Do you think you want to go to university once school is over? There are over one million Australians currently studying at university, and if you’ve decided you want to join them then you need to know how to apply.
There are a few steps to follow, but we’ll walk through them one by one in this article.
Step 1 – Decide to go to university
The first thing you need to do is decide that you actually want to go to university, and that it’s the right decision for you. We know that lots of parents (around 80%) want their children to go to university, even if it’s not the best choice for their circumstances, and if your parents want you to go then there can be a lot of pressure to apply.
Uni could be right for you if:
- You want to study a topic in depth
- You want a job that needs a degree (like teaching, nursing, engineering)
- You’re doing well at school and want to extend yourself
- You’re doing well but you’re not sure which career path is right for you
Note: Some students feel like they don’t want to go to university because they want a break from studying, but university is very different from high school. You have around 4 months between finishing your Year 12 exams and starting university, which many people find is more than enough time for a break. Plus, university study expects you to take an adult approach to learning – it’s more targeted and you’ll also be building your professional networks and gaining experience.
If you’re still ‘on the fence’ about going to uni, it’s a good idea to apply anyway. Not applying will guarantee that you don’t get in, which means you’ll have less options once school is over. If you’ve decided that applying is right for you, then move on to the next step.
Step 2 – Choose what you want to study
Before you start looking at shiny university brochures and going to open days, take a minute to think about the kind of things you want to study. You can approach this a couple of different ways, depending on how certain you are about your future career;
If you’ve chosen a preferred career pathway:
- Identify the qualification requirements for that pathway – do you need a degree? If so, which degree do you need?
- You may be able to choose from more than one degree, and if this is the case then decide which ones you prefer. For example, if you want to work in robotics you could study mechatronics engineering, or mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering – work out which is right for you.
If you haven’t chosen a future career:
- Focus on things you enjoy and find interesting, rather than pathways you aren’t interested in. This means don’t pick accounting because you think you’ll earn lots if you don’t like maths and spreadsheets.
- Look for more general degrees which give you a wide range of possible career options and allow you to specialise during your degree. For example, many business degrees have a general first year, then let you pick specific courses further on.
- Avoid super specific degrees unless you also like the career they lead to. For example, dentistry almost always leads to becoming a dentist.
Once you’ve chosen what you want to study write it down and be clear about it before you start looking for somewhere to study it.
Step 3 – Find somewhere to study
Where you go to study isn’t as important as what you study. Once you’ve graduated, most employers won’t really care where your degree was from, as long as you can do the work – all degree qualifications at the same level are considered equal within the Australian Qualifications Framework.
There are some important things to consider when you’re looking for a place to study:
- Do they offer the course you want to study? If not, cross them out
- Where will you live if you study there? Can you stay at home for the first year or so, or are you keen to move out straight away? Will you be able to afford to live on campus? Choosing a university that is close to home and allows you to keep your part-time work could make the transition easier.
- What opportunities do they offer for building your network? Your network will be one of the most valuable things you gain from university, and the internships and connections you make there will give you access to better employment or business opportunities once you leave.
If you’re in the lucky position of having a few good options to choose from, see if you can connect with current students at each university and get their feedback – are they happy with their course, are the getting the support they need, and what advice would they give you?
Step 4 – Prepare for application
Once you know what you want to study, and where you want to study it, you need to find out how you can apply.
You’ll need to first find out about any important cut-off dates, so you don’t miss out. Add these into your calendar and it could be a good idea to tell your parents and other key people about them as well.
Next, find out what documents and details you need to apply. You’ll probably need your USI, and you may need other student numbers, depending on your state. Some courses may require you to complete additional processes, for example if you want to study medicine you may need to sit the UCAT, which you need to do earlier in the year. Find out what you need to do early, so you can prepare in advance and don’t end up missing out by accident.
The last step is to make sure you meet the ATAR or other entry requirements. ATARs are much less important than they used to be, and only a fraction of Year 12s rely on their ATAR as the only thing they use to get into uni. Regardless, you need to know what ATAR you may need, and if there are any other pathways you can use find out what you need to do for them as well. For example, ANU now have a co-curricular or service requirement for entry, which means you need to have done more than just scored an ATAR. You can use part-time work, school leadership, sporting participation, and other activities to prove that you can handle university study.
Step 5 – Apply and select your preferences
The application process varies depending on which university you’ve picked, but you can find out what you need to do for each university in the Apply to Uni Guide for 2022. Remember, it may not be enough to simply apply through the tertiary admissions centre in your state, so check directly with the university to make sure you have met all the entry requirements before you start your application.
The application process is usually straightforward, but if you have any questions we recommend that you get in touch with the university directly, as they’ll be best placed to answer all your specific questions.
When you apply, you’ll also be asked to select your course preferences. The key thing to remember here is to fill out every preference, even if you don’t think you need to. You can always reject an offer, but if you only list one course then you’re limiting your options before you start. Even if you are 110% certain that there is only one course you want to pick, find a few similar courses and list them just in case. A lot can change between selecting your preferences in September and receiving your offer in December or January, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
We recommend you list your number one course choice first, then you second favourite. For the rest of the list, put some other courses you think you’d be happy with, and add a few ‘easy’ of lower ATAR/requirement options at the end, which will give you a couple of backups.
Watch this short video for tips on choosing your preferences.
Step 6 – Wait
After you’ve submitted your application, you need to wait for an offer. Use this time to get some space from your choices, focus on your final exams and enjoy the last few weeks and months of school. If you decide you want to change your preferences during this time then you’ll be able to do so, but be mindful of the cut off dates and don’t let it dominate your thinking.
Step 7 – Accept an offer and enrol
All Year 12 students who are eligible for an ATAR will receive it just before Christmas, and if you’ve been successful, you’ll receive an offer after that. You’ll only receive one offer for each state for each round (so if you’ve applied in NSW and Queensland, you can receive an offer for both states), and you’ll get an offer for the highest preference you are eligible for.
This means that if your top-rated preference requires an ATAR of 70, and you got 62, you may not get your first preference, but if your second preference requires an ATAR of 60 then you will receive an offer for that course.
If you want to take the offer, then follow the process to accept it an enrol. If you don’t want to accept it, you can always wait for a later offer round to see if you get a higher preference, which does occasionally happen.
From here, you’ve moved from high school student to university student, so check out what you need to do to enrol and make sure you book in for orientation.
What are my other options?
University straight out of school is not your only option. Lots of students defer for 6 or 12 months and work, gain another skill, or just have some time off. Other students start with a VET qualification, apprenticeship, or traineeship, and from there they may work for a while and eventually go to university as a mature student.
Whatever you decide to do, take some time to reflect on your choices, and don’t rush into a decision – after all, you’ll be living with this pathway for quite a while.