Graduate Program

Female student looking intently at mechanical device

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

Physics/Astronomy Graduate Admission Director: Professor Jeff Greensite

Physics Graduate Coordinator: Professor Maarten Golterman

Astronomy Graduate Coordinator: Professor Adrienne Cool

The department offers the Master of Science in Physics and the M.S. in Astronomy & Astrophysics. 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.

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. 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.

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

For 2022-2023, tuition & fees per semester are $2,975 (for part-time, 6 units or less) and $4,481 (for full-time, 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 $8,962; for a full-time non-resident taking 9.0 units per semester, one full year of tuition & fees are $16090. 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, or as soon as possible.

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 $2,769.60 per semester (six payments of $461.60) for teaching 1 laboratory section per week, and $5,539.20 (six payments of $923.20) 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, 1.33 hours per week for grading, and 0.25 hour for general administration, for a total of 5.33 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. Please note that San Francisco State University does not offer tuition waivers/remissions for Graduate Teaching Assistants, which means they are still responsible for paying all tuition and required fees.

The Department offers a special scholarship to all GTAs who take or have previously taken PHYS 885: Inclusive Pedagogy for the Physical Sciences: $750 for California residents and $1500 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. The scholarship is not guaranteed for every semester and is limited by the availability of funds. In 2022-2023, we anticipate that we will have funding for eligible students to receive the scholarship for only one semester, Other scholarship requirements: minimum GPA of 3.25 and no other outside scholarship(s) totaling 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 of Science in Physics

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,
or
PHYS 896EXM: Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination (0),
or
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: Classical Mechanics; students interested in experimental physics are strongly encouraged to take PHYS 710: Advanced Physics Laboratory for Research.

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 Astronomy & Astrophysics

Major Core (15 units)

PHYS 701: Classical Mechanics (3)
ASTR 722: Radiative Processes in Astrophysics (3)
ASTR 742: Galaxies and Cosmology (3)
ASTR 770: Observational Techniques in Astronomy Research (3)
ASTR 897: Research (3)

Culminating Experience (0-3 units)

ASTR 895: Culminating Project (3) and Oral Defense of Project,
or
ASTR 896EXM: Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination (0),
or
ASTR 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. Graduate electives that are especially encouraged include: ASTR 700: Stellar Astrophysics, ASTR 798: Astronomy Research Literature, PHYS 712: Physics of Plasmas, PHYS 725: Special & General Relativity, PHYS 740: Computational Physics, PHYS 775: Statistical Mechanics, and PHYS 785: Theoretical Physics.

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 ASTR 896EXM for their culminating experience must complete 9 units of electives; students who select ASTR 895 or ASTR 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

Writing Proficiency

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).

Required Written & Oral Examinations

During their residence at SF State, 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 committee 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.