Postgraduate Diploma in Astronomy

An online study programme

This programme will offer home astronomers, who may have graduated in subjects other than physics, the opportunity to gain a formal postgraduate qualification in Astronomy and Astrophysics, and is designed to give students a robust and up-to-date background in these areas. Over the course of two years, we will explore the solar system, stellar physics, infra-red, radio and high energy astronomy, as well as discussing the foundations of cosmology. 

By its very nature, astronomy is a mathematical subject - students will therefore need a background in this area, although fully-supported maths master classes will be a permanent feature on the programme for those who need to refresh their skills in this area.

The programme starts in late September/early October each academic year – places are limited to ensure a constructive atmosphere for discussions.   

This is a part-time, postgraduate-level programme delivered wholly online in a fully-supported learning environment. Students can exit with a Postgraduate Certificate after successful completion of the first year if their circumstances change.‌



Through this programme, students will:

  • Gain a comprehensive knowledge of the development of astronomy, astronomy in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum, the solar system and stellar physics.
  • Learn that physics is a quantitative subject and appreciate the use and power of mathematics for modelling the physical world and solving problems. 
  • Develop skills in research and planning and their ability to assess critically the link between theoretical results and experimental observation.
  • Develop the ability to solve advanced problems in physics using appropriate mathematical tools. 
  • Be able to identify the relevant physical principles, to translate problems into mathematical statements and apply their knowledge to obtain order-of-magnitude or more precise solutions as appropriate.
  • Develop the ability to plan and execute under supervision an experiment or investigation, analyse critically the results and draw valid conclusions.
  • Be able to evaluate the level of uncertainty in their results, understand the significance of error analysis and be able to compare these results with expected outcomes, theoretical predictions or with published data.
  • Possess a more complete working knowledge of a variety of experimental, mathematical and computational techniques applicable to current research within physics.



This part-time two-year programme will comprise six 20-credit modules:

Year One

  • Introduction to Astronomy
  • Stars and Galaxies (previously Stellar Physics)
  • Planetary Science (previously The Solar System)

Year Two

  • Radio Astronomy (previously Infrared and Radio Astronomy)
  • Relativity and High Energy Astronomy (previously High Energy Astronomy)
  • The Foundations of Cosmology

Students will be required to complete all these modules in the first instance, though additional modules may be added in the future to accommodate future programme growth and offer a broader learning experience.

It is anticipated that assessments will comprise a balance of short and long critical essays, conference style posters and maths-based open book problems. 

Full details of programme structures and the modules which comprise individual awards can be found at Postgraduate Programme Specifications.

Online Study

What's involved?

Our approach to e-learning is distinctive and may be different from your general perceptions about online study:

  • Flexible, fully supported, modular delivery
  • Taught exclusively online
  • Two stages: Certificate and Diploma. Each stage typically takes 12 months
  • Comprises six distinct modules
  • Part-time study (approximately 15 hours per week) allows participants to structure their learning around the other life circumstances


Key points

  • These are not self-study programmes which leave you on your own, nor are they Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). You will be part of an active learning community with regular contacts and activities.
  • The technology-based approach means that our programmes are highly flexible, and you can study from anywhere at a time convenient to you. They are however carefully structured and you will be asked to participate in tasks and activities every week.
  • The programme is highly interactive and comprises numerous blog-driven tasks and exercises. You can engage with the tasks at any time during the week, and you don’t ever have to be online at the same time as other people, but can engage through a simple commenting function.
  • The learning takes place within a reflective and supportive environment, providing all the benefits of studying as part of a community but without having to be in a physical classroom
  • As well as interacting with your fellow students, you will also have regular discussions with a dedicated and friendly academic and administrative team at York.
  • The programmes are situated within a Virtual Learning Environment called Blackboard. This is a user-friendly integrated website that provides access to study resources, discussion forums, the University of York Online Library and your University email account.


The York Team

A key feature of our programme is the availability and quality of support that we offer through module tutors, pastoral support and a dedicated administrative and technical support team.


Residential Weekends

We hold an optional two-day Residential Weekend at York each year. Each event is an opportunity to meet your fellow students and staff, engage in discussion and share your knowledge of astronomy. These events are free of charge, though students are expected to meet the costs of their travel, accommodation and sustenance. For students who are unable to attend these weekends, there is the option to watch recordings of the key sessions from each weekend.

Entry Requirements & Cost

Who is the programme for?

The programme is aimed at those with an interest in astronomy and astrophysics.


Admissions Criteria

Normally students will be expected to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in a related subject area. CLL will also favourably consider any student previously awarded a BA/BSc in any subject, and with evidence of recent HE level study. Previous maths skills, to A-Level or equivalent standard, are essential.

CLL reserves the right to ask any student for academic work to support their application.

Any student may be called to interview. It is anticipated that students will be largely from a science background. The programme will be targeted at students who will already have the required skills to study at M level.

Students will not be accepted to the programme unless they can demonstrate the required skills, which could include a maths test for non-traditional applicants.

Students must have an IELTS score of 7.0 overall, with no less than 6.5 in Writing (or equivalent). Details of the requirements for distance learning students can be found at English language requirements: distance learning 2017/18

  • Sufficient study time: approximately 15 hours per week including the capacity to take part regularly in the online weekly tutorial group discussions. These are an essential part of the study process.
  • A willingness to share your experience and be an active member of your tutorial group.
  • A personal computer with a broadband internet connection and Office software suite, compatible with Word and Excel formats. Students should also have a personal computer with a webcam and microphone to facilitate online video discussions if unable to attend residential weekends.


Programme Cost

The online postgraduate diploma in Astronomy is priced in line with other University postgraduate programmes, details of which can be found at

For 2018/19, the cost of the first year will be £3,030. Fees in subsequent years are subject to confirmation.

Students can spread the cost of their tuition fees. More information can be found at Finance and financial support for distance learners.

If you've successfully completed an undergraduate degree at the University of York, you could be eligible for a 10% discount on your tuition fee. See more information about the York Graduate Loyalty Discount.


How to apply

You can apply for this course using our online application system.

If you've not already done so, please read the application guidance first so that you understand the various steps in the application process.





Amanda Pauw: 
Postgraduate Administrator 
Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 8482 

Ben Johnstone-Bray:
Associate Lecturer 




Supported by York Astrocampus