BlogUNSWWhat It’s Like Studying Software Engineering at UNSW

What It’s Like Studying Software Engineering at UNSW

Software Engineering UNSW - Fact Sheet

Are you thinking a Bachelor of Software Engineering at UNSW might be for you?

Luckily for you, we’ve brought together absolutely everything that you need to know about this degree so your application will be easier than reading Python. Careers paths, core units, faculty culture and more — all of this is neatly compiled in this article thanks to a little bit of help from HTML, CSS and JavaScript (but I’m sure you already knew that).

So what are you waiting for? Scroll down for more!

What is Software Engineering at UNSW?
Core Units and Majors
How to Get into Software Engineering at UNSW
What’s the Teaching Format?
What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

What is Software Engineering at UNSW?

A Bachelor of Software Engineering is one of the newer additions to UNSW’s Bachelor of Engineering programs — a 4 year degree with a compulsory Honours component included in the fourth year. While your first year might be pretty much exactly the same as any other Engineering student’s, from your second year onwards you’ll be dealing with some complex software principles that Civil Engineers could never even dream of!

If you’re considering this program, you probably already know that your focus of study will be Software Development. The thing about Software Engineering at UNSW is that it will teach you much more than how to code — it will give you a holistic skill set specifically geared toward the industry.

Not only will you learn how to develop efficient software systems, but you’ll also learn about project management strategies and design techniques. With this set of skills, you’ll be able to breeze through a development project from implementation to testing and finally documentation.

The degree has a real-world focus where you’ll actually be making your own projects as if you were employed as a software engineer. It’s so practical that you’ll be job ready for this massive-growth industry before you’ve even had a chance to frame your testamur — which brings us to our next point.


UNSW Software Engineering also has an Honours unit built into it. This means that you’ll finish off your degree with Honours without even really thinking about it — a little heads up though, degrees with Honours programs have stricter progression rules than other degrees. 

Students that fail more than two core subjects, and/or have a WAM (UNSW’s grade point average) lower than 50% by the time they reach their final year will not be able to continue through the course.

Where will this degree take you?

It’s no secret that Software Engineering and the IT industry in general boast high job security and job growth overall. Just ask Linkedin who claims that tech jobs are set to dominate 2020 with “tremendous growth” ahead. 

In their 2020 Emerging Job Report for Australia, Software Engineering jobs take up almost half of the top 15 jobs. To give you an even better idea of where you could end up, here’s just a few careers that you could pursue after graduation:

    • UX/UI design 
    • IT consultancy
    • Data Engineering
    • Site Reliability Engineering
    • Robotics Engineering (Software)
    • Front-end Development
    • Back-end Development
    • Full-stack Development 

Realistically, you could branch into almost any tech job — the skills that you gain from a Bachelor of Software Engineering are easily translatable. Furthermore, having a foundation in software systems, design and mathematics means that it wouldn’t be hard for you to up-skill and enter another tech job without having to go back to uni (sounds good to me!).

Core Units and Majors

Here’s the thing about Bachelor programs at UNSW Engineering — the degrees themselves are specialisations. This basically means that a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering is a Bachelor of Engineering with an Electrical Engineering Major. Now that was a bit of a mouthful.

Anyway, if you put 2 and 2 together (c’mon you’re meant to be good at Maths), you’ll see that this program is equivalent to a Major in Software Engineering. Essentially your whole course will be built of core units (roughly 85%) that are compulsory for your Major.

What can you expect from each year of study?

I know what you’re thinking, “If there are no majors, can we choose what we study?” Well, yes and no. It’s true that the degree is super regimented with very little room for electives but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. You’ll get a few Software-Engineering-related electives as you progress further throughout the degree. 

Using these electives, you can explore courses in Computer Science, Telecommunications, IT and more. Some people simply use these to explore other areas of interest, while others might use it to complement their program and develop a minor of sorts.

First Year 

Your first year is going to be very general. It’s going to involve Maths, Data Structures, Maths, Engineering Design, oh and did I mention Maths?

This year is designed to give you a good foundation for any subject you might later encounter. For someone more interested in design, this year might seem a little tedious — but trust me, it will help a lot in the long run.

Second Year

This is where things get a little more streamlined and you branch away from the other schools of Engineering. We’re talking, a little bit less Maths and a little bit more Software Construction, Database Systems and a whole lot of programming. Aka the good stuff.

Third Year

Things will start to get a little bit more autonomous in third year — you’ll be doing more Software Engineering Workshops and Software System design, but you’ll also be introduced to your electives. You might also decide to do your Industrial Training while you’re here (more on that later).

Fourth Year

Now we’re at peak autonomy — this is where you’ll start your Honours thesis and continue through your courses (which will be primarily electives). This year is truly what you make of it. It’s where you consolidate all the skills you’ve acquired and put them into a thesis, as well as explore areas of interest.

What is Industrial Training?

Industrial Training (IT) is the course equivalent of an internship/practical training. It gives you the opportunity to apply the skills you’ve learnt at uni into the real world.

A minimum of 60 days IT is required to graduate from this program. You will generally commence your placement during your third year, but it’s best not to start the placement too soon because you won’t have enough engineering experience and if you leave it too late, you’ll already be stressing about your Honours thesis. 

Another super cool thing about IT is that it can be studied interstate or overseas! 

