Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. I would like to enrol in the Master, Graduate Diploma, or Graduate Certificate, but I don't have a tertiary qualification.

  2. Admission to the SAO program is normally restricted to applicants with a recognised tertiary qualification (eg. a Bachelors degree in the natural or physical sciences) or approved equivalent.

    Note that some of the advanced units do assume introductory tertiary level mathematics. For full details of entry requirements, follow this link.

  3. Do these postgraduate courses include exams?

  4. No, our courses do not involve final exams. SAO has continual assessment throughout the semester which includes a mixture of newsgroup communications, essays and project work (where participants can choose from a large range of possible projects including practical observing, internet research and astronomy education projects), and online tests.

  5. Are there any lectures or other on-site classes to attend?

  6. No - this course is available worldwide and is fully online with contact is via newsgroups and email. The newsgroup discussions are asynchronous - which means that you can join in at the time of the day that suits you (and your local time zone) best.

  7. I would like to enrol in one of the SAO degree programs and I have a tertiary (university or 4-year college) qualification. However I can't get my university or college to provide official transcripts direct. I see that Swinburne University also accepts "certified copies" of my transcripts. What does this mean, and where should they be sent?

  8. Certified photocopies are photocopies which are verified - signed and stamped with an official stamp - by a minister of religion, a medical doctor, a member of the police force, or a registered pharmacist. Certified copies all original transcripts of official academic results must be (air)mailed - not faxed - to the following address prior to the end of the 3rd week of teaching. Failure to provide such information by this date will result in the program enrolment being terminated and you will be transferred to a single subject enrolment. (The University accepts no responsibility for documents submitted.)
    Address for transcripts:
      Attention: Astronomy Online Course Administrator
      Student HQ, Mail H7
      Swinburne University of Technology
      PO BOX 218, Hawthorn, VIC 3122
      AUSTRALIA

  9. How does the Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma and Masters course compare in workload?

  10. A full-time course workload at Swinburne University is 4 units per semester. The Graduate Certificate is equivalent to 6 months (1 semester) of full-time coursework; the Graduate Diploma is equivalent to 12 months (2 semesters) of full-time coursework; and the Masters is equivalent to 18 months (3 semesters) of full-time coursework.

  11. What is the maximum time allowed to complete the degrees?

  12. Swinburne University allows students a maximum of twice the part-time course load to complete their degree. This is equivalent to taking one unit per semester for all of the SAO degree programs.

  13. What are the official titles for the SAO courses?

  14. Master of Science (Astronomy)
    Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy)
    Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy)

  15. Are these courses accredited by Swinburne University of Technology?

  16. The Graduate Certificate of Science program first received full accreditation by the University on 4 November 1998. The Master of Science and the Graduate Diploma of Science programs received full accreditation by the University on 13 December 1999. In June 2004, all three SAO programs were re-accredited by the University Council for another five years from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2009. The programs have been re-accredited for a third time in June 2009 for the 5 year period from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2014. Follow
    this link for further details. The Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma and Masters programs (plus individual unit entry) are all available worldwide.

  17. Are there any SAO Units I must enroll in?

  18. This depends on when you first enrolled in SAO.

      If you enroll in or after 2015:

      Please visit this link for further details on core(compulsory) and elective units for each program.

        If you first enrolled prior to 2015 but in or after 2010:

      • There are no unit restrictions for Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy) students.
      • Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) students must complete three core units, plus any 5 elective units (subject to prerequisites). The three core units are AST80005 (formerly HET602), AST80004 (formerly HET603), AST80006 (formerly HET624).
      • Master of Science (Astronomy) students must complete three core units plus one Major Project unit, plus any 8 elective units (subject to prerequisites). The three core units are AST80005 (formerly HET602), AST80004 (formerly HET603), AST80006 (formerly HET624) and the choice of Major Project units include AST80012 (formerly HET612), AST80013 (formerly HET615), AST80011 (formerly HET617) and AST80014 (formerly HET619).

    • If I pass enough units as individual-unit enrolments, can I then qualify for one of the postgraduate degrees?

    • No - the University rules usually require that you be enrolled in a course for most if not all of the units. If you pass one or two units as individual-unit enrolments and then transfer to one of our postgraduate degree programs, we will be able to give you exemption(s) for the unit(s) already passed.

    • How can I pay for SAO units?

    • Full details of payment options are provided during the enrolment process. If you need information about other methods of payment, contact astro@swin.edu.au.

    • What are the upcoming semester dates and when are the main assessment items due?
    • Semester dates for 2015:

      • Semester 1, 2015, will run from 2 March to 23 May
      • Semester 2, 2015, will run from 31 August to 21 November

      S1-2015: Week 0 commences 23 February.
      S2-2015: Week 0 commences 24 August.

      SAO semesters run for 12 weeks, starting on a Monday and ending on a Saturday.

      Assessment items are due on the same day for all (non-Major Project) units. Essays are due at the end of Week 9, Projects are due at the end of Week 10, CMT1** is due at the end of Week 6, CMT2** and Newsgroup submissions are due at the end of Week 12. Due to the international nature of SAO, all assessment items are due on a Saturday.
      ** CMT = Computer Managed Test

    • Are you planning to offer more units?

    • We do not have any current plans for creating new Units. In 2009 we accredited two new SAO units: AST80014 (formerly HET619) Major Project - Astronomy & Astrophysics, which has been offered from S1, 2010, and AST80015 (formerly HET620) Planetary Science, which began in S2, 2011. For details of all our units and their schedule, follow this link.

