I am finishing school

Q: What if I'm still unsure about what field to study to pursue?

A: While it certainly helps to have your tertiary choices planned out, it's normal to feel a little unsure. After all, deciding on a career — and how you'll get there — takes time and research. Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do if you just can't seem to narrow down your shortlist into a single course or field of study. For example, you may consider looking into broad, generalist courses that allow you to explore more than just one of your interests. This may include something like an arts degree if you are interested in humanities, as this allows you to combine subject areas as varied as anthropology, languages, history, journalism and psychology. Another option is to consider a double degree to give you a solid grounding in two separate fields of study. This may be two complementary fields (public relations and business, for example) or two that are distinctly different (perhaps law and science?). It also helps to have a chat to your school's career adviser, who will be able to help you work out a study pathway that combines your skills and interests and that can help you reach your ultimate career goal.

Q: What if I don't have the right prerequisites?

A: When it comes to course prerequisites, you will find that most courses list subject prerequisites and an ATAR/OP requirement.If you don't think that you'll be able to meet the prerequisites for your preferred course,the most important thing to remember is that prerequisites vary greatly between institutions, so you're bound to find a course that has more flexible entry requirements or that can act as a back-up if you're not able to enter your first choice. You can also investigate the possibility of completing a bridging course before commencing your studies that will get you up to scratch on everything you need to know. You may even consider entering a lower-level qualification in your field before progressing into your preferred course (perhaps a diploma in screen and media before a degree with a filmmaking specialisation). Even courses that are traditionally very difficult to get into have alternative entry pathways — even medicine, where you might choose to complete an undergraduate degree in health science or biomedicine, before progressing to a graduate-entry degree in the field. See Pathways into your course for more information.

Q: My course is offered at many different institutions. How do I choose the right one?

A: The reality is that no two institutions are the same, so choosing the right one can be tricky. If you're considering a popular course that seems to be offered just about everywhere, you'll find that the selection process is a little more involved than for someone considering a field with fewer institution options. Finding the right fit for you comes down to plenty of research (on this website, on institution websites and by scheduling an appointment with your school's career adviser). You should also ensure that you attend the open day of each institution you are considering. Open days allow you to get a feel for the institution and mean that you can chat with lecturers, tutors and even current students about the course you are considering. See Open days for dates. If you're still struggling, it's worth putting together a shortlist of "wants" and "needs". Perhaps you're looking for a small institution with certain specialties on offer or one that's close to home? See Choosing an institution for more information.

Q: What is the difference between universities, TAFE and private providers?

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 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 TAFEs offer a much more hands-on, practical style. Universities are also required to complete research, whereas TAFE institutes and private providers are not. There is, however, some overlap. For example, while TAFE institutes are known for offering practical VET courses, many now offer bachelor degrees in complementary fields (usually with a vocational spin). Likewise, there are five dual-sector universities that have both TAFE and higher education divisions. See Types of institutions for more information.

Q: What if my course is offered at both VET and degree level?

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 an 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.

Q: Is it possible to study outside my state?

A: Studying outside of your state is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons and add a whole new dimension to your life as student. And there are many reasons to do so — perhaps the course you are considering is only offered in selected states or is better executed in a certain part of the country. You might just be after a bit of a sea change or want to become more independent by leaving your childhood home. If you don't want to move too far from home, you may also consider moving within your state (from the city to a regional area or vice versa). This is a popular option for many students who want a bit of a change but without having to manage some of the challenges of interstate study (such as travelling to see friends and family). See Study destinations for more information.

Q: If I need to move away from home to study, what are my accommodation options?

A: If you need to move away from home to study, you have a number of accommodation options, including both on-campus options (such as colleges, college apartments and halls of residence) and off-campus options (such as homestay, hostels and private rentals). It's worth exploring each option to see which one best suits your budget and lifestyle and conducting some research to see if it is a feasible option for you in the long term. See Student accommodation for more information, including a description of each option and its advantages and disadvantages.

Q: What are the usual entry requirements?

A: The most important thing to remember is that entry requirements vary between both courses and institutions, so even two very similar courses may have drastically different requirements.The following are only very broad indicators. In the VET sector, you will find that lower-level certificate courses either have "no formal entry requirements" or require you to have completed a minimum of Year 9 or Year 10. From certificate IV onwards, including diplomas and advanced diplomas, you usually need to have completed Year 12 (or a lower-level VET qualification).

Undergraduate courses in the higher education sector require you to have completed Year 12, usually with a specified ATAR or OP. The ATAR or OP required for entry (the "cut-off") varies between institutions, even if courses are very similar, so it's important to do your research. You may also be required to have completed certain prerequisite subjects. Most courses will require you to have studied English in Year 12 but some require additional subjects, such as science and maths for an engineering course. You may also come across additional requirements such as completion of tests, interviews or auditions. See Higher education entry requirements and VET entry requirements for more information.

