We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunities meet with preparation.

Thomas A Edison ~

As you approach your high school graduation, you'll think about and prepare for your next steps in life. Will you move straight into full-time work? Do you want to take a year off and gain some life experience before enrolling in further education studies? Are you planning to continue your education but in a practical trade? Or are you considering going straight to university to begin your undergraduate degree with the goal of moving into a professional career once you graduate?

If you've decided on the latter, it's important to know that choosing a university is one thing but there are also many other factors you need to consider while searching for uni courses and undergraduate degrees that best fit your career goals.

While you begin your ideal course search in earnest, keep in mind the following questions as well.

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Will I Have to Move Out of Home?

Unlike primary school and high school enrolments in Australia, when you are choosing a university, you aren't limited to specific universities based on where you live. This means you could potentially hail from the east coast of Australia but, having found the perfect degree at a university in Western Australia during your course search, you can apply to enrol there.

Of course, this means moving out of home and away from your familiar environment and support networks.

How much does university accommodation cost?
Whether you live at home or in student accommodation, it's important to have a quiet place to study | Source: Pixabay - EDDIE_LEE_KR

You may consider that you are ready to move out of home, whether or not the university you choose is nearby. It can certainly give students their own space and immerse them in a student community where there is academic and study support. However, it can also add to student stress, with concerns about money or getting caught up in the more negative aspects of the student community.

Another aspect to consider regarding the location of the university campus you choose is transport. You may find that a car is more convenient than public transport. Not all universities in Australia are on the main bus route or train line, nor do they necessarily run at a time that fits in with your course timetable. This is not to say we recommend choosing a university solely according to its proximity to transport but it may be one of your decision dealbreakers if you're choosing between two universities.

What are my Accommodation Options?

If you choose (or have to) move out of home to go to university, you will, of course, need somewhere to stay. Your main options tend to be:

  • student residences (owned by the university)
  • student accommodation (owned by a private company)
  • homestay
  • share house
  • private rental.

Most students, at least in the first year of their degree, opt for on-site university student residences. These offer great support, especially if it's your first experience out of home, and can be among the cheapest options. Be aware, however, that rooms are highly sought after and, at most universities, preference is given to first-year undergraduate students with no guarantee of a place every year.

Other options, such as a single room board or a student share house can be economical but are often some distance from campus. Private rental is rarely used by undergraduate students but can be the preferred option for postgraduate and master degree students who may have a family. 

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How Much Money Will I Need?

There are many pros and cons to further study at university and money is at the core of many of these.

University fees aside, there are a number of other expenses associated with a university degree that many students don't initially consider.

If you are still living at home, you will need to set aside money for:

  • textbooks
  • learning and course materials and consumables (depending on your degree)
  • lunch and snacks
  • transport
  • student services and club fees.

For students living out of home, in addition to the above expenses there also needs to be money for:

  • accommodation
  • groceries
  • internet and utilities.
How much money do I need for textbooks and course materials at uni?
The university library is a great place to find course resources but you will still need to buy textbooks and other course materials | Source: Pixabay - geralt

In Australia, there are options for student loans and scholarships to cover (at least partly) the costs of going to university.

It is also important to note that the HECS-HELP system that operates in Australia is only for undergraduate domestic students. Any international students studying undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, and domestic students studying postgraduate degrees, such as a graduate certificate or diploma, honours, master or doctorate degrees, are liable for university fees, which are calculated according to the level and type of degree.

Which Uni Courses are Offered?

University rankings are not as prevalent or important in Australia as they are in international regions, however, many students still covet the idea of attending one of the 'best universities' in Australia.

Perhaps a more important factor to consider is whether the best university offers the best degree for you. While they tend to offer a wide range of degrees, most universities specialise in certain areas.

For example, if you are keen to do an engineering degree, you may wish to consider the University of New South Wales or the University of Technology Sydney. These universities are listed respectively at number 19 and 28 in the global rankings for undergraduate engineering degrees based on their reputation and research in the field of engineering.

Some other top universities when it comes to world rankings include:

  • biological science — University of Melbourne
  • business and management studies — University of Melbourne
  • computer science and information technology systems — University of Melbourne
  • earth and marine science — Australian National University
  • education and teaching degrees — University of Sydney
  • environmental science — University of Queensland
  • nursing — University of Technology Sydney.

If you're interested, the QS World University Rankings online site lists top-ranking international universities according to a wide range of categories each year. The 'by subject' rankings also include an overall rankings system, based on the amount of number one rankings in Australia by subject; the University of Melbourne takes top spot here, with the Australian National University coming in a close second.

Choosing a university degree and your subject specialisations are probably going to be the most important decision you'll make in your student life.

Some students have a very clear idea of what they want to study and the career path they want to follow from an early age. (I was one of those students, having decided I wanted to study a Bachelor of Education and go into teaching when I was 8 years old.) However, other students really have no clear idea about what they want to do — only that they want to maximise their opportunities by studying at university.

Both groups of students need help and support to wade through all the options and determine their best study path.

Where can I get help at university?
The student services section at your university is there to help students at every stage of their learning pathway - from the time of enrolment up until they graduate | Source: Pixabay - Leo_Fontes

Open days held by universities about halfway through the year should be your first port of call. On these days, you can visit all the faculties, take a tour of the campus, speak with students and teachers and ask questions about all sorts of things.

Outside of official open days, prospective students can make appointments to visit staff in student support services or within particular faculties to get more information. Communication can also be continued via email or phone.

Even once you've received notification of your acceptance, you can still ask questions and seek help and advice regarding your degree and specific subjects.

The sort of questions you might consider asking include:

  • What is the difference between the Bachelor of (Health Science) and the Bachelor of (Medical Science)?
  • What major should I consider to maximise my employment opportunities with my Bachelor of Education?
  • Can I change my field of study if I don't like it? If so, when can this be done?
  • Is a double degree possible for this course of study?
  • Can I get credit for prior studies?
  • I didn't do so well in high school (science). Will this affect my acceptance chances? Can I do bridging studies?

It's not only course and degree related help and support that universities offer potential and existing students. Support and help can be sought for other matters, including help with finding accommodation, study skills support, part-time work opportunities, counselling and mental health support and help navigating a new town or city if you've moved from interstate.

All in all, your time at university should be fulfilling and provide you with multiple opportunities and the chance to experience a different but like-minded community. This can occur if you familiarise yourself with what to expect and do everything you can to fully prepare for the experience.

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Kellie

Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.