    • I want to become a professional astronomer. Would these courses qualify me to become one?

    • Not alone. To become a professional astronomer you need a PhD in astronomy, which usually requires an undergraduate science degree (in physics, astronomy or mathematics) with honours. To get into a PhD program you need to show that you have research potential, which usually means an honours degree with a thesis component or a Masters by research. SAO offers a Masters by coursework which will provide you with an excellent basis on which to build further astronomy knowledge.

    • Will this course qualify me to take higher-level astronomy courses at other tertiary institutions, colleges and universities?

    • The Masters, Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate of Science in Astronomy are all fully recognised tertiary (university) qualifications. However each tertiary institution has its own rules about what specific prior study it recognises for the purpose of granting exemptions & course entry, so you should always contact the specific institution concerned to obtain an answer to this question.

    • Will I need to be connected to the Internet for extended periods of time as I study for this course?

    • Our custom made course content is available online and is accompanied by downloadable PDF files, so you can either read through the course content while online or your can read through the PDF files while offline. You will need to connect to the Internet for short periods on a regular basis (at least twice a week) to make (assessable) contributions to the course online discussion groups, visit astronomy web sites, submit assessment items and send us emails if necessary.

    • As a school teacher enrolled in these courses, would I be entitled to use the multimedia course content in my teaching?

    • Yes - all our multimedia course content is copyright, but we will grant permission on request for your own personal use in secondary teaching. In the future our copyright material may also be available to be used at other tertiary institutions for a licence fee.

    • Would joining a local amateur astronomy association be an advantage?

    • While you do not need to do any practical observing to take these courses, we certainly encourage participants to become active with their local amateur astronomy association. Joining in their observing nights will enrich the learning process and also provide practical help on issues such as the use of telescopes. Amateur astronomers make an invaluable contribution to the advance of astronomy - many discoveries of comets, novae, supernovae variable stars etc. have been by amateur astronomers. Astronomy is unique among the sciences in having so many thousands of amateur enthusiasts organised nationally & internationally.

    • How do I contact my local amateur astronomy association?

    • The listings on our astronomy links page will be a good starting point, though note that not all amateur astronomy associations have web sites. Local telescope suppliers should also be able to put you into contact with amateur astronomy associations.

    • Will I be required to buy a telescope, and/or do night-time observing?

    • No, observing is entirely optional (though strongly encouraged). We do not recommend that astronomy novices purchase telescopes before joining in observing nights run by their local amateur astronomy association, where they will obtain the best advice and hands-on experience in the purchase and use of telescopes and in observing generally. Naked-eye and binocular observing can be very rewarding, and initially a lot simpler than tackling issues of telescope alignment & coordinate systems for the novice.

    • Not all astronomers are knowledgeable about amateur observing issues. Is that true for this course?

    • Some of us certainly know our way around the night sky better than others! However we have excellent relations with our major local amateur astronomy society, the Astronomical Society of Victoria, and all of our practical observing projects are supervised by leading amateur astronomers or professional observational astronomers.

    • Is this course designed only for Australian participants, and will I be at a disadvantage participating from another country?

    • We require a level of English proficiency, but astronomy is a truly international pursuit, and we are taking particular care in our course design to make our units accessible to an international audience. You will find that we quite often use Australian astronomical images and source material - but, as Australia is a leading player in professional astronomy, so do many international textbooks & astronomy resources.

    • Am I too old to take this course?

    • No way! One of the advantages of online education is that no one can see your grey hair, or that of any of the instructors... Most SAO students are mature age, life-long learners.

    • I don't know much about computers. Will I get help with any technical difficulties I encounter in accessing the course material and discussion groups?

    • Yes, an email "help desk" is available. While they can't be entirely avoided, we design our course content to involve as few specialist "plug-ins" and other technical complications as possible.

    • Is this course covered by the Australian HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme)?

    • No - but SAO does come under the new Australian FEE-HELP program. FEE-HELP is similar to HECS but applies to postgraduate coursework programs. For more details, visit the FEE-HELP website

    • Will the fees change while I am taking the course?

    • The present fees are only guaranteed for enrolments for the semester indicated (see Fees for details). However our fees generally only increase every 12-24 months, in line with inflation.

    • How do the Australian dollar ($AUD) and the $US compare?

    • The state of the $AUD to $US exchange rate has been quite volatile for several years now. Follow this link to access a commercial currency conversion website.

    • Do I need to buy the textbooks?

    • Yes - we strongly recommend that you do, as we will be expecting you to read sections as reference material. For details, see the Textbooks page.

    • Can I take these postgraduate courses full time?

    • Yes. Note, however, that not all units are available every semester: the introductory-level units will be offered every semester (subject to demand), but the more advanced units may be offered in odd or even semesters only. The more advanced units may also have prerequisites - see our page on Units for more details.

    • Can I obtain credit for an astronomy subject which I studied elsewhere?

    • In some cases - if they are of equivalent postgraduate standard. Send us the details and we may be able to exempt you from one of our introductory units.

    • Are these postgraduate courses available as on-campus lecture courses at Swinburne?

    • These courses are only available online. Swinburne University undergraduates may be able to enrol in single units but the delivery method will be online, not lecture-based.

    • Does Swinburne University offer on-campus Masters and PhDs in astronomy/astrophysics?

    • The Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing at Swinburne University is an internationally known astrophysics research group, as well as undertaking development work in applications of high-performance computing and visualisation. The Centre does offer higher degrees by research, with a policy of taking on a very limited number of students who can obtain scholarships and have excellent first class honours degrees.
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