Your child's tertiary study options

Students studying outsideIf your child is coming to end of their time at secondary school, you may be wondering about their tertiary study options. To help get the conversation started, here we answer some of the initial questions you may have about your child’s options.

Is tertiary study for everyone?

The reality is that not all students leave Year 12 with aspirations to enter further study, and what’s more is that not all occupations require a post-school qualification. To search for information about potential career paths and the qualifications they require, visit the Australian Government’s Job Guide website. The path your child takes beyond school will largely depend on the type of work that interests them, as well as their willingness to further their education. Your child may also prefer to have a break before they enter further study, perhaps to travel or spend some in the workforce. It is not uncommon to delay further study until later in life, and there are many opportunities for non-school leavers to enter tertiary study.

What is higher education?

Higher education refers to the study of degrees, which are taught by universities, private colleges and some TAFE institutes. Undergraduate qualifications include bachelor degrees, while postgraduate qualifications include graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, masters degrees and doctoral degrees.Bachelor degrees are the entry-level qualifications available to Year 12 school leavers and are usually studied over three or four years full time. They are available in a wide range of fields, from traditionally academic fields such as humanities and sciences to more vocationally oriented areas such as journalism and fashion design. Entry into some professions requires study at bachelor degree level or above (including architecture, dentistry, law, medicine and veterinary science), and some of these courses are only offered at universities. There are also some fields, such as accounting and engineering, where a bachelor degree is the minimum requirement for employment in professional roles (lower-level qualifications in these fields lead to paraprofessional or supporting roles).

What is Vocational Education and Training (VET)?

The VET sector offers certificates I to IV, diplomas and advanced diplomas, which represent a lower level of study than degrees from the higher education sector. VET qualifications allow students to develop specific occupational competencies required for employment in semi-skilled, skilled and paraprofessional roles (such as a waiter, engineering associate or florist). A key difference between higher education and VET is the style of teaching. Although there are certainly exceptions to this rule, you can expect that higher education programs will provide a more academic course of study than those in the VET sector (which tend to be more hands-on). VET study is available at TAFE institutes, private education providers and universities that run a TAFE division. The duration of study varies according to the qualification level, ranging from six months to two years of full-time study. Your child may also be able to undertake VET units in Years 11 and 12 through the VET in Schools program. They may also be able to articulate from a VET qualification into a higher education degree.

What are apprenticeships and traineeships?

Apprenticeships and traineeships provide a combination of on-the-job training through an employer and structured off-the-job training through a Registered Training Provider (RTO), leading to a nationally recognised VET qualification. They are available in more than 500 occupations, covering areas such as building and construction, food and hospitality, hairdressing, local government, property services and retail. Apprentices are trained in a skilled trade and become a qualified tradesperson in their area (such as an electrician, a plumber or a hairdresser). Trainees, on the other hand, are trained in a vocational area such as hospitality, retail or office administration. Due to the nature of on-the-job training, apprentices and trainees begin earning money and working in their field from their first day of training.

What if my child isn’t ready for tertiary study?

Even after years of formal education, your child may not feel prepared to enter tertiary study. If this is the case, one option is to complete a foundation course before pursuing further study. These courses are designed to provide students with the skills they need to succeed in tertiary study — typically offering training in areas such as oral presentations, essay writing and academic referencing. Some institutions may offer streamed foundation courses, which allow your child to enter a program that is tailored to their chosen field of study, focusing on an area such as arts, business, health or science. Some of these courses may even lead into the second year of a bachelor degree.Your child can also ease into tertiary study by sampling a single subject before enrolling in a full degree or entering a lower-level qualification before progressing into further study (studying in the VET sector before beginning a bachelor degree, for example).

Further information
For more information, see At school and beyond. Parents and students seeking more comprehensive information about tertiary study should visit the Good Universities Guide website. The Good Universities Guide website allows you and your child to search for courses, institutions and scholarships; compare the performance of Australian universities using independent ratings; and read helpful information to prepare for tertiary study.

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