Graduate students in astronomy must have a substantial background in physics and mathematics. The following list, based on courses at Harvard, is representative of the minimum background the candidate should have acquired as an undergraduate (see course descriptions in Applied Mathematics, Engineering Sciences, and Physics for details):

- Mechanics (Engineering Sciences 125 or Physics 151)
- Electromagnetic theory (Physics 153)
- Statistical physics (Engineering Sciences 181 or Physics 181)
- Quantum mechanics (Physics 143a)
- General mathematics (Applied Mathematics 104 and 105)