BlogUniversityWhat It’s Like Studying a Bachelor of Arts at USYD

What It’s Like Studying a Bachelor of Arts at USYD

Bachelor of Arts USYD - Fact Sheet

Thinking about studying a Bachelor of Arts at USYD?

Let us give you the low-down on everything you need to know about the degree, including subjects, majors, staff, culture, assessments and more!

Let’s dive in!

What is a Bachelor of Arts at USYD?
Majors for a Bachelor of Arts at USYD
How to Get into a Bachelor of Arts at USYD
What’s the Teaching Format?
What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

What is a Bachelor of Arts at USYD?

A Bachelor of Arts is a degree focused on the study of the humanities and social sciences, such as literature, history, culture, language, thought and more. It’s quite a flexible degree as it has no core units (units you are required to take) and is instead made up of a vast majority of elective units which you can select to make up a major.

Who should study a Bachelor of Arts? 

It’s well suited for students who enjoy thinking analytically, being challenged on modes of thought and communicating effectively. If you took Advanced English, Extension 1 or 2 English, a history subject or History Extension, it’s more than likely you’d enjoy an Arts degree!

Majors for a Bachelor of Arts at USYD

A Bachelor of Arts at USYD is renowned for the breadth of majors and units you can take. There are 70 majors available from the Faculty of Arts and 11 majors available from other faculties that you can study as part of your Bachelor of Arts!

Popular majors include:

  • English
  • International Relations
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology
  • History
  • A language (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, Korean, Latin, Indonesian and more)
  • Economics

You can find more information on majors here! Otherwise check out our guides for the following majors below:

How do you choose your major?

In your first year, you can test the waters by choosing four different subject units in your first semester. For example, you might choose one philosophy unit, one English unit, one sociology unit and one language unit. After your first semester you’ll generally get an idea of which subjects you enjoyed the most and so in semester 2 you can choose units that are specific to your chosen major!

What’s an English major like?

The English major covers everything from the Classics through to the Medieval and contemporary periods across a variety of mediums such as poetry, plays, novels and films! All texts are explored in relation to their time period, culture, genre and form, with specific focus on developing your analytical and explanatory skills.

Bachelor of Arts USYD - Student Quote 1

There’s a lot of diversity in the units you can choose with period specific units such as ENGL1019 Jane Austen, Then and Now, ENGL1018 The Medieval Imaginary and ENGL1012 The Gothic Imagination which are all first year units you can choose.

In later years, you can select form-specific units that aim to develop your understanding and analytical skills of a type of text, such as ENGL2650 Reading Poetry, ENGL2654 Novel Worlds and ENGL2667 Reading Drama as well as much more niche units such as ENGL2672 Postcolonial Modernisms/Modernities, ENGL3623 The 18th Century: Scandal and Sociability and ENGL3635 Old Norse.

What’s a Philosophy major like?

A Philosophy major for a Bachelor of Arts at USYD covers an incredible breadth in the study area, covering logic, ethics, truth and meaning to probability, scepticism, illusion, reality and more! There’s an abundance of units to choose from and all of them focus upon challenging your perceptions, thinking critically and opening your mind.

Bachelor of Arts USYD - Student Quote 2

The first year consists of mainly overview subjects that are split into 3 different categories. For example, PHIL1011 Reality, Ethics and Beauty and PHIL1013 Society, Knowledge and Self. These first year units have a lot of breadth in content and introduce you to a different major philosopher each week. The readings are quite heavy and require you to get your head around all the different modes of thought!

The units become a bit more niche in your second and third year. For example, PHIL2667 Scepticism: From Illusion to Reality revolves entirely around deliberating whether an external world exists while PHIL2607 Eighteenth Century French Philosophy focuses entirely as the name suggests, on the history of philosophy in France during one century.

Want to know more about the pros and cons of a Bachelor of Arts at USYD? Check this out!

How to Get into a Bachelor of Arts at USYD

The ATAR cut off for a Bachelor of Arts at USYD is an ATAR of 80. You can find other admission pathways into a Bachelor of Arts here.

Discover the top universities in Australia for an arts degree here!

Are there any prerequisites?

There are no prerequisites for an Arts degree but you probably want to have taken at least Advanced English and some humanity subjects such as Modern History, Ancient History or Society and Culture, which have already developed your writing and analytical skills.

What scholarships are available?

There are scholarships available specifically for any Arts Faculty degree which you can find here as well as more general scholarships for any undergraduate degree at USYD here!

What’s the Teaching Format?

Bachelor of Arts USYD - Class Structure

A Bachelor of Arts at USYD is taught through lectures, tutorials and seminars in semester-style which change from first to third year.

In first year, each unit usually has 2 hours of lectures (with about 300 people or more in the lecture theatre depending on its popularity). This is paired with a 1 hour tutorial which is used to talk about your readings and lecture for the week. Tutorials are much smaller than lectures and usually have somewhere between 20 to 25 people in a class. 

