Jobs & Careers
Astronomy/Astrophysics majors pursue a range of career paths after leaving Williams. Going back to 2000 (compiled in June 2021), 37% go directly to graduate school, while 55% work/travel after leaving Williams. Of those that work, 65% eventually go to graduate school, in a wide range of fields (physics, literature, theology, and, yes, astronomy). Of those who work straight after Williams, the majority either teach, e.g., high-school physics (31%) or work in a research position (25%), although there is again a wide range beyond these positions. The career paths beyond the first years out of Williams are broader, including college faculty, work in the business/finance sector, staff positions at national research labs (e.g., NASA), journalism, law, etc. (See our graduates page for the full and updated list of career paths.) These statistics are in line with national surveys.
This gives you a taste of career paths, but there are many other options. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) conducted a series of interviews highlighting different careers for those with astronomy degrees, including Data Scientist, Museum Director, Financial Analyst, Software Engineer at SpaceX, Science Communications, and many others. When looking for work after Williams, make sure to consult the Career Center, as well as the Alumni network. When looking for jobs within Astronomy, an excellent resource is the AAS job register, which is constantly updated with new jobs within astronomy.
When exploring career paths, remember that astronomy builds a wide range of skills including technical written and verbal communication (from, e.g., research and tutorial presentations, final papers), working effectively with a team (e.g., group observing projects), the ability to analyze and interpret data (e.g., observing projects, problem sets, research), programming (e.g., ASTR 211), statistics and error analysis (e.g., research), problem solving and troubleshooting skills/techniques (e.g., literally every problem set), in addition to a broad knowledge in astronomy, physics, and mathematics concepts.
As noted above, many of our students pursue graduate studies, either immediately after Williams, or after working/traveling (49% of our graduates who have gone to graduate school did not do so directly from Williams). Fields of study in graduate school include Astronomy (35%), Physics/Engineering (25%), Geosciences/Planetary Science (13%), and CS (3%).
We are happy to talk with anyone interested in pursuing graduate school. Useful online resources include Astrobites, which has guides on topics such as the timeline for applying to graduate school, applying to graduate school in Europe, taking a year off before pursuing graduate studies, and many other related topics. The AAS career survey highlights the wide range of jobs pursued by people who have advanced degrees in astronomy, which extends well beyond the traditional professorship career path.
Applying to graduate school can be expensive due to GRE test fees and application fees, but Williams can help. The career center can provide funds for students with financial aid, while many schools provide fee waivers for eligible students. The fees and fee waivers vary from school to school; an online compilation keeps track of these varying requirements, as well as which schools (a diminishing number) currently require/accept the (physics) GRE. If you feel that finances are limiting your choices, or have any questions about these matters, come talk to us for help.