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Change of preference tips

Students studying in library

With students around Australia receiving their ATARs, many have been in a state of confusion — particularly those who have the option of changing their preferences. Here, The Good Universities Guide answers some of the most common student questions that crop up in this exciting time.

Q: What is the first step in choosing a course?
A: The first step is to make a list of all the features that your ideal course would have and rank each potential course according to these criteria. Does the course have a practical or academic focus? Has it been accredited by an industry body? Are flexible study modes available? Think about what you want and need from your course with your future career goals in mind, and make sure that the course you choose ticks all the boxes.

Q: Do universities structure the same courses differently (e.g. accounting and nursing?)
A: You may find that, despite covering similar content, universities structure the same courses quite differently. In the field of accounting, for example, you will find that some universities have a compulsory internship or co-op component within their degree and others don’t. You will also find that some universities offer accounting only as a major within a business or commerce degree (which may require further specialisation at postgraduate level), while others have a specialised accounting degree with a more directed focus. The structure of a course will greatly affect your experience and your career options when you graduate, so it’s important to consider which structure will work best for you.

Q: What details should I check to know it’s the right course for me?
A: Choose a course because you are genuinely interested in the subject matter, not because the institution is prestigious or because you think it might lead to a glamorous job. Find out what the course actually covers, options that are available to you within the course (such as majors, research projects and internships), how it is taught and what graduates say. Use graduate reviews, university ratings (as featured on www.GoodUniGuide.com.au) and course handbooks to research your options and help you make the right choice.

Q: If the courses are hard to get into does that mean they are superior?
A: Courses that are hard to get into are not necessarily superior; many high-status universities and esteemed courses such as law command higher ATARs and more prerequisite studies because of their popularity. While it might seem appealing to gain entry to a course with more difficult entry requirements (and a perceived higher status), this does not necessarily mean that you will find the course content or the university experience any more enjoyable.

Q: Does it matter which university you go to?
A: While you shouldn’t choose a course based on the university’s status alone, you should consider the merits of each university when choosing a course because its features and the way it teaches your course will greatly affect your course experience and career prospects. You may benefit from completing your course at a certain university because it is renowned for its research in your field of study, because it offers international study tours or because it offers a range of student support services and has a vibrant campus atmosphere.

Q: What if I end up at TAFE?
A: A huge number of students benefit from the accessible, affordable and industry-focused education and training they receive through TAFE and go on to be successful in a wide range of occupations. If you do require a university degree for your future career, TAFE courses provide an excellent pathway into higher education study — graduates who progress to university studies have the added advantages of being eligible for credit towards their degree and having two qualifications to their name when they complete their studies.

Q: What should I do if I don’t get into the course I want?
A: It isn’t the end of the world if you miss out on your first preference: there is always the possibility of transferring after your first year. I would recommend, after seeking advice from the course coordinator, accepting the best (and most similar) course offer that you receive, hitting the books during the first year and applying to transfer as soon as you can. If prerequisite subjects are the problem, you may like to consider applying for a foundation or bridging course that leads into the degree. The first year isn’t a total write-off either because students who transfer courses are often eligible to receive credits from their first year of study.