Choosing a university is a big decision.
It’s at least 3 to 5 years of your life. You’re going to be spending A LOT of time on campus and you’ll also be spending A LOT of money.
So, research should be your number one tool to helping you make sure you’re making the right decision for yourself!
Let’s dive into how to make the right decision for uni!
Step 1: Factor in the ‘Opportunity Cost’
This is an economic term (which should be familiar to eco geeks!). It basically means you’ve got to also consider the cost of what you’re giving up.
In this case, it’s working full time and earning a salary.
My law degree took 5 years to complete and cost me $250,000
You’re probably thinking, “WTF… University doesn’t cost $250,000!”
Let me explain:
- A law degree costs about $10,596 per year in Australia.
- Multiply that by 5 years and you’ve got a cost of $52,980.
When you think about the cost of university however you’ve got to consider more than just the dollar cost on course fees.
If I was working full time (instead of being at university), taking a basic retail job, you could earn at LEAST $40,000 a year. Multiply this by 5 years and you’ve got $200,000! Add the two costs together and it equals $252,980. The actual cost of going to university.
So, if you’re going to university and spending up to 5 years and $252,980 you want to make sure you’re making the right decision!
If you were going to buy a car or a house (both significant purchases) what would you do?
I bet you would do a tonne of research! I bet you would go and test drive the car, and inspect the house. I bet you’d have A LOT of questions that would be asking the car salesman and the real estate agent.
The official name for this is DUE DILIGENCE.
Choosing your university course should be no different!
You should do your due diligence on your university as well. You should road test the university, inspect it, and ask every question you can think of!
To help you make an informed decision about which university to attend, we’ve put together a list of questions you should be ASKING the university so you can get the information you need!
Download the list of questions, print it out and take it with you when you go to university open days!
Step 2: Consider University Overall Rankings
What’s the global rank for this university?
Why is this question important?
If you want to work overseas, the global ranking and reputation of the university may matter.
So you also need to consider:
- Do I want to work overseas?
- Does the global rank of the university matter?
Step 3: Research Academics and Lecturers
Ask current students of the course:
- Who is your favourite lecturer? Why are they your favourite?
- Who is your least favourite lecturer? Why?
- What’s the structure of learning for this course? Lectures, tutorials, labs etc?
- How big are lectures? How big are tutorials?
- Do you attend lectures in person?
Why ask these questions?
You want to find out what the range of lecturers are like for your course. Asking someone to simply ‘rate’ the quality of lecturers isn’t often very helpful.
Asking favourite vs least favourite however gives you more colour as to what lecturers are like + also lets you know how the person you are speaking to evaluates quality.
If their favourite lecturer sounds pretty underwhelming to you then you know the quality is probably pretty poor overall.
Finding out the size of lectures and tutorials are important as it will impact on your student experience. Do you want more hands on personalised support? Or are you OK with being one of a larger cohort?
Finally, asking if students attend lectures in person is often a very good reading on whether they actually find the lecturers valuable and effective.
If people are skipping physical attendance all the time to ‘watch them online later’ it says a lot about the perception of the value of the lectures.
Yes, you want flexibility to watch the lecturers online (as you can be more flexible in your schedule), BUT do you really want lecturers where no-one attends and just cram watches them the week before the exams?
Additionally, you want to go beyond this and find out:
- How does the faculty you will be studying with rank globally?
- Are they trending up or down?
This will give you in addition to your questions to students an indication of the academic quality of the faculty and whether they are doing interesting work and publishing good research.
Step 4: Know Your Employment Prospects
The reality is that university degrees are becoming commodities. Universities don’t want you to know this. But it’s true.
Since the Australian government removed the caps on the number of students a university could take, universities now can take on as many students as they want.
That’s why 1 in 2 universities offered students courses below the ATAR cut-off in 2016 – what mattered to the university was having more students.
Additionally, university graduate employment rates are falling. Close to 1 in 3 university graduates cannot find full time work, and it’s taking 4.7 years for a university graduate to find full time work.
To boot, studies by major companies have revealed that there is no correlation between having a university degree and job performance.
This means companies are increasingly not looking at which university you come from, and what degree you’ve done. Instead they are more interested in the work experience, projects and portfolios you’ve built.
I’m not saying don’t go to university. It’s just that you’re ability to get a job increasingly isn’t going to be based on having a degree.
It’s going to about what else you’ve done while getting your degree. The degree is just the minimum threshold.
So, what you want to be looking for is the opportunities the university can provide you to get and find WORK EXPERIENCE WHILE YOU ARE STUDYING.
So here are some questions to ask:
- What is the graduate employment rate of my subject discipline across all universities?
- What is this university’s graduate employment rate?
- Does the university help me get work experience while studying? For how long? With which companies?
- Does the university have a career and leadership program you can attend?
- Does the university have a start up accelerator to support you developing projects and businesses?
- What is the quality and reputation of this accelerator?
- What success stories do they have?
Ask students at the university:
- Has the university help you find work experience while studying?
- How have they helped?
- What support did they provide?
- What was your experience like doing working experience?
- What sort of work were you doing?
Step 5: Research Accessibility
I speak to students all the time who live practically right next to a university. And yet, they are considering travelling over 3 hours each day to go to another university…
Why? Because the other university seems to be more ‘prestigious’.
