Should I study at a private college?

If you're looking for a tailored tertiary experience at an institution that specialises in your field or shares your values, a private provider may be the perfect choice.

In this section we cover:

Private providers in Australia

Private providers (also known as private colleges) are small, independent tertiary education providers. They usually offer a select range of courses in a particular field (such as hospitality, digital media, natural health or performing arts) or a wider range of courses in a specialised environment that caters for particular groups in society (religious groups, for example). Private providers come in many shapes and sizes, and can include colleges, industry bodies, private companies and community organisations.

Which qualifications do private providers offer?

Private providers vary considerably, with some offering Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses, some offering higher education courses and some offering a mix of both. At the VET level, private providers offer VET qualifications alongside government-funded TAFE institutes and are classified as Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). At the higher education level, they are known as private higher education providers.

Study options include anything from short courses, certificates and diplomas through to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Unlike universities, private providers are not required to complete research, although some do offer research degrees right up to PhD levels in their area of specialisation. Between them, private providers may offer courses across the full range of subjects and fields, with the general exception of courses in medicine and other regulated professions that must be completed at university. See Study options for more information.

Private provider course structure

Because private providers are such individual entities with so much variation between them, course structures often vary from institution to institution. At the higher education level, courses may be structured in a similar way to university courses. While it is more common for private providers to offer specialised degrees in vocational areas such as restaurant management or games design, some also provide broader generalist degrees in areas such as business and allow students to hone in on a particular specialisation or major.

At the VET level, private providers follow the same nationally recognised training packages that are completed at TAFE institutes across Australia, with students required to meet each competency before completing their qualification.

Some private providers also incorporate schemes such as internships and industry-based projects into their courses and many offer a range of study modes, including full-time study, part-time study, block study and external study by distance or online. See Study options for more information.

The private provider experience

Most private providers have smaller campuses than the average university or TAFE institute. While they may lack the hustle and bustle of large university or TAFE campuses, their small size makes them more intimate and less daunting, and may mean that you receive more personalised attention from staff and have increased opportunities to make friends. You may also find that the campus facilities are tailored to your field of study — many boast state-of-the-art equipment such as multimedia labs and industry-standard training kitchens.

You may find that in certain fields private providers outshine their university and TAFE counterparts due to their specialised focus and extensive industry links. You may also find that private providers that focus on a particular field of study, or offer their courses within a certain cultural context, may be more suited to your lifestyle or provide you with an opportunity to study with like-minded students.

Student services and facilities vary according to the size and focus of the institution, but are typically more limited than the wide range of services offered by universities and TAFE institutes. That being said, they are likely to be more specialised (for example, a private provider that specialises in performing arts may provide a range of industry-standard performing spaces or a more tailored employment service). See Student services and facilities for more information.

Private provider tuition fees

While TAFE institutes and universities attract a large proportion of their funding from the government, private providers tend to generate the majority of their funding from course fees. Many private providers are now eligible to offer their students FEE-HELP loans, allowing them to defer part or all of their tertiary fees until they begin earning a certain level of income. Scholarships may also be available to assist with tuition costs. See Funding your education for more information.

Private provider entry requirements

Entry requirements vary depending on whether you study VET or higher education. Entry to VET courses will usually be the same as at TAFE institutes, requiring a particular level of education or the completion of additional requirements such as an interview, portfolio or audition. As for higher education, private providers typically require completion of a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education for undergraduate courses, or completion of an undergraduate degree for postgraduate courses. However, some use alternative entry methods such as proof of industry experience and interviews more than universities. See Getting into a course for more information.

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