In this section we discuss:
- What do undergraduate degrees offer?
- What do undergraduate degrees involve?
- Types of undergraduate degrees
- Where are undergraduate degrees offered?
- Undergraduate degree options
While an undergraduate degree is a prerequisite for many career paths and professions, you'll see that it's more than just a ticket to a good job. Completing a degree gives you the opportunity to develop knowledge and expertise in an area you are passionate about as well as a chance to broaden your social and intellectual horizons.
There is no doubt that degrees improve job and career prospects. Among recent bachelor degree graduates, the employment rate was around 71 per cent and the median starting salary was $52,500 (Graduate Careers Australia, 2013). Of course, the career options and prospects will vary depending on which field you choose, so it's worth doing your research.
You can study just about anything at undergraduate level, leading to a wide range of careers in diverse fields. There are some fields that are not that career focused but are fascinating areas to explore (humanities courses are a good example), right through to career-oriented fields, such as nursing and accounting.
Undergraduate degrees require students to learn independently, attending lectures and tutorials during "contact hours" and then completing further study to prepare for assessments that test the knowledge they have learnt.
Within your preferred field of study, you have the option of completing a "generalist" course — commerce or science, for example — or a more specialised vocational course, such as human resource management or biotechnology. Generalist courses give you a broad and well-rounded education in the field of study, enabling you to sample various elective areas and specialise in one or two areas known as "majors" or "specialisations". These generalist courses give you a solid base from which you can enter a range of vocational areas or complete further study to specialise in a field of interest.
University is the only option for many professional courses, particularly those leading to regulated occupations such as architecture, law and medicine. Other fields, such as nursing, accounting and social work, are offered at both VET and higher education level. In these areas, a degree is necessary in order to earn professional status, while a VET qualification or a more general degree will lead to a supporting (or "paraprofessional") role. Similarly, you may find that a degree in hospitality will lead you to higher-level restaurant and hotel management positions, while a VET qualification will provide training for the more hands-on hospitality roles such as a front office attendant, chef or waiter.
An undergraduate education most typically consists of a bachelor degree and an optional honours degree.
Bachelor degrees provide the skills and knowledge that form the initial preparation for professional careers and postgraduate study. They provide the first step on your journey to a professional career, opening doors to a range of specialist areas or, for those that way inclined, further study and research at honours or postgraduate level. It is possible to complete degrees in two different areas concurrently, which is known as a double, dual or combined degree.
Bachelor degrees usually involve three to five years of full-time study. This duration may decrease if the education provider offers a trimester system or increase if completing a double degree.
Entry typically requires completion of an Australian Secondary School Certificate of Education (or the overseas equivalent) or a diploma or advanced diploma from the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Standard entry usually requires students to achieve a certain ATAR (or OP), complete specified subject prerequisites or satisfy other requirements such as a test, an interview, an audition or portfolio submission. See Getting into a course for more information.
Bachelor honours degree
Honours degrees enable students to extend their knowledge in their area of specialisation, usually through the completion of research and the submission of a minor thesis or through a year-long project (an extended creative writing piece, for example). An honours degree is usually a prerequisite for students planning to go onto higher research studies such as a masters by research or a research doctorate.
Honours may require an optional additional year of study following a three-year degree or may be awarded as a title for academic achievement in degrees of four or more years.
Students must achieve strong results in their bachelor degree to qualify for entry. Students are able to complete an honours degree at an institution other than where they completed their bachelor degree, and most stipulate a maximum time that can be taken between completing a bachelor degree and honours.
Undergraduate degrees are offered at universities, TAFE institutes and private providers. Each of these providers will offer a different educational environment, so be sure to determine which provider is the best fit for you and your field of study. For example, a university degree in communications may have more of a focus on communications theory and research, while a specialised private provider might be more vocationally focused, offering students the chance to make and edit their own short films. Some institutions aim to provide a mix of both, so keep an eye out for such front-runners in your relevant field. See Types of institutions for more information about providers.
As mentioned above, keep in mind that university is the only option for professional courses such as law, medicine and architecture at undergraduate level, although you may find that other institutions offer courses that can act as a pathway.
With so many courses to choose from, are there any that stand out in the crowd? Once you start investigating potential undergraduate degrees, you will find that not all courses are created equal. There are a number of different ways to study the same course, such as in fast-track mode or as a two-part degree. The course options that are important to you will depend on your personal preferences and your future direction. For example, a fast-tracked course is perfect if you want a fast-paced degree that will lead directly to a career in your industry, while a two-part degree will better suit a student who wants a well-rounded education that isn't as career-oriented.
Make note of the degree options that are important to you, and use these to narrow down your shortlist. The course you choose should contain all the features that are essential to you.
The most common degree options at undergraduate level include the following: