And just because you have colleges and universities doesn't mean you have education.

Malcolm X 

For a 'university guide' article talking about the ins and outs of choosing a university, the best degree courses, and the top universities in Australia, this quote from Malcolm X may seem an odd way to start. However, my goal in this post is to provide some well-rounded information about your education options once you graduate from high school.

Do I need to read this article?

It may be that you have already made the decision to enrol in a university degree. If so, this article is for you.

Perhaps you know you want to undertake tertiary study but haven't gotten around to choosing a university. If so, this article is for you.

Or maybe you are pretty sure you don't want to go to university but haven't quite made the final decision. If so, this article is for you.

The point is that university study is not the be-all and end-all of life after high school but, whatever your decision, you should be given the opportunity to ask questions and consider all options before making your choice.

So, let's start by taking a look at the pros and cons of studying at university.

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Benefits and Disadvantages of University Study

University study can be an amazing experience but it can also be very stressful and, quite simply, further education is not for everyone. The decision to enrol, or not enrol, in uni is one that should not be made lightly.

When you're a student in high school, talking to your career education support officer or student services personnel about your options is a good start. They should be able to answer your questions or provide advice on who can help you.

Going along to university open days can also help. You can talk to current university students and teachers at these events and get a general feel for the university campus and faculties. There will also be people on hand to answer questions related to each degree or to different subjects within courses.

Attending career expos can also help you with your decision. At a career expo, you will find representatives from different universities but you will also find people from a range of companies or industries who can provide you with information about alternative opportunities and perhaps even tell you about their own experience entering the job market.

Where is the best degree to study at university?
Studying at university is not only about mass lectures but consider if this is where you see yourself for the next four years? | Source: Pixabay - nikolayhg

Thinking about universities, though, here are a few pros and cons to consider.

Pros

  • If you're set on a particular career, a uni degree might give you the best (or only) options and opportunities.
  • Students learn a number of transferable skills, not only those related to their degree.
  • The university community itself can provide multiple opportunities, experiences and friendships.
  • You finally get to study the subjects you are passionate about, in-depth.
  • University can provide you with industry and career connections.

Cons

  • Studying for a degree, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, is expensive.
  • Uni degrees are often more about the theory and less about the practical skills.
  • You might need a break from studying.
  • There is no guarantee of a job once you graduate.

If you considered both sides and are leaning more firmly towards uni study, it's time to think about your degree options and other factors.

What Degree Should I Study?

Choosing the best degree for you to meet your needs, skills and interests can be a tough decision as there are many factors to consider — the attainment of a job and money being the two major ones.

Remember that one of the 'cons' of university study is that possession of a degree is no longer a job guarantee. However, there are numerous careers you cannot enter without the required degree — secondary teaching, medicine and law are just three degrees that come to mind.

Ultimately, the degree you enrol in should be one that prepares you for the career you want.

But are all degrees of the same name actually the same at different tertiary institutions?

They're not and this is where research into the different degree options offered by different universities is essential.

Take teaching for example. While the undergraduate Bachelor of Education is a 4-year degree that will enable you to teach in a primary or secondary school anywhere throughout Australia, the subjects universities offer within their Bachelor of Education differ widely, as does the time spent undertaking practical experience in schools.

Of course, your priority might be to enter a career with multiple opportunities for promotion or responsibility, or a career where you can earn a lot of money. There are a number of university undergraduate and postgraduate degrees that will help you achieve these career goals or at least give you a greater choice when it comes to choosing a career path.

Then again, you may just be looking for a degree that gives you the highest chance of securing employment once you graduate. Let's look at this list, compiled in 2021 for Australia (by Art of Smart).