Q: What if I don't get the marks I need to get into my course?

A: If you don't think that you'll get the marks to get into your preferred course, the most important thing is to investigate your pathway options — and to remember that it's okay to take an alternate route. Perhaps there's a similar course at a lower-demand institution (with more manageable ATAR/OP and prerequisite requirements) or a lower-level qualification that can act as a pathway into your course after a year of study. You may also think about pre-tertiary pathways, such as bridging or foundation courses that can help you get up to speed and ready for entry into your chosen course. See Pathways into your course for more information.

Q: How do I apply?

A: There are two main application methods: direct applications and applications through Tertiary Admissions Centres (TACs). How you apply will depend on both the institution and the qualification level for which you are applying. It's safe to say that most undergraduate applications are taken through the TAC, although there are exceptions (private universities and private higher education providers often use direct applications). If you are applying for a VET course, it?s best to check with the institution as to their preferred process, as some take applications through the TAC, while others only take direct applications. It's also important to look out for entry requirements, including additional requirements such as interviews and folio presentations (you may need to arrange these yourself!). See The tertiary application process for more information.

Q: How much does tertiary study cost and how do I pay for it?

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. 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. This means that you do not have any of your fees until you are earning enough money. 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). You will also find that there are 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 get a scholarship or Centrelink assistance to help?

A: Luckily, there are a number of financial assistance options out there to help support students through their studies. This includes both scholarships (whether from the federal government, your institution or a private organisation) and government allowances. Institution and private organisation scholarships come in all shapes and sizes, and are generally divided into two categories: academic and equity. Federal government scholarships are provided by the Commonwealth Scholarships Program and include the Student Start-Up Scholarship and the Relocation Scholarship, which are paid to students receiving certain Centrelink payments. From January 1 2014, the Student Start-Up Scholarship will become an income-contingent loan. If you're just leaving school, you may be eligible for government allowances such as Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY or Rent Assistance. See Scholarships and financial assistance for details of your options.

Q: How will I survive on a student budget?

A: Studying full time and trying to live off government assistance or a few hours of work each week can be tough. But don't let the rumours fool you — studying is not akin to a life of poverty. In fact, surviving on a student budget is all about careful planning and tracking your expenses against your available funds. Your income as a student will depend on a few things, including your study load, parental support, your paid work options and your living arrangements, as well as your eligibility for scholarships and government allowances. Coping is all about careful planning and knowing how to live according to your means. See Student income for more information, including some handy budgeting tips.

Q: How is tertiary study different to secondary study?

A: There are some distinct differences between secondary and tertiary study, and they're not all scary or confronting. One of the biggest differences is the amount of independence you are given — the course you choose, the subjects and majors you take and attendance are all up to you. You wont end up in detention for being late to class or handing in poor-quality work, which means that you need to take charge of your own studies. Another difference is your cohort. Because tertiary study is optional, you will find that you are surrounded by eager students who are equally passionate about your field of study and who are likely to share your interests and career goals. See Student life for more information.

Q: What is the average day in the life of a tertiary student like?

A: Well, this all depends on what you are studying and where. If you're studying a humanities-based course (such as arts, communications or languages), you can expect to spend around 12 to 15 hours of your week in lectures and tutorials plus some extra time hitting the books outside of class. If you're studying a science or health-based course, it's likely that you'll spend a little more time in lectures and tutorials, as well as some labs. Of course, there are additional study hours to work into your schedule outside of class, so this is a matter of balancing your work and social commitments accordingly. Some students also need to attend compulsory internships and rounds in the industry, which might be completed one day per week or in a larger block. At the start of each semester you will usually begin studying a new set of subjects. No two days as a student are ever the same. You're always learning different things and meeting new people. And as you'll hear from just about any graduate, your student days will go very quickly (too quickly, even). See Student life for all there is to know about life as a tertiary student.

Q: How do I adjust to tertiary study and make friends?

A: Although there are certainly a number of differences between secondary school and tertiary study, adjusting doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, there are a number of things you can do to manage the changes and get through your first few weeks — attending orientation sessions during O-Week, getting organised in advance and joining some student clubs and societies are all a great start. As for making friends, it's worth remembering that everyone's in the same boat, so don't be afraid to say hello to the person next to you (chances are, they're just as nervous and just as eager to make a friend). If you find the transition difficult, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your course coordinator or a member of the student services team. See Adjusting to study for more information.

Q: Can I study overseas?

A: If you are considering studying overseas during your course, you have a number of options: completing a student exchange; undertaking a study abroad program; completing some of your study at one of your institution's overseas campuses (if available); going on a study tour; completing an overseas internship or research experience; or selecting a course with an international focus that includes overseas study as part of its course structure.Studying overseas during your course is a great way to broaden your horizons and add an international flavour to your student experience, so it's worth looking into overseas study options when you first begin researching courses. Once you're in your course, you can also visit your institution's study abroad office or have a chat to your course coordinator. See Study abroad and student exchange for more information about each option.

