on a school day. Try to find some current undergrad students to talk to, and some current grad students. Sit in on an upper-level lecture -- in my experience no one cares if there's an extra body in the classroom. Check out some textbooks from the library. Of course you won't understand the material, but see if it's the kind of thing you could imagine yourself doing after a couple of years of hard study.

Look at job postings boards to find out whether someone with an undergrad astronomy degree can get a job, or whether you need that PhD. Snoop around to figure out how competitive those jobs are, and how much people in them get paid. (Public universities usually have to tell you how much they pay every employee, which is a good way to find out.)

Try to find out who works in astronomy departments other than people with astronomy degrees. Electrical engineers? Optical engineers? Scientific computing people? Public relations people? Graphic artists? I personally know one guy who specializes in doing 3D artistic models of astrophysical phenomena for a university, that might be a good angle to pursue. And there are lots of people without astronomy degrees working at science museums and planetariums, which also might be worth thinking about.

Then, for a contrast, go to an amateur astronomy meetup. I know the Bay Area has a huge community of amateur astronomers, including the famous Sidewalk Astronomers. They've got to have open telescope nights where you can test out the equipment and (more importantly) discuss your interests with people.

I suspect you'll discover that you need a PhD in astronomy for even low-level astronomy research jobs, and that even those jobs are highly competitive. Lots and lots of people get the undergrad degree and never work in the field. Meanwhile amateur astronomy is a burgeoning hobby with tons of people who have a sincere and unending fascination with studying the universe. And it's really not that expensive to pursue either!
posted by miyabo at 2:28 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Honestly, though it would be neat to have a career that involves studying the universe, I'm mostly interested in going back to school just to know more about the subject. More, that is, than an enthusiastic amateur. To do that I think I need more than I can glean from the internet, plus I find the structure of a classroom setting helpful with subjects like math and physics. Thus I want to attend a school that has a well regarded program, and isn't too far away from me. And, I'll take it as far as I can. If I finish the under grad and go "MOAR!" then I'll pursue a masters. Same goes for a phd. It would also be nice to say that I have a degree. Though that's not really important. If it leads to a career change then that's great. It can't be any less fulfilling than working retail.
Mostly though I feel like I'm a fairly smart dude (compared to the general population, not metafilter) and I feel like my brain power is going completely to waste. Plus, as long as I'm attending school full time I don't have to pay any of my old loans. Yay!

miyabo - I'll look into these clubs and telescopes nights (any links?). Could be cool. I'm not really interested in doing anything involving art as a job. It makes me hate art. (although I do have some very basic training in 3d rendering for fabrication and construction). Something I just figured out: I don't want to look at stars and know their names, I want to look at stars and be able to do the math that tells me how they work.

I blame typos in this post on my phone.

Thanks again dudes and dudettes.
posted by runcibleshaw at 4:11 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

UCB offers an astrophysics program, not an astronomy program. I assume that astrophysics is heavier on the math (and physics) than astronomy
Kinda. I think in recent times (like the last 20 years), "astronomy" has become understood to be the practice of looking at astronomical objects, while "astrophysics" is interpretation and theory. This is exemplified by the two main astronomy/astrophysics journals in the U.S.: The Astronomical Journal is nominally for reporting new observations (although usually with some interpretation), while The Astrophysical Journal is often for more theoretical/synthesising stuff.

That's the idea anyway. That distinction is relatively recent though, and is certainly not distinct enough or sufficiently agreed upon to be a reliable way of figuring out the biases of an astronomy/astrophysics program based on its name. Any reasonably large astronomy or astrophysics program is going to offer roughly the same courses to roughly the same level.

If your goal is to succeed in an astronomy program like the one at Berkeley then your absolute priority should be maths and physics. Khan academy is better than tooling around on Facebook, but it's no substitute for examined courses that appear on your transcript.

As for internships/experience then, assuming you can do them without compromising on maths and physics, sure, why not? Opportunities to help out with someone else's research program usually require that you are enrolled (and usually in the last year or two) of a bachelor's degree with a connection to the person whose research you would support. The closest you could get to internships are volunteering at your local planetarium or observatory. I think the closest observatory to the Bay is Lick, which is open to the public some of the time. Learn about what they do and see if they need help.

There is no need buy a telescope, by the way. I'm a professional astronomer/astrophysicist. I didn't use a telescope until the first time I went on a proper week-long observing run late on in graduate school.
posted by caek at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2011

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