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A practical guide to university preferences

A practical guide to university preferences

If you’re preparing to submit your uni preferences, it’s likely you’ll have a few questions about choosing a course and institution. We explore some of the questions that are probably on your mind.

What if I don’t know what I want to study?

If you don’t know what to study, start by thinking about your interests, hobbies and academic strengths. Is there something you’ve enjoyed at school that you would like to study further? Is there a hobby or interest that you think you could turn into a career? Another option is to choose a general course that will give you time to sample different areas before choosing your major. This includes courses like arts, business, health sciences and science, where the selection of units is up to you. Students often choose a broad selection of subjects in their first year before specialising in later years once they’ve found their niche. On the other hand, you might choose a shorter qualification from the VET sector to test the waters or opt for a gap year while you continue to research your options. See how to choose a course if you don’t know what to do for further information.

I don’t know what score I’ll get. How do I choose courses?

The best option is to choose a broad range of courses. Try choosing courses across the following categories: your dream course at your dream institution (even if you think you have no hope of getting in); a more realistic option (maybe the same course at a different institution or a course at the same institution with a lower cut-off score); a course that you’re confident you’ll get into; and a course that can act as a pathway option.

How should I order my preferences?

This will depend on what most appeals to you. If you have your heart set on a particular university, you may decide to choose a number of courses from that university for your first few preferences. If you’re interested in studying a specific course or area of study, you might pick courses in that area from a range of universities. Either way, you should include a few back-up options — be it courses from a second or third institution or courses in the same field with a lower cut-off score.

Can I change my preferences once I’ve submitted them?

Once you receive your ATAR or OP, you will have the opportunity to change your preferences. You might change your preferences because your score was lower or higher than you expected, or simply because you’ve changed your mind about what you want to study. If your score is too low for your preferred course, you might adjust your list to include courses that are more accessible. Likewise, you might be able to add courses you hadn’t previously considered if you do better than you expected. It’s best to chat to your school career adviser or student advisers at institutions of interest before changing your preferences. They will be able to help you plan your next steps. See change of preference tips if you need some help.

What should I do if I want to defer?

If you plan to take some time off before starting your course, you can choose to defer your offer. If you’re planning to defer, you still apply in the same way as you would if you were starting the following year. Once you receive your offer and it comes time to enrol, you will have the option of deferring your place — just check with institutions before making any plans, as deferral may not be an option. Depending on the institution, deferral periods generally range from one semester to two academic years. Deferring is a great opportunity to take some time off from academic study to travel, work full time or just get some well-earned rest. See to defer or not to defer? if you need help making up your mind.

What if I want to study interstate?

If you want the experience of studying away from home but can’t see yourself heading overseas, studying interstate is the next best thing. An interstate university may excel in your field of interest (think Western Australia for mining engineering or Queensland for aquaculture) and could be easier to get into. You may also be attracted to specific majors or study areas, on-campus facilities or favourable graduate outcomes (see our ratings section). Academic benefits aside, studying interstate also gives you the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and build valuable skills such as independence and resilience.

If you want to move interstate to study, you will need to submit an application to the Tertiary Admission Centre in that state. Some institutions take direct applications, but check their websites to be sure, as application processes vary.