Once you reach second and third year, you’re more likely to be taught in seminar format. Seminars are a mix between a lecture and a tutorial. They’re bigger than a tutorial with about 30 people but are much more interactive than a lecture.

How many hours do you have to go to university?

Studying a Bachelor of Arts at USYD means you generally have one of the lowest contact hours of any university degree with about 3 contact hours per subject. If you undertake full-time study of 4 units, this generally equates to about 12 contact hours a week.

If you plan your timetable, you can even get this down to coming in only 2 days!

However, it’s important to note that what the degree lacks in contact hours, certainly makes up for through readings that are set!

For example, for an English major, there’s a lot of reading involved, where you may be asked to read 1 book per week, as well as your secondary readings (scholarly papers which analyse your text). The secondary readings can be quite dense in information and difficult – although, you can sometimes get away with skim reading and focusing on the introduction and conclusion of the paper! 

What are the assessments like?

Assessments vary depending on each subject, however it’s often a mixture of essays, presentations and sometimes exams. You usually get between three to four assessments per subject each semester. 

For presentations, you’re usually asked to present the topic of the week to your tutorial class (weighted about 20%).

Essays are generally shorter in length in your earlier years (between 1000 to 2000 words), however final assessments and older years write anywhere between 3000 to 4000 words for each essay. Final essays are weighted between 40% to 60% and mid-semester exams closer to 30%.

For essays, you’re required to do a lot of reading (although it’s usually readings you’ve been assigned throughout the course as well as wider reading) to develop and evidence your argument. You have weeks to write your essays, so try to do yourself a favour and don’t leave it until the last minute! You’ll be asked to submit your essay online through Canvas/Turnitin.

First year subjects tend to have more exams – although realistically it’s just an in-class essay. You’re usually given a set of questions and can choose which essay question you’d like to answer.

Skills That You Develop

Bachelor of Arts USYD - Skills

Many skills that you learn through a Bachelor of Arts are skills that you’ll need for life!

One of the main skills that you develop through a Bachelor of Arts is critical thinking — you learn to think outside of the box, become an independent thinker and challenge assumptions. 

You’ll also develop your communication skills, both written and spoken. As many assessments are in essay format, the practice of writing an essay teaches you to write clearly and express yourself in a logical way. It also pushes you to refine your analytical skills developed through the study of your texts and to form judgements based on argument and evidence. 

You further refine your ability to have empathy — in a world which is becoming increasingly automated, it has become increasingly important for employers to look for people who have empathy. Therefore, having a broad understanding of other cultures and current affairs is valued and a skill you will develop through your studies.

What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

Sydney Uni Arts can have a reputation for being snobby and elitist, and this may be off putting for some people. However, the actual staff within these sandstone walls are incredibly kind! Each lecturer and tutor in the Arts Faculty is very passionate and knowledgeable about their subject, genuinely wants you to pass, and care about you a lot. 


Within the classroom, there’s a lot of vibrant conversation going on, with many different opinions from a lot of different types of people! The conversations are fruitful and will help you grow your perspectives about the world. Tutors encourage conversations rather than debate, willing you to engage with each other, listen to what each person is saying and build upon each other’s conversations. 

In general, the culture is quite left wing amongst arts students. There’s a bit of a stereotype that USYD Arts students all shop second hand vintage, wear Doc. Martens, carry canvas bags and walk around with a copy of Honi Soit (the Sydney Uni student newspaper) — although there’s no denying they definitely are the most creative dressers at uni. At heart, they’re people who are passionate about social issues and are quite engaged in politics and what’s going on in the world. 


The lack of core units in an Arts degree means that a person you met in a particular selective unit may never be seen again! There’s no cohort that takes all the same units which can make it difficult making friends. That’s why it’s important to be proactive about making friends and join some extra curricular activities, such as a society!

One of the biggest societies on campus is SASS — the Sydney Arts Student Society. They throw one big ball at the end of the year and also have lots of pub crawls and welcome to semester parties that are great for meeting new people and living that ‘uni life’ everyone always talks about! There’s a few cool societies around like DogSoc (Dog Society) for meetups with pups, Gaius Gracchus for all you Classics lovers, the Enviro Collective, FilmSoc and plenty more.

You can check out the full list of Sydney Uni societies here!

Momoko Metham is currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Art of Smart Education, having previously held roles as a Digital Content Coordinator in 2018 and an Academic Tutor and Mentor since 2017. She is currently in her final year of a Media and Communications degree at the University of Sydney with a double major in Marketing and Spanish and Latin American Studies. Momoko’s writing has been published in Archer Magazine, Dynamic Business and Honi Soit and she was the General Editor of the ARNA Literary Journal in 2019.

45,861 students have a head start...

Get exclusive study content & advice from our team of experts delivered weekly to your inbox!

AOS Website Asset 2

Want to study Arts & Social Sciences?

Discover how we can help you!

AOS Website Asset 1