While it can be difficult to choose between universities, you will find that there are some key differences between them that can help you make the big decision. The most important thing is to determine what sort of character and focus the university has and ensure that it aligns with your own personality, interests and goals. Every university has its own persona, and here we give you some tips to ensure that you choose one that is the best fit for you.
One way to find out about a university’s character is to see which networks it belongs to. This can tell you a lot about your institution’s focus. One of the main networks in Australia is the Group of Eight. Its university members are known for their intensive research focus and their broad range of degree offerings. Other networks include the Australian Technology Network of Universities, the Regional Universities Network and the Innovative Research Universities network. Also look out for international networks, as these can facilitate exchanges and other study opportunities with prestigious institutions overseas. Some of the major ones are the Association of Pacific Rim Universities and the International Alliance of Research Universities.
Areas of strength
Remember that no university is good at everything and no university is good at nothing. Every university excels in particular areas, so you should ensure that your field of study is a strong-point of the university you choose and sits high on its list of priorities. Our University Ratings are an excellent place to start, but you can also research each university’s teaching and research strengths through their websites. Choosing a university that excels in your field of study may provide you with access to more specialised opportunities, including custom-built facilities (a moot court for law students, for instance), field-specific academic opportunities (such as overseas study tours) and employment opportunities with prestigious organisations in your industry (internships with industry partners, for example). If your university excels in research in your field, it’s also likely that its cutting-edge research will filter through to your course, that you will be taught by prominent academics, and that there will be plenty of opportunities to undertake research.
Most students who attend university do so because they want to improve their chances of gaining employment in their chosen field of study, so it is important to note that universities can differ in the extent that they incorporate industry in the classroom and prepare students for employment. Some universities have research and technology parks in which university-affiliated organisations are based. Other universities have strong corporate links, which can facilitate graduate recruitment opportunities, prominent guest lecturers, internships, scholarships and industry projects. You will even find universities with TAFE departments that offer students the chance to move from industry-focused VET qualifications into degrees and vice versa. If your main aim is to complete research and pursue a career in academia, on the other hand, then the university’s research partnerships, academic links and research facilities will be of greater importance.
A university’s sense of community is another distinctive trait, so you should ensure that it is one that you want to be part of. Some university communities are large, and some are small. Some are compact, while others are spread across multiple campuses. Whatever the size and spread of your university’s community, you should make sure that it is cohesive, with plenty of opportunities to meet other students across the faculties through events, activities and shared facilities. Most university campuses also have a specific ‘feel’, whether it be cosmopolitan, academic, relaxed or energetic, so be sure that the atmosphere a good fit for your personality, and look out for on-campus services and facilities that cater to your personal interests (a gym or a theatre company, for example). University websites and promotional material can give you a glimpse of what a university community might be like, but the best way to see whether a university is the right fit is by visiting the campus, chatting to staff and students, and experiencing it for yourself.