The UNSW School of Engineering has set up this helpful guide that comprises all the important information you need to know about how to facilitate your IT, where to do it and what requirements need to be met before commencing it. 

How to Get into Software Engineering at UNSW

An ATAR of 91 will grant you guaranteed entry into the course. The absolute minimum ATAR score for entry in 2020 was an 88, so it’s best to aim for the 90’s.

Otherwise, UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering Admissions Scheme (FEAS) offers alternative paths of entry for students who don’t meet the guaranteed entry requirements. 

Ways to apply can be found here! 

Are there any prerequisite subjects or assumed knowledge?

Due to the intense focus on Maths (especially in the first year) it goes without saying that students will have assumed knowledge in the subject. It’s assumed that students will have taken at least HSC Mathematics 1 or have gained equivalent knowledge. 


UNSW offers a variety of scholarships specific to each year and field of study. A list of those scholarships can be found here! 

What’s the Teaching Format?

You might have already heard but UNSW transitioned to a trimester system from a semester system in 2019. This means that you’ll be studying 3 (and in some cases 2 depending on course availability) courses per academic session.  

Class Structure

Software Engineering courses are built up of lectures and combined lab and tutorial sessions.

The lectures go for 2 hours, while the combined lab and tutorial session will go for 3. This means you’ll have roughly 15 contact hours per week (though that may vary with your electives).

Software Engineering UNSW - Class Structure


These fun little sessions are where all of the content is introduced. Lectures are filled with all of the people in the course so will most likely have around 200 people present.

You might find the classrooms to be a little more populated in the first year because the entire Engineering cohort (rather than just Software students) will be enrolled, so expect something around 600. There’s almost zero peer interaction during lectures and you’ll use the time only to listen. 

What is discussed in the lecture will depend on the subject. If it were a data structures and algorithms class, for example, this would be where you would learn to code a specific algorithm, which you would then put into practice during the tutorial/lab session.

Tutorials/Lab Sessions

These sessions start with the tutorial component — the tutorial half of the class is primarily reserved for consolidation. You’ll go over what was introduced in the lecture and dive deeper into the content.

Tutorials are more intimate with only 20 people present. This class size will make it easier to ask questions so you can really make sure you understand the content. 

After the tutorial, the lab section of the class will start — the lab section is where you really get a chance to put the theories and algorithms to work.

The labs go beyond simple comprehension activities, they involve practical implementation and interaction with the content. This is where you would actually try to code the algorithm that was introduced in the lecture.


Most programming subjects have a generalised assessment schedule. Of course this will vary, but as a general rule you can expect something along the lines of this:

  1. Assignment 1
  2. Midterm exam
  3. Assignment 2
  4. Final exam

Assignments will most likely be projects based on real-world applications. This means you’ll be given a task and you’ll have to create an application based on that context — you could perhaps create a database for a movie review website, design an email software or create your own blog, which you can also use as a log book (which will be an assignment itself). 

Exams will be separated by a practical and theoretical component. The theoretical component will account for around 40% of the exam — the questions will be purely based on the lecture content. The remaining 60% is reserved for a practical component, which might have you write a code or algorithm. 

What skills will you develop?

Software Engineering UNSW - Skills

It goes without saying that a Bachelor of Software Engineering will develop some intense technical skills. After spending years of going through projects from beginning to end, you’ll know everything there is to know about the successful deployment and upkeep of a functional software system.

From reading and writing C, Java and Python, to understanding a range of development methodologies like Waterfall, you’ll be a master programmer.

You’ll also go on to develop some other soft skills that are super relevant for the workplace, such as effective collaboration and project management. More importantly you’ll learn how to think like a programmer — you’ll know how to make almost anything as efficient as it possibly can be, and no, we don’t only mean software.

What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

Software Engineering UNSW - Student Quote

The Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) faculty is filled with a lot of genuinely awesome people — you’ll find that everyone is really passionate about what they do. There’s also a lot of creative people that are super fun to pick brains with. 

The culture of the cohort is anything but competitive. Everyone wants to help each other out and are always willing to share notes on group chats, as well as work together through any algorithm problem you’re struggling with.


The CSEsociety (CSEsoc) is super active, even more so than the faculty itself.

They organise mentorship programs for both new and old students. The newer students are paired with older students for academic guidance, while the older students are paired with professionals that will do mock interviews, help find internships and help jazz up resumes.

The Society also holds plenty of networking and social events. These events are a great way to meet new people, but also to gain some valuable contacts in the industry.

For more info and updates, head over to their Facebook! 

Women in Engineering 

The first thing you’ll probably notice when you step foot in your first lecture theatre is that the classes are, for the most part, male-saturated. Though this is starting to change — UNSW Engineering has a Support Network for women called Women in Engineering (WIE). 

WIE holds a range of events for Women in the faculty. They also provide support both academically and socially. They even provide a mentoring service that is specifically catered to women who are looking to work in the industry. 

For even more information, make sure to check out the website! 

Cody Williams is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education. While Cody studied a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and French Studies at UNSW, he quickly realised that his dream job would have him sit happily behind a keyboard. Cody’s digital writing career started with an internship at Bauer Media where he was writing for ELLE and Harper’s BAZAAR’s online publications. Once he had a taste for writing he never looked back, moving to Brisbane soon later to work as a Producer for Channel Nine Queensland. After a year in television media, he dusted off his online writing shoes so he could put them to good use, stamping out some scorching-hot career and educational resources at AOS.


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