Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Future Students

  1. Is Swinburne Astronomy Online (SAO) part of Swinburne Online?

  2. No. SAO is a program that began at the Swinburne University of Technology in 1999. Swinburne Online was founded in 2011 and is a joint venture between Swinburne University of Technology and SEEK Learning.

  3. I want to enrol in the Master of Science, Graduate Diploma of Science, or Graduate Certificate of Science, but I don't have a tertiary qualification.

  4. Course entry requirements are listed on each course page: MA-SASTRO; GD-SASTRO; GC-SASTRO. Generally, admission to the Master of Science (Astronomy) degree is restricted to applicants with a recognised tertiary qualification in Science (e.g., a Bachelor of Science degree) or a discipline cognate to astronomy, such as Engineering or an approved equivalent.

    If you do not have a Bachelor's degree but have extensive and relevant astronomy-related experience, you can apply for the Graduate Certificate, and your submission will be reviewed. If approved, and after successfully completing the Graduate Certificate, you may enrol in either the Graduate Diploma or the Master of Science.

    Note that some of the advanced units do assume introductory tertiary-level mathematics.

  5. Do these postgraduate courses include exams?

  6. No, our courses do not involve final exams. SAO has continual assessment throughout the semester, which includes a mixture of newsgroup communications, essays, and online tests.

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

  8. No - this Course is available worldwide and is entirely online with contact via newsgroups (in Canvas) and email. The newsgroup discussions are asynchronous, meaning you can join in at the time of the day that best suits you (and your local time zone).

  9. I want to enrol in one of the SAO degree programs and already 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 transcripts. What does this mean, and where should they be sent?

  10. Certified photocopies are photocopies that 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. PDF versions should be submitted with the online application.

  11. How do the Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma and Master of Science course compare in workload?

  12. A full-time course workload at Swinburne University is four 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 Master of Science is equivalent to 18 months (3 semesters) of full-time coursework.

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

  14. 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 SAO degree programs. This is also a popular choice, with many of our students taking this course in their retirement.

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

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

  17. Does Swinburne University of Technology accredit these courses?

  18. The Graduate Certificate of Science program first received full accreditation by Swinburne 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, the University Council re-accredited all three SAO programs for another five years, from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2009. The programs were re-accredited for a third time in June 2009 for the five-years from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2014. In November 2014, the University Senate re-accredited the program for another five years, from 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2019. This was again repeated, covering the years 2020 to 2024, and this pattern appears set to repeat. The Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, and Master of Science programs (plus individual unit entry) are all available worldwide.
    As of 2024, accreditation updates might no longer be provided on these SAO web pages but will instead be found by checking which astronomy courses are offered at
    Swinburne University of Technology. Follow this link for further details.

  19. Can I receive credit for prior work experience?

  20. Possibly. Swinburne University has a weblink Credit for prior study or experience that addresses this.

  21. Can I obtain credit for an astronomy subject that I studied elsewhere?

  22. In some cases - if they are of equivalent postgraduate standard.
    Undergraduate astronomy units cannot be used to claim credit, i.e., Advanced Standing, for our postgraduate astronomy units. That is, the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) Level 7, i.e., Bachelor's Degree, can't be used as credit for the Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, and Master of Science degree, which are AQF Level 8. Thus, SAO can't offer credit for undergraduate units as the undergraduate course (AQF7) was the entry point into the SAO graduate program (AQF8). However, if you think you may qualify due to relevant postgraduate study, send us the details during your application to the program, and we may be able to exempt you from one/some of our introductory units.

  23. Are there any SAO Units I must enrol in?

  24. Yes. Exactly which depends on when you first enrolled in SAO.
    • If you enrol in or after 2015, please visit this link for further details on each program's core (compulsory) and elective units.
    • If you first enrolled before 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 five elective units (subject to prerequisites). The three core units are AST80005 (formerly HET602), AST80004 (formerly HET603), and AST80006 (formerly HET624).
      • Master of Science (Astronomy) students must complete three core units, one Major Project unit, and any eight 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).

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

  26. 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 can give you exemption(s) for the unit(s) already passed.