If you’re at university 3 days per week (at least) that’s almost 10 hours just in travel time. So you need to weigh the benefit of the ‘prestige’ with 10 hours additional you could have in your life to do things that will be more meaningful to your future. For example, working or building a project!
So, ask yourself:
- How long does it take me to get the university?
- How much does it cost on travel to get to university?
It’s important to not just evaluate this travel time when you go to the open day only.
Well, you’re likely going on a weekend – it’s not a normal university day, so the transport (and congestion) will be different.
You’re also likely going with friends so you’ll be chatting the whole way and not realise really how long it takes.
So, I would recommend going mid-week by yourself and aim to get there for a 9am class start.
Time yourself and ask:
- How long does it take?
- How does it feel?
- Can you imagine doing that for 3-5 years?
Step 6: Look at Administration and Support Services
This refers to how organised the university is. Might seem like a moot point, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to organising your timetable for studies and your life.
If you’re constantly waiting until the last minute for your timetable, you can’t schedule in other work and projects.
If it’s super hard to organise your timetable and move things around, you’re not going to have great flexibility.
So ask students:
- When do you get your university timetables?
- How easy is it to change your timetable?
- What’s the administration like at the university?
- How does the university deal with misadventure or illness?
- What kind of support services are available for mental and physical health, disability, and gender & sexuality?
Step 7: Research Facilities and Technology
To be honest, these days most universities in Australia have some pretty incredible facilities. So you might be splitting hairs.
But there are somethings you should evaluate. The environment will play a huge role on your experience and well-being and you should go with your gut here.
Universities on open days will ALWAYS run the events in the newest, shiniest part of the university to WOW you. You may not be studying here!
I remember when I went to Sydney University, I felt amazing out in the quad in the grass.
I then only discovered when I was studying at the university, that most of my classes where in dingy, very old rooms underground without much natural light…
Similarly, if you’re studying Medicine or at the Conservatorium, you won’t be on the main campus of Sydney Uni at Camperdown!
So, questions to ask:
- Where are classes ACTUALLY held for your course? Go and visit these buildings.
- How do you feel at the university and in these classes?
- Do you actually like being in this environment?
- Does it make you feel comfortable and inspired?
- What’s the online learning experience like?
- Can you access lecturers and information online?
Step 8: Consider Exchange
If you ask some of the world’s top thinkers right now, “If you were 18, what would you be studying?”
Their response is:
“Learn a linguistic and technical language.”
The idea of learning another language isn’t that you’ll need to speak it for work. It’s that you will work in teams with people in Japan, Germany and the UK simultaneously.
And while English will be the language of communication, you’ll need to understand your colleagues.
The best way to achieve this is to learn another language as it forces you to think and understand that culture more deeply. This develops your multi-cultural thinking.
Going on exchange therefore is also an important part of this process.
So, if you’re thinking about going on exchange while at university (if you’re not, you really should!), then you want to consider a few questions.
- Does this degree at this university provide me with options and flexibility to go on exchange?
- Does the university give financial support for studying abroad?
- What sister universities does this university have globally?
- What options do I have in terms of countries and universities where I can go on exchange?
- What is the university like in facilitating and organising exchange? Do they provide lots of support?
Step 9: Research Accommodation
Thinking about moving out of home? Want to live on campus?
Different universities have different on campus accommodation experiences (as much of the negative press about St Paul’s College has revealed for Sydney University…).
There’s also cost factors at play as well.
Some good questions to consider:
- Do I want to move out of home and live on campus/near campus?
- Why do you want to live on/near campus? What’s your reasoning for this?
- How important is moving out/living near or on campus to me?
- What suburb and surrounding do I want to be in? Are the suburbs around the university campus the sort of environment I want to be in?
Questions to ask students:
- What’s the best place to live on campus? Why?
- What’s the best place to live near the campus? Why?
- Do you recommend living on campus, near campus, or staying at home?
Step 10: Familiarise Yourself with the Social/Night Life
In the case of the larger universities, it’s highly likely due to their diversity there will be something on this front to suit everyone’s tastes
If you think about your school experience, generally it’s the friends you’ve made that MAKE the experience. Same for university.
So you want to consider the following questions:
- Which university are all my friends going to?
- Is this important to me?
Questions to ask students at the university:
- What’s the best societies to join? Why?
- What’s been the best social event you’ve attended at university? Why?
- Does this course have a close cohort of students?
- Do you hang out with people from your cohort?
Here’s the complete list of questions you can use to evaluate a university + take to the open day.
Missed the university open days? Print it out, and get on the phone and speak to people at the university!
That wraps up our guide to choosing the right university, good luck!
Wondering how to make the right decision when choosing which university you’d like to attend?
Check out this video with our CEO Rowan Kunz, where he outlines the 3 biggest mistakes students make when choosing a university!
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Rowan Kunz is the founder of Art of Smart Education, an award-winning provider of 1 on 1 tutoring and mentoring. Rowan has spent the last 8 years conducting research with thousands of Australia’s top students who scored ATAR’s of over 98 and is the author of Secrets of HSC Success Revealed. Rowan has 10 years experience in tutoring and delivers workshops across Australia on excelling academically at school. Rowan’s videos on YouTube have been watched more than 1,000,000+ times.