Q: How do I increase my chances of getting a job at the end of the degree?

A: While taking the time out to gain a qualification certainly improves your chances of landing a job, the reality is that some fields of study are harder to enter than others. This means that there are some extra things you can do to ensure that you stand out in the graduate job market. The first option is to look into completing work experience. This may be through an internship during your course or perhaps through a part-time or casual role in your chosen field before searching for full-time work. Although some courses have in-built work experience components, most students hoping to gain work experience arrange this themselves. Another option is to enter further study, whether this means entering a higher education program at the end of your VET studies, or progressing to a postgraduate program after a bachelor degree. Further study is a great option because it not only allows you to explore your studies in greater depth (or, in some cases, enter a new field altogether) but it also helps you gain skills that are valued in the workplace. See Graduate outcomes for more information.

Q: Is distance and online study an option?

A: Online and distance education is becoming more and more popular among students seeking a flexible option. Most institutions offer at least some of their courses in online or distance modes, while others are specialists in the field and allow you to complete just about any course without setting foot on their campus. All course materials are delivered by post or email, meaning that you can study wherever and whenever you want — whether it's from the comfort of your couch, the local café or during an overseas holiday. Courses that are highly practical (engineering and nursing, for example) are less likely to offer online or distance options, although some theory subjects may offer flexibility and many of the practical components can be taught in blocks of study on campus. See Online and distance education for more information.

Q: What if I start my course and then decide I don't like it?

A: Changing direction is more common than you may think! Even if you had your heart set on a certain course, there's no way to know what it's really like until you are actually studying it. If you begin a course and realise that it's not quite the right fit, you have the option of making some changes to your enrolment. This includes changing your subjects, changing your course or institution, or, if you've thought your options through carefully, leaving your studies all together. The most important thing to remember is that you always have the option to make some adjustments, although it is worth considering the implications. For example, you will need to withdraw your enrolment — whether for your course or just one subject — before your institution's census date so that you are not liable for that semester's tuition fees. Likewise, there may be consequences if you drop a subject that is a prerequisite for one further down the track for your specialisation or major. It's also important to ensure that the course you want to transfer into meets your needs in the way that your initial course didn't. Course coordinators and career advisers should be on hand to offer you assistance. See Changing direction for more information.

Q: What if I don't want to study straight away?

A: After spending most of your life in compulsory education, it's okay to need a break.In fact, many students decide to take some time off before starting their tertiary course — whether it's to travel, work full time or even just relax at home for a little while. If this sounds like you, you may consider either deferring your course place or applying through mid-year entry. If you are considering deferring, it's important to research your options when you are submitting your applications (some courses do not give the option of deferring your place) and work out your options based on whether you are hoping to defer one semester, a full year or even two years. Mid-year entry is a little different to deferring, as it involves applying for a place a couple of months before the semester two intake, rather than the year before. Mid-year entry is available in both the VET and higher education sectors and in a number of courses. The great thing about mid-year entry is that you won't necessarily end up a semester behind your friends who began their studies in February or March, as many institutions offer catch-up options such as summer semesters. See Deferral and mid-year entry for more information.

Q: How do I go about entering an apprenticeship?

A: Apprenticeships and traineeships are available in a wide range of fields — from traditional trades to business to hairdressing — so it's just a matter of working out which is best for you. To enter an apprenticeship or traineeship, you need to decide on your field, seek out an employer who is willing to take you on as an apprentice or trainee and then ask your employers to sign up to a National Training Contract. Once you are an apprentice or trainee, you will combine practical paid work with structured training through a Registered Training Organisation (RTO). See Apprenticeships and traineeships for more information. It's also worth having a chat to your school's career adviser to discuss your options, such as to determine the field that best suits your skills, interests and ultimate career goal.

Q: What if tertiary study isn't for me?

A: The reality is that tertiary study isn't the right choice for everyone. If this sounds like you, it's worth keeping in mind that you still have options for further training and career development. One option is to enter an apprenticeships or traineeship, which allow you to combine paid work with some off-the-job training (usually at a TAFE institute or other Registered Training Organisation).See Apprenticeships and traineeships for more information. If you do choose to go into full-time work at the conclusion of your secondary school studies, this doesn't mean that your chances of entering tertiary study are thrown out the window.In fact, many students begin their studies later in life, applying to study after a few years in the workforce. If you're not quite sure about your options, it's worth having a chat to your school's career adviser and even student advisers at tertiary institutions to see what your options will be if you apply a few years down the track (such as special entry schemes for non-school leavers). See VET entry requirements and Higher education entry requirements for more information about getting into a VET course or degree as a non-school leaver.

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