  27. How can I pay for SAO units?

  28. SAO does not collect the fees, which are both set and managed by Swinburne University of Technology. Full details of payment options are provided during the enrolment process.

  29. What are the upcoming semester dates, and when are the main assessment items due?
  30. Semester dates are advertised here.

    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 (if applicable rather than an Essay) 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

  31. Are you planning to offer more units?

  32. We do not currently have new Units under development.

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

  34. Not alone. To become a professional astronomer you need a PhD in astronomy, which usually first requires an undergraduate science degree (in physics, mathematics, or perhaps computing or engineering) with an Honours year, or a post-bachelor's Master of Science degree (with a substantial research component). To then 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 Master of Science by research. SAO offers a Master of Science by coursework which will provide you with an excellent basis on which to build further astronomy knowledge, but is generally not a direct path into a PhD program. However, a Master of Science by coursework can be enough to teach in some Colleges, and we have many students from the USA in part because of this.

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

  36. The Master's, 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 when granting exemptions and course entry, so you should always contact the particular institution concerned to obtain an answer to this question.

  37. Will I need to be connected to the Internet for extended periods as I study for this course?

  38. Our custom-made course content is available online and downloadable PDF files can be generated so you can either read through the course content while online or offline. You will need to regularly connect to the Internet for short periods (at least twice a week) to make (assessable) contributions to the online discussion groups, visit astronomy websites, submit assessment items, and send us emails if necessary.

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

  40. Yes - all our multimedia course content is copyrighted, but we will grant permission on request for your 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.

  41. Would joining a local amateur astronomy association be an advantage?

  42. 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 their observing nights will enrich the learning process and 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 made by amateur astronomers. Astronomy is unique among the sciences in having so many thousands of amateur enthusiasts organised nationally & internationally.

  43. How do I contact my local amateur astronomy association?

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

  45. Will I be required to buy/use a telescope and do night-time observing?

  46. No, observing is entirely optional. 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.

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

  48. Some of us 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 (when offered) are supervised by leading amateur astronomers or professional observational astronomers.

  49. Is this course designed only for Australian participants, and will I be disadvantaged by participating from another country?

  50. 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 a global 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 and astronomy resources.

  51. Am I too old to take this course?

  52. Nope. One of the advantages of online education is that no one can see your grey hair or that of any of the instructors... Many SAO students are mature age, life-long learners. If you're capable enough to use the internet and read this, then you should be fine.

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

  54. 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. The Units are taught through Canvas.

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

  56. No - but SAO does come under the Australian FEE-HELP program. FEE-HELP is similar to HECS but applies to postgraduate coursework programs. It is basically for Australian and New Zealand citizens. For more details, visit the FEE-HELP website. There is also some information on checking your HELP debt here.

  57. Will the fees change while I am taking the course?

  58. A university committee, not SAO, sets fees. Fees are reviewed each year.

    Fee information can be seen at Course Fees and How to apply via the Swinburne University Course Search links (see 'Course Fees and requirements') to the three programs.

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

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

  61. Do I need to buy the textbooks?

  62. We recommend that you do, as we expect you to read sections as reference material. For details, see the Textbooks page.

  63. Can I take these postgraduate courses full-time?

  64. 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.

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

  66. 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.

  67. Does Swinburne University offer on-campus Master of Science and PhD in astronomy/astrophysics?

  68. 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 limited number of students who can obtain scholarships and have first or upper-second-class honours degrees. Infomation about the PhD degree can be found here.

  69. Why have the program eligibility rules changed from 2015?

  70. The Australian Federal Government set up the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) as the national policy for regulated Australian education and training qualifications. The AQF specifies levels for undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Australia, including the expected competencies, knowledge and skills the graduates of various degrees are expected to acquire, along with the application of these knowledge and skills. The AQF levels associated with the three SAO nested degrees are as follows: Master (level 9), Graduate Diploma (level 8), and Graduate Certificate (level 8). Swinburne University underwent a review of all programs beginning in 2013 to ensure AQF compliance from 2015 as mandated.

    The current eligibility rules can be seen at How to Apply to SAO and via the Swinburne University Course Search links (see 'Course Fees and requirements') to the three programs.

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