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How do you choose a uni that’s right for you?

James Davis

“Choosing the right university for you is really important, so we’ll walk you through some considerations that’ll help you decide.”

There’s a lot that goes into deciding whether or not a uni is right for you. To make the decision easier, we’ve come up with several personal preferences that you should consider.

Location

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a major city with several universities and you plan to continue living there, then you’ll want to consider universities within short commutes of your home or parts of the city you enjoy.

If you’re from a regional area or you’re interested in living in another city, then you’ll want to consider options that appeal to your lifestyle. If you like skiing, Canberra could be interesting. If you like the arts, perhaps Melbourne is better. You’ll also want to think about the cost of living in different locations; living in Sydney is likely to cost a good deal more than Adelaide, for example. 

These considerations assume all else is equal, which is rarely true. There may be a highly reputed university offering your intended degree in a particular city, which will no doubt change your mind (covered further on).

Campus life

You’ll be spending the next few years interacting with your campus, so it’s important to choose one that suits your interests and preferences. If you can spend a few hours at some of the campuses you’re interested in, that will give you an idea of what campus life is like. If you know people that are attending different campuses, send them a text asking whether they think you’d enjoy it. You can find out more information about campuses online, including residential options, facilities available to students and any upcoming special events.

Reputation

Not all universities are created equal. In Australia, we are fortunate to enjoy a very high standard, but different universities will each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing one with expertise relevant to your field is a good start. Employers will favour graduates from universities with strong reputations in their respective fields since they are more confident the curriculum has been designed well and the testing standards are high. 

Quantifying reputation can be tricky, but there’s a way. Several trusted institutions publish annual rankings of each university in the world, such as Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings. These are a great way of comparing Australian universities overall and on a subject-by-subject basis. This way, you can not only find a university with a good reputation but one that suits your subject discipline best. Rankings tend to be based on several criteria

  • Teaching quality. Measured through staff-to-student ratios, qualitative student experience surveys, graduate outcomes and more. 
  • Research. How many academic papers the university is putting out and their reputation. 
  • Citations. How influential each paper is.
  • Industry usage. How well is research from this university entering industry thinking?
  • International outlook. Acceptance and intake of international students.

University rankings can seem like a miracle method for learning this stuff, but be careful. Each ranking system weighs each criterion differently, with many tending to favour research output over student experience. Stay sharp, try to use a mix of sources and you’ll be fine.

Teaching quality and student experience

If you want to learn something, it helps to be taught by people who know how to teach! The Australian government collects comprehensive feedback from current students and recent graduates on a number of metrics that relate to the student experience and teaching quality. You can view the results and compare universities at www.qilt.edu.au.

Scholarship opportunities

Scholarships are a fantastic way to reduce your tuition fees or receive income support. There are lots of different categories that apply to many different people, so make sure you research what scholarships are available at the different universities you’re considering.  

www.theuniguide.com has an up-to-date directory of scholarships organised by field and university across Australia. 

International exchange opportunities

One of the greatest ways to enrich your university experience is by doing an international exchange. Making sure your university offers these, particularly to countries you want to visit or universities you want to study at, is a great thing to check. Nobody regrets going on exchange!

Study mode

Many universities in Australia are now offering trimesters instead of semesters. This means a three-year degree at one university will take only two years at another. You might see this as a positive (you’ll finish uni earlier) or negative (you’ll miss out on long summer breaks), but being aware of the option is important.

Online degrees are also starting to increase in popularity. While going straight from high school to an online degree is generally not recommended, there are some cases when it might still be a good option.

Cost

Once you’ve found some universities you like using the above criteria, the final step is looking after your wallet by evaluating which costs you can mitigate and which to look out for. If you’re accepted into a Commonwealth supported place (CSP), the government will pay part of your course fees. You’re eligible for a CSP if:

  • The course you’re looking at offers them.
  • You’re at least one of the following:
    • An Australian citizen
    • A New Zealand citizen
    • A permanent visa holder who intends to stay in Australia for the duration of the degree.

The rest can be paid for with an interest-free HECS-HELP loan from the government. So, the logical thing to do is check whether or not your university of choice offers CSPs. They probably will, but make sure!