This post is part ii of my (very lengthy) series on Moving to Australia. Use that link to read the overview post or use this link to see all of the posts in this series.

The eagerly awaited and ill-placed part ii on uni life! The first task for prospective students, before even the visa application process in part i, is choosing a university, applying, and accepting a spot to study.

I do want to quickly mention, though, that there are options for study: a bachelor, an honours, a Masters (coursework or research), and a PhD. Most of those are self-explanatory, but the honours degree may be unfamiliar to Americans! It’s a 1 year research project tacked onto a bachelor or completed any time after. It’s like a baby Masters by Research. You design and complete a study of some sort, write a thesis, you may even publish something. It’s a great option for study in Australia without having to commit to 3 years!

Firstly: Apply to schools.

I researched quite quickly and applied to 5 universities, then backpacked Australia in 2012 to visit in person and was actually toured around campuses by the various (very friendly) International Departments. Obviously this is not an option for everyone, and it really drained my pocketbook for the actual move, so you may have to settle for online research. You may want to peruse section iii about choosing a city if that factors into your decision!


Here is what I know about your options. There are just over 40 universities in Australia and all but maybe two are public institutions. The standard of education here is very high, so I wouldn’t worry about going somewhere crap. There are the obvious two standouts, Uni of Melbourne and Uni of Sydney, that receive a lot of hype internationally, but the trade-off is much higher tuition and large student numbers that often result in an impersonal education. If you are looking for a degree with
international recognition (and I don’t mean acceptance, they will all be acceptable degrees, I mean more like people literally just recognise the names of the schools), these are it. Maybe that is important to you? If not, read on.

Like choosing a university anywhere, just make a list of what matters to you. I want to use the University of Sydney and the University of Wollongong as examples to illustrate my point. Now, I may be biased, since I rejected an offer from USyd for Wollongong, but just hear me out.

U Syd (big city uni)

  • Located downtown Sydney
  • Great access to everything the biggest city in Aus has to offer
  • Public transport, but crappy
  • Beautiful old brick campus, very historical
  • Smaller campus life, so many bars and places to go that everyone is very spread out
  • Limited campus housing
  • Expensive city rent (like, really)…
  • More expensive tuition (ex. my course: $44.5k x3 yrs)
  • Good money thrown into scholarships
  • More prestige and more name recognition in the international community
  • Larger class sizes and less personal time with professors

UOW (regional uni)

  • Located 90 minutes out of the city (Sydney) via train
  • On the beach (!!) and actually the 9th largest Aus city (that’s how small this country is)
  • Free bus around town, cycle or walk anywhere
  • Campus full of grassy areas and more foliage than you can shake a stick at
  • Massive student community, very much a “uni town”, run into 50 people you know every time you leave the house
  • Heaps of campus housing
  • Cheaper rent, lots of share houses
  • Cheaper tuition (ex. my course: $29k x3yrs)
  • Good scholarships, automatically awarded when you apply with good marks
  • Even Australians aren’t familiar with Wollongong (“Sorry, did you say Wodonga?”) Slight exaggeration, but don’t expect foreign employers to know a small uni by name
  • Smaller classes, professors know your name and you see them in the supermarket

This is just a comparison between two unis I know reasonably well, but it illustrates the distinction between city schools and regional unis. Again, I am super biased, having studied 4 years and counting at UOW, but I chose it over other schools because of all those reasons.

To me, Wollongong is the Australian experience. I live on the beach, bike to uni, walk to the shops, take the train to Sydney if I need a city fix or if I have to fly somewhere. Most regional universities will have a really strong campus community and a lot of them are near the beach (Newcastle, another good option). I know my professors and it is the reason I was offered my current research position on full scholarship. At a bigger university, I may not have been able to build a close relationship with my lecturers and then where would I be!

That’s not to say I don’t have friends at other unis who are very happy, it is 100% personal and I’ve said all I have to say about it! Ok, I’ll say one more thing: I made all my friends and built my little support network by living on campus, running into people constantly at uni, and being walking distance from beach hangs with new pals. Moving without knowing a single person is hard, and consideration should be paid to how you’re going to meet new people. Good mates will make your experience.

With regard to course (ie. your degree)

That is also super personal, so I will just say that the standard Australian degree is 3 years, eliminating that pesky American “core” of random crap. It means you take only relevant classes, though in broad degrees like business there is a lot of opportunity for branching out here and there, like minoring in a
language. In Medical Science (my course), everything tied back to medicine and health (ie. Biostatistics was my only math subject, which taught us to analyse data in medical studies and prepared us for the proper presentation of research results).

In your application, you will specify course preferences. The app is so short and easy that it seems like a joke. Expect to include a passport scan, a transcript from your most recent study, your resume, and SAT scores (only if you’re applying for your first tertiary degree). That’s it—I’m serious. As an international student, you have an extended application deadline and rolling acceptance, so you will hear back within weeks of submission.

Secondly: Accept an offer to study

Once you have picked your school(s) and applied, you will start receiving (hopefully) offers of admission via email within a few weeks or a month at most. When you are happy with an offer, which will include any scholarships they are prepared to offer you, you accept by responding with the attached form. Easy.

Thirdly: Pay any fees to receive CoE

As part of accepting your offer, you may need to pay part of the first session tuition, which will be clearly explained on the offer. You will definitely need to pay for OSHC (overseas student health cover, as explained previously). It is a mandatory condition of your visa and it sucks to pay well over $1000 straight up, but it’s actually pretty good— you can visit most bulk-billing doctors 100% covered and the campus clinic at uni directly bills the insurance provider (BUPA) so you don’t even need to save receipts for reimbursement.

Fourthly: Get your visa, as covered in part i

Visit part i for information on applying for your Student Visa.

What uni is like in Australia

I mentioned most of these things above, but they bear repeating for those of you who skimmed:

  • Unis are almost all public, so tuition prices won’t be crazy and won’t vary as much as state vs. private colleges in the US.
  • Tuition is in AUD (obviously), which, at the moment, is selling at about .73USD (ie. Multiply your American money by 1.3x when you move over, it’s like money for free!) So it’s even cheaper.
  • Not everyone lives in campus housing, but I’d highly recommend it for your first year just to meet people. Unlike American college dorms, you don’t have to share a room, phew!
  • Most courses are 3 years long and have no core curriculum.
  • There are more options than just an undergrad degree; consider a 1yr honours degree! See above for more info.
  • A lot of Australians take a gap year or defer to travel, so expect to have many people beyond 18 in your first year classes. Diversity!
  • About 1/3 of the students at UOW are international, and many unis have similar stats.