RankingCareerExample DegreesEmployed Graduates (%)
10NursingBachelor of Nursing
Bachelor of Science/Master of Nursing
72.7
9Business & ManagementBachelor of Accounting
Bachelor of Business
74.3
8LawBachelor of Laws75.7
7Veterinary ScienceBachelor of Veterinary Biology78.2
6DentistryBachelor of Dental Science80
5TeachingBachelor of Education80.6
4EngineeringBachelor of Engineering83
3MedicineBachelor of Medical Science86.7
2RehabilitationBachelor of Applied Science
Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science
87.3
1PharmacyBachelor of Pharmacy96.4

It is interesting to note that some of the lowest-paid 'professional' jobs (nursing, teaching) are amongst the top ten most employable.

How much does student accommodation cost?
Think about where you will live while you are studying - at home, in your own place or in student accommodation on campus | Source: Pixabay - Roznicky

At the end of the day, money aside, the career you will get the most job satisfaction out of is the one you are most passionate about and if that means going to university to study for an extra four to seven years, then you will be able to do this.

What Should I Consider When Choosing a University?

Once you know which degree you want to study, you need to start thinking about which university you will choose.

Unfortunately, there is not an 'all-in-one' university guide to assist students with this decision and while career counsellors and other education staff can offer advice, it really comes down to students doing their own research.

Naturally, your top priority is going to be your education because you want a degree that best meets your needs and will help you achieve your career goals. However, there are other factors you may need to consider as well.

Location

How far are you prepared to move away from home in order to study? If you live in Perth (Western Australia), for example, are you prepared to move to Sydney to study for your dream degree at uni? Moreover, can you afford to move and live away from home?

Cost

It's not only the cost of your degree (which you can pay back later through the Australian tax system) that you need to consider but also:

  • other university fees (student services, textbooks, stationery, clubs etc.)
  • accommodation
  • daily expenses (food, clothing, transport)

Workload

Make sure you check the expected workload of your chosen course, subject or degree. If you are trying to work a part-time job along with full-time uni subjects, you run the risk of burning out.

All three of the above factors tie in together. If you move to a university away from your home, you will have to pay for accommodation on top of other fees and expenses. To pay for this, you may have to secure part-time work. Having part-time work might impact your workload or your results.

Is it easier to get a job with a university degree?
Your ultimate goal is to graduate | Source: Pixabay - marcela_net

Seek advice and support before you make your decision and ensure you are aware of what lies ahead and that you have a plan.

What are the Top Universities in Australia?

It is natural for people to want to go to the best schools and universities. These 'top' places have great reputations buoyed by success and tradition. Great reputations attract great teachers. The greater the reputation, the more popular universities become and the harder they are to 'get into' — all making them more appealing to top students.

There are multiple lists and ranking guides compiled about the top universities in Australia. Most ranked universities feature in most guides, though not always in the same order. The ranking chart below is from the Australian schools listed in the QS World University Rankings 2021, which featured no less than 36 Australian tertiary institutions.

RankingUniversityAustralian State
10University of WollongongNew South Wales
9University of Technology SydneyNew South Wales
8University of AdelaideSouth Australia
7University of Western AustraliaWestern Australia
6Monash University
Victoria
5University of QueenslandQueensland
4University of New South WalesNew South Wales
3University of MelbourneVictoria
2University of SydneyNew South Wales
1Australian National UniversityAustralian Capital Territory - Canberra

These rankings are determined by factors such as academic reputations, employer relations, and research impact.

Other lists and individual university guide 'scorecards' rank universities on one or more of the following factors:

  • social equity
  • staff qualifications
  • first-generation students (those who are the first in their family history to study at uni)
  • learning resources
  • skills development
  • graduate salary
  • student support
  • overall experience.

However, all rankings and scores aside, none of this matters a jot if you don't feel comfortable at your university of choice or if, for some reason, it hasn't delivered in terms of meeting your expectations and goals.

Ultimately, whether you go to university straight after high school, have a gap year or two before you enrol or bypass university altogether in favour of starting an internship or something similar, this choice you make can and will affect the rest of your life so it's essential to consider all factors and treat this decision with the respect it deserves.

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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.