A vast number of elements combine to make each institution unique. While none of them makes an institution better or worse overall, these differences can mean an institution is a good or bad choice for you. Remember, what makes an institution the "right" choice really depends on what you want from your qualification and study experience. Much of this information can be found through our Ratings Search.
In this section we discuss:
- How can you tell institutions apart?
- Narrowing down your options
- Researching your institution
How can you tell institutions apart?
Every institution is different. If you know how to tell them apart, it will be much easier to identify the factors that make an institution suited to you.
Here we list some key considerations that will help you identify the differences between each of them:
Public versus private institutionsWhile all tertiary institutions are required to be registered with the government, public institutions (including TAFE institutes and most universities) are funded by the government, while private institutions (including private providers and private universities) are independent and rely on full tuition fees to subsidise student places.
SpecialitiesAlthough most institutions will have a mix of "academic" courses (like humanities and sciences) and others that are practical or vocationally oriented (like accounting or creative arts), some institutions emphasise one or the other. Some also specialise in particular fields, whether this be in teaching or research.
Research focusUniversities are required to do some research, while private providers and TAFE institutes are not. Among the universities, some do a broad range of research, while others focus on one or two niche areas. If you are considering research, you may want to find a university that has a strong track record in your field of study and investigate the facilities and research staff.
Teaching qualityTeaching quality differs from institution to institution, and some will always be stronger in teaching certain fields than others. Feedback about teaching will always be subjective, but it is certainly an important thing to consider.
Graduate outcomesGraduate employment rates and starting salaries vary depending on the field, the institution and the location.
Graduate satisfactionLike teaching quality, feedback from students about their experiences will always be subjective. Students' experiences will also vary across different fields and campuses at the one institution.
The student bodyAre there more school leavers or mature age students? Does the student body contain a lot of international students to add to the cultural diversity? Are the majority of students studying on or off campus?
International experiencesInternational experiences are often a highlight of tertiary study, so be sure to find out whether the institution offers international exchange, study abroad and study tour opportunities or has an overseas campus. It's also worth investigating whether overseas study counts towards your course and the availability of travel grants and scholarships. See Study abroad and student exchange for more information.
FacilitiesInstitutions will differ with respect to the creature comforts on offer, such as sporting facilities, student residences, eateries, libraries and student study spaces. Size is the big determinant, with large campuses usually offering a variety of facilities to cater for all and smaller campuses often having a smaller range of more specialised facilities. You should also look at the facilities on offer in your field (such as an on-campus legal clinic or moot court for law students). See Student services and facilities for more information.
Student servicesThe quantity and quality of student services differ between institutions and campuses, with campus size again being a major factor. Ensure that your institution has good-quality services that meet your needs, as they can make all the difference when you need support. Look out for peer mentoring programs, academic assistance, careers and accommodation services, clubs and societies, child care, counselling and medical services. See Student services and facilities for more information.
AtmosphereEvery institution has a different atmosphere. It is something that is difficult to define but could make or break your university experience, so be sure to take the time to visit the institution and ensure that it has an atmosphere that suits you.
CostDoes the institution offer Commonwealth Supported Places in your field of study? Are government loan schemes such as HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP available? Does the institution have an extensive scholarship scheme? See Funding your education for more information.
Narrowing down your options
With hundreds of tertiary education institutions to choose from, choosing the right one may seem like a monumental task when you first begin your search. A great way to start your search is by making a shortlist of all the institutions that you might like to consider. You can then start narrowing down this list of potential institutions by weighing up each institution according to certain factors that are important to you.
As you narrow down your list, you might like to consider the following:
Field of studyIf you have a specific career in mind, you may find that only a few institutions in your area offer an appropriate course (if it's really specific, you may even find that you are limited to only a few institutions in the entire country). You may also find that, while a number of institutions offer courses in your study area, only a few really excel in the field. See our Ratings Search for more information.
LocationMany students opt for an institution that is convenient to their home, which narrows down the choices considerably. Others are willing to move (or required to move) further afield to find an institution that offers their preferred course. If this is the case, you may prefer to study in a regional location over metropolitan, or vice versa. Another option is to choose a location that specialises in your field or has a better range of job opportunities (Queensland for marine science or Western Australia for mining engineering, for example). If you're moving away from home, ensure you scope out the on-campus and off-campus accommodation options. See Study destinations and Student accommodation for more information.
Institution sector and typeA great way to narrow down your options is by determining the appropriate institution sector and type for your needs. Will you complete a VET course or a higher education degree? Would you prefer to study at a university, TAFE institute or private provider? Sometimes your future career determines this decision for you (for example, budding hairdressers usually need to study a VET qualification at a TAFE institute, while future dentists are only able to complete their degrees at university). See Types of institutions and Study options for more information.
Study modeYou may find that each institution offers different study modes for your course. If you require a part-time or distance education option, this may narrow down the shortlist of appropriate institutions considerably. Some institutions also offer trimesters, optional summer intensive modes or a fast-track option so you can graduate sooner. See Study options for more information.
Entry flexibility and creditInstitution entry requirements are also likely to be a deal breaker. Each institution has its own entry requirements, with required prerequisites often differing considerably between them, even for similar courses. Alternative entry schemes and credits provided for previous study may also vary. See Getting into a course for more information.
CostThe availability of government-subsidised places and HELP loan schemes may also help you to narrow down your list to institutions that give you more bang for your buck. See Funding your education for more information.
If your list is still too long...
If your interests are less defined and your shortlist is still long, there are various other considerations that may help you to make a decision about where to study.
Think about these three things:
What characteristics make each institution unique?Are you looking for an institution that has a strong focus on industry engagement, an institution that offers both VET courses and degrees, or an intimate institution based in a regional area?
What should an institution have or do for you?Do you want an institution that has a strong international exchange program, provides all students with a careers service or the latest laboratory facilities?
Are there certain things that you particularly need from an institution?Do you require an institution that has a strong focus on distance education, has good childcare facilities or is easily accessed by public transport?
Researching your institution
Once you've got a manageable shortlist, it's time to complete some in-depth research into your remaining choices so that you can be confident that they are the right fit for you. The more research you complete, the better. The aim is to get the best possible idea of what it would be like to study at your preferred institutions so that your expectations match the reality.
If you don't know where to start, you can try the following research tools: