If you’re nearing the end of your schooling years, choosing which university to go to is likely playing on your mind. The decision may feel overwhelmingly significant. After all, it’s potentially the final step in your formal educational journey. Or perhaps you’re simply exhausted by the thought of making the decision. Who cares where you go, as long as you get a degree, right? But regardless of how you’re feeling, picking a university is riddled with questions. In comparison to high schools, universities seem enormous and extremely confusing. The rumours about entering the “real world” may scare you and the truth is, your choice represents the first of many independent decisions you will have to make. So, how on earth do you choose the right university for you?
Well, the decision may not be an easy one. But if I were to condense all the advice in the world into two major points, it would be these: consider the broader environment of each university and be open-minded about potential experiences. I’ll get to the more substantive considerations shortly but I’d encourage you to action these pieces of advice by attending university open days and by speaking to as many university students as possible. Immersing yourself in the environment is an invaluable way to gain an insight into what it might be like to be a Monash University Student, an RMIT student or a La Trobe student. Although the ultimate goal of university education may be to achieve that degree certificate, your university campus is a place where you’ll spend hours each week over a number of years. It does have the capacity to shape your sense of connection and belonging, if you’re open to it. Keeping that in mind, let’s dive into some of the major considerations. The aim for you should be to identify what kind of university experience you’re looking for and which university will best provide for this.
1. Your Degree
Although it goes without saying, looking into the different degrees available at various universities is your best starting point. For example, ANU and Monash are currently the only two universities in Australia to offer the prestigious PPE degree (ie Politics, Philosophy and Economics). Likewise, if you’re wanting a forensic science degree, Deakin offers the only accredited degree of its kind in Australia. Additionally, consider whether you’re wanting a single degree or a double degree. Melbourne University, for example, does not provide for double degrees. Whilst these caveats can be confusing, they can narrow down your options very quickly. I’d recommend starting your research by considering your broadest area of interest and then looking at the homepage of each university to see if any courses jump out at you.
What if there are lots of universities that offer my degree?
For many degrees, this is the case. If you find yourself in this situation, you may want to consider the reputation of the degree offered by each university. For some highly competitive industries, employers may look at where you obtained your degree as an indication of the standards you’ve achieved. To understand the reputation of a degree, research is your best friend. This can take the shape of googling or of talking to those in the industry. ATAR and other entry requirements may also provide guidance. However, proceed with caution on this point. University rankings can be highly subjective and often for the more practical degrees, are of little importance. Reputation is by no means a determinative factor of success. In many cases, employers are more interested in your experience than how you present on paper. RMIT, Swinburn and La Trobe are all known for their Internship and Industry Placement opportunities.
If this is not relevant to you, I’d suggest basing your decision on such as the location of the university, its atmosphere and the external opportunities it can offer you.
2. Location and Atmosphere
Do you want to train into the vibrant Melbourne city each day for classes? Do you want to attend an expansive campus with beautiful natural surroundings? Do you want to live on campus and have the opportunity to make lifelong friendships? Or alternatively, does the location of your campus not really matter to you at all?
This point may seem trivial but remember that your university is a place at which you’ll spend hours each week. One of my favourite things about going to ANU is how pretty it is (and how good the cafés are)! ANU is situated alongside a river, which flows into a lake where students often spend their downtime running, walking or picnicking around. If the ambience of your environment is important to you, I cannot stress how valuable it could be to attend university open days. This will allow you to get a taste of the community at each uni. Some universities, notably Deakin, are known for the emphasis they place on the “student experience”.
3. Other Opportunities
Have a look into the opportunities outside of class time that your university offers. For myself, finding a uni with an extensive study abroad program was essential. Many universities offer niche societies like the “Quidditch club” or the “Taylor Swift Fan Club”. You may also want to consider whether your university competes in national or international academic competitions. Whilst some of this information will not be available online, reach out to any contacts you have who go to these universities. The more people you talk to, the better you will be able to understand their experience with the universities you are considering.
Finally, let’s take the pressure off and remind ourselves that our university decision does not have to be a permanent, irreversible one. Not only do many students jump from degree to degree, but many students change university campuses entirely. I, myself, am spending the current semester in Melbourne instead of Canberra and will be spending 2023 at a university in Belgium. Luckily for us, the Australian system is super flexible when it comes to transferring course-credit from one university to another. Change is very much possible. So don’t be afraid of trying out a new experience, harnessed with the knowledge that you can always make a change if the original plan doesn’t work out.
University is a time to broaden your identity. Fortunately for you, Australia has so many universities ready to offer you a unique experience of your choosing. Happy university-picking!
Article written by KIS Academics tutor for VCE English, French and Legal Studies. Claire is currently in her third year at the Australian National University (‘ANU’) and is studying a double degree in law and languages. You can view Claire’s profile here: https://kisacademics.com/w/tutors/claire-boulter-28