Department of Physics & Astronomy

Graduate Program

For general policies and procedures for graduate study at SFSU, see the Division of Graduate Studies website:

Physics/Astronomy Graduate Admission Director: Prof. Jeff Greensite

Physics Graduate Coordinator: Prof. Maarten Golterman

Astronomy Graduate Coordinator: Prof. Adrienne Cool

General Information

The department offers the Master of Science in Physics and the M.S. in Physics with a concentration in Astronomy. These programs serve students who seek advanced knowledge in physics or astronomy: for application in physics/astronomy related industries; for preparation to continue graduate work elsewhere towards the doctoral degree; for service as museum/planetarium docent or technical staff at a research institute; and for work leading to teaching credentials which require a master's degree.

Admission to Program

Ideal preparation for the graduate program includes a bachelor's degree in physics, astronomy/astrophysics, or related field with a 3.0 grade point average in the last 60 units of the undergraduate degree and a 3.0 in all physics, astronomy & math courses. Students with slightly lower GPAs may be admitted on a case-by-case basis, and will require a petition to and approval from the Graduate Division. Students with degrees other than physics, astronomy/astrophysics, or closely related fields are welcome to apply; such applicants, if admitted, will need to complete the core classes in the undergraduate curriculum before starting graduate course work.

Applications are due May 1 for a Fall start, or November 1 for a Spring start. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply by May 1 for a Fall start. Applicants apply online at the Cal State Apply website: Required application materials include:

  • (1) Transcripts from all previous institutions of higher education, and
  • (2) Two letters of recommendation from instructors or advisors who know you well.
  • We do NOT require the GRE General or Physics tests.

    Costs, Financial Aid, Graduate Teaching & Research Assistantships

    For the most up-to-date information on tuition/fees and finacial aid, see the Division of Graduate Studies:

    For 2021-2022, tution per semester is $2,955 (for 6 units or less) and $4,461 (for 7 units or more). Non-residents of California and international students must pay an additional $396 per unit. For example, for a full-time student who is a California resident taking 9.0 units per semester, one full year of tuition is $8,922; for a full-time non-resident taking 9.0 units per semester, one full year of tuition & fees are $16,050. Students should expect to add $18,000-$24,000 per year for living expenses.

    There is very limited grant aid for graduate students. Financial aid is primarily in the form of loans. U.S. citizens (and certain eligible noncitizens) should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 1.

    There are a very small number of scholarships available for graduate study. See the College of Science and Engineering Scholarship webpage here: See the Fellowship and Scholarship sections of the Division of Graduate Studies "Funding your Education" website:

    Within the Department of Physics & Astronomy, opportunities for Graduate Teaching Assistantships are relatively plentiful. A Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) can earn $2,715 per semester for teaching 1 laboratory section per week, and $5,430 for teaching two laboratory sections. (Note: a second section is not guaranteed and are assigned depending on availability.) The workload for each lab is 2.75 hours per week for supervising the lab, 1.0 hour per week for a lab coordination meeting with fellow GTAs, 1.0 hour per week for leading a help session, 2.0 hours per week for grading, and 0.75 hour for general administration, for a total of 7.5 hours per week per lab. Note: for a student to be a GTA, they must be in good academic standing (not on academic probation) and have sufficient background knowledge to teach the lab (this will be determined by the physics and/or astronomy placement tests). Graduate Students may only be given assignments for a maximum of 4 semesters.

    The Department offers a special scholarship to all GTAs who take or have previously taken PHYS 885: Inclusive Pedgagogy for the Physical Sciences: $1,000 for California residents and $2,000 for non-residents in each semester they teach. Students can receive the scholarship in the same semester that they are enrolled in PHYS 885, and can again receive the scholarship in future semesters, up to a maximum of 4 times. Other scholarship requirements: minimum GPA of 3.25 and no other outside scholarship(s) totalling more than $2,000.

    Some faculty members may be able to hire graduate students as Graduate Research Assistants (GRA). However, this depends on whether a faculty member has budgeted for student support in their research grants. Students should directly contact individual faculty members about the possibility for GRA positions.

    Master Degree Requirements


    Major Core (15 units)

    PHYS 704: Electricity & Magnetism I (3)
    PHYS 706: Quantum Mechanics (3)
    PHYS 775: Statistical Physics (3)
    PHYS 785: Theoretical Physics (3)
    PHYS 897: Research (3)

    Culminating Experience (0-3 units)

    PHYS 895: Culminating Project (3) and Oral Defense of Project,
    PHYS 896EXM: Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination (0),
    PHYS 898: Master's Thesis (3) and Oral Defense of Thesis.

    Graduate Physics/Astronomy Electives (6 units)

    Select from graduate PHYS and ASTR courses numbered 700 to 799. Students interested in theoretical physics are strongly encouraged to take PHYS 701; students interested in experimental physics are strongly encouraged to take PHYS 710.

    General Electives (6-9 units)

    Advanced upper-division (numbered 400 and above) or graduate courses (numbered 700 to 885) in physics, astronomy, or appropriately related subjects, selected after advisement and approved by the Graduate Coordinator. Students who select PHYS 896EXM for their culminating experience must complete 9 units of electives; students who select PHYS 895 or PHYS 898 for their culminating experience must complete 6 units of electives. No additional supervision units are allowed. Maximum of 3 units in related fields outside physics & astronomy. Students who plan to teach as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) are strongly encouraged to take PHYS 885 (Inclusive Pedagogy for the Physical Sciences).

    Total Units: 30

    MASTER of SCIENCE in PHYSICS: Concentration in ASTRONOMY

    Group I: Core courses (12 units)

    PHYS 701: Classical Mechanics (3)
    ASTR 722: Radiative Processes and Gas Dynamics in Astrophysics (3)
    ASTR 742: Galaxies and Cosmology (3)
    ASTR 770: Observational Techniques in Astronomy Research (3)

    Group II: Graduate physics/astronomy electives (9 units)

    Elective graduate physics or astronomy courses with numbers in the range from PHYS 700-799 or ASTR 700-799 only.

    Group III: General electives (9 units)

    Advanced upper-division (numbered 400 and above) or graduate courses in physics, astronomy, or appropriately related subjects, selected after advisement and approved by the Graduate Coordinator. Note that up to a maximum of 6 units numbered 800-899 can count in this category.

    Group IV: Thesis and/or comprehensive oral examination

    PHYS 898: Master's Thesis (3) and Oral Defense of Thesis (units included in Group III)
    PHYS 896EXM: Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination.

    Total Units: 30

    All graduate students must demonstrate two levels of writing proficiency:
    Level one proficiency is satisfied by one of the following: (a) a score of 4 or higher on the analytical writing portion of the GRE, OR (b) a passing grade in ASTR 340: The Big Bang.
    Level two proficiency is satisfied by one of the following: (a) a written M.S. thesis, OR (b) a significant piece of professional scientific writing (evaluated by the Graduate Coordinator).


    During their residence at SFSU, graduate students must demonstrate competence in physics and/or astronomy by taking a number of written and oral examinations:

  • 1. All incoming students must take a written placement test on undergraduate physics. Incoming astronomy students will also take a written placement test on undergraduate astronomy. These tests will not be graded; they will be used by the graduate coordinators to determine the optimum set of entry courses for each student, which could include beginning or mid-level undergraduate courses.
  • 2. Prior to taking any graduate courses numbered 700-799, all graduate students must achieve a satisfactory score on the Physics Major Field Test. While new graduate students may take graduate physics courses during their first semester with the department (in consultation with the graduate coordinator), they must pass this test before taking graduate courses in subsequent semesters. Tests taken more than six months prior to enrollment as a graduate student in the department do not fulfill this requirement.
  • 3. A final requirement is that all graduate students must perform satisfactorily on either Oral Defense of Master's Thesis OR Master's Comprehensive Oral Exam. These exams are administered by the student's Graduate Committee. The Oral Defense of Master's Thesis focuses not only on the Master's Thesis, but on all related physics and/or astronomy background material. To a lesser extend, the committe may test the student on any graduate coursework. The Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination covers all graduate coursework (including electives). If necessary, these exams may be repeated once, at the discretion of the committee, upon petition by the student.
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