Q: Are there different institution types? What's the difference and how do I decide?

A: There are three different types of institutions: universities, TAFE institutes and private providers. The main difference is found in the qualifications they offer and the style of teaching they provide. For example, while universities typically offer higher education qualifications (bachelor degrees, graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, masters degrees and doctorates), TAFE institutes are known for providing Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses (certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas). In the private sector, you will find both private VET providers and private higher education providers. In terms of teaching, you will see that universities tend to offer a more academic style of teaching while TAFE institutes offer a much more hands-on, practical style. Universities are also required to complete research, whereas TAFE institutes and private providers are not.

You will find that there is some overlap between these institution types. For example, while TAFE institutes are known for offering VET courses, many now offer bachelor degrees as well (usually with a vocational spin). Likewise, there are five dual-sector universities (four in Victoria and one in the Northern Territory) that have both TAFE and higher education divisions. See Types of institutions for more information.

Q: What is the difference between TAFE and university?

A: As you'll read in the answer above, the main differences between TAFE and university are the type of qualification offered and the style of teaching. It does get a little confusing, though, because you'll hear people referring to "going to uni" when in fact they go to a TAFE or private higher education provider. Some also say they are "going to TAFE" when in fact they attend a private VET provider. Have a read through the Types of institutions information if you need a little help distinguishing between the provider types.

Q: Should I complete a VET course or a degree?

A: The choice between a VET course and degree depends on both the field you are hoping to work in and the type of work you want to do. Generally, completing a degree will qualify you for more professional roles than those that can be entered using a VET qualification (which tend to lead to paraprofessional roles). For example, while a certificate in the accounting field may provide you entry into a position as an accounts assistant or bookkeeper, a degree will allow you to become a fully qualified accountant. There are also some fields — such as architecture, dentistry and medicine — where a degree is the minimum requirement for professional practice. See Study options for more information on the different qualification levels.

Q: How do I choose a course if I don't know what I want to do for a career?

A: It's perfectly normal to not have a clear idea of your career path, especially if you've still got a few years left at school. If this sounds like you, you have a number of options. If you have an idea of the broad field in which you would like to work but not the exact job you would like to complete, it's worth looking into courses that provide entry to a variety of related fields, or that can act as a pathway into further specialist study. For example, if you are a little on-the-fence about psychology, why not try a general arts degree that combines psychology with a minor in another field of interest? Another option is to "try out" a field of study through a lower-level (and often shorter) qualification such as a VET qualification. This is a really good option if you're interested in a field but don't want to commit three or even five years to it just in case it's not the right choice. See Choosing a course for some more practical tips. If you're really unsure about your future career, it's usually best to talk to your school career adviser, check out industry websites, talk to people who work in the industry and use our career search to explore more than 400 job descriptions. .

Q: What can I do now to prepare for tertiary study?

A: If you want to get a bit of a head start on your studies, there are a number of things you can do. If you're heading into Year 10, it's worth exploring whether you can complete a VET course during your studies. Your school may already offer some VET subjects through VET in Schools. See VET courses for more information about your options in the VET sector. Another option, once you get closer to Year 12, is to investigate completing a university subject as part of your senior studies. This option is usually only open to high-achieving students, so have a chat to your year-level coordinator for more information.

Q: What mark do I need to get in?

A: Entry requirements vary between courses, qualification levels and institutions. There are some courses that have tough entry requirements no matter which institution you choose, such as medicine, while others have a broad range of cut-offs that depend on things like competiveness of courses and demand for certain institutions. Unlike degrees, many VET courses don't set a minimum ATAR score for entry, only requiring you to complete a certain year level at school. You may also find that the courses you are considering require prerequisite subjects (such as mathematics for engineering or a high score in English for journalism). Some courses also have additional prerequisites, such as an interview, audition or portfolio presentation, and may not specify an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) or Overall Position (OP). See Getting into a course for more information. If you're worried about getting into the field you are interested in due to its requirements, it's worth investigating your pathway options — remembering that there are plenty of them, no matter what field you're considering! See Pathways into your course for more information.

Q: What is tertiary study like?

A: Your tertiary experience will differ depending on the qualification level, course and institution you choose. For example, while VET courses are usually quite practical and structured, you will find that degrees may be more theoretical and require a high level of individual learning. While your typical day at university usually involves lectures and tutorials, TAFE classes are structured more like a school classroom and usually involve practical workplace activities. See Types of institutions and Study options for more information about what to expect at each qualification level and institution type.

While there will certainly be times when you're shut away studying, tertiary study is about a whole lot more than hitting the books. There are many things to do on campus — from clubs and societies (anything from sports to hobby groups) to getting involved in the student magazine or faculty ball committee — as well as plenty to do off campus, such as hanging out with new friends. You will also find that there are some differences between school and tertiary study, but many are positive adjustments. See Student life for everything there is to know about being a student, from tips for making the most of it to advice for what to do if it's not working out.

Q: How much does tertiary study cost?

A: The cost of tertiary study depends on the type of institution you choose, your level of study and the "place" you are offered. At the broadest level, this is the difference between paying full fees to your institution and paying lower fees that are subsidised by the government. There are also loans that can help you. If you are studying at a provider approved by the federal government to offer Commonwealth assistance, you may be able to access a HELP loan to help cover part, or all, of your tuition fees until you are earning a certain income. Note that not all education providers are approved to offer HELP loans — while this includes all universities and TAFE institutes, some private providers are excluded. There are also some other costs attached to tertiary study, whether this includes some of the extra costs associated with your studies (textbooks, computer equipment and stationery) or those associated with living away from home. See Funding your education for more information.

Q: Can I start an apprenticeship or traineeship?

A: You can start an apprenticeship or traineeship while you are still at school or you can wait until you finish school — the choice is yours! Apprenticeships and traineeships are available in a wide range of fields, so it's just a matter of working out which is best for you. If you want to begin your training while still at school, ask your career adviser about the possibility of beginning a school-based apprenticeship or traineeship. These allow you to combine your secondary school studies with paid employment and off-the-job training. See Apprenticeships and traineeships for more information.

Q: What if I want to work instead?

A: If you don't think that tertiary education is the right choice for you, full-time work is certainly another option. Many workplaces are happy to take on a junior employee who can be trained up. Another option is to undertake an apprenticeship or traineeship, which allows you to combine paid work with some training. See Apprenticeships and traineeships for more information. But if that doesn't appeal, you also have the option to begin your studies once you've spent a few years in the workforce as a non-school leaver. See Getting into a course for more information about getting into a VET course or degree as a non-school leaver, and visit the Study options section for more information about the types of courses you could complete. If you need some assistance sorting through your options, it's worth having a chat to your career adviser. They will be able to help you work out an appropriate path to achieving your career goals.

Study Information