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Studying in Australia as an undergraduate: Things to know

To apply successfully to universities in Australia, international students need to think about the specifics of the Australian system, with its different academic years, the costs of living and studying there, and admissions criteria that are tightly focused on academic performance.

Richard Lord
March 25, 2022
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5 min

Australia offers international students a diverse range of study options, with hundreds of universities and colleges offering a variety of courses for undergraduate study. Add to it a a high quality of education protected by strict regulations, a multi-cultural student community, and the availability of post-study work opportunities, and it becomes clear why this is an increasingly popular destination for students wishing to study abroad.

Why Australia is an attractive study destination

When students draw up lists of countries where they'd like to study, Australia is often near the top of the list. It's the third most popular destination globally for international students. The biggest reason for that is the strength of the country's education sector, with seven of its universities in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings and five in the top 50. But Australia itself is also an appealing destination for many students, thanks to a range of factors, including its vibrant cultural scene, natural beauty, and laidback outdoor lifestyle.

Bachelor's degrees in Australia generally last for three years, while master's degrees take two years. Not all international students are eligible for direct entry into a bachelor's degree, though: it depends on which curriculum they've studied. But all is not lost for those who aren't eligible: they can take a foundation program lasting up to a year, offered via pathway colleges often within the universities themselves.

Students should remember that academic years are different from most other countries, beginning at the start of the calendar year, with just two semesters per year; the most significant break comes during the Australian summer, between November and February. There are, however, intakes in both winter and summer, with students able to begin courses in July too – designed mainly to accommodate international applicants – but the big one is in February, and some classes are only available to students who join then.

Students can change their course once they've started, but bear in mind that they might not get credit for classes they've already taken, effectively forcing them to begin their degrees from scratch again.

The cost of studying in Australia

While costs aren't as high as those in the US, living and studying in Australia would require a  relatively larger budget by international standards. Tuition fees can vary between about $20,000 to $45,000 a year, while average living costs stand at about $20,000 a year but can vary wildly by lifestyle and location. Accommodation, as ever, is likely to be the most considerable non-academic cost, with costs in cities like Sydney and Melbourne being the highest. In addition to all the regular living and studying expenses, all overseas students also need to take out mandatory health insurance cover.

Fortunately, there's an excellent chance to offset some of those costs, with student visas allowing them to work part-time while studying for up to 20 hours a week and no limit on working hours during vacations. Moreover, students that have been at university in Australia for at least two years are also allowed to stay in the country and work for two years after graduating with their bachelor's degree. For part-time student work and longer-term careers, employment prospects are good in the country, which has a buoyant economy.

Australian universities grant admission solely on the basis of academics

Applying to universities in Australia

While domestic students, including Australian passport holders living overseas, apply to universities through centralized systems, international students need to apply directly. That doesn't apply to students who need to take a foundation course; they can subsequently apply like a domestic student. International students can apply to many Australian universities directly from the Cialfo platform.

When it comes to admissions criteria, the focus among all Australian universities is squarely on academic performance. No entry essays, recommendation letters, or personal statements are required, and extracurricular activities don't carry weight. There are also subject prerequisites for those applying to study specific courses, particularly some sciences.

The websites of the various Australian state admissions systems feature calculators that allow those studying under curricula such as A-level and International Baccalaureate to convert their scores to the Australian system. Using these, students can better understand where they stand academically and what that means for their application prospects. The conversion changes slightly with each intake, but the calculators are updated accordingly.

Even if their results only come out shortly before the scheduled date of their chosen intake, most Australian universities encourage students to apply in advance, with conditional offers given to those who make the grade.

Additional requirements to study in Australia as an international student

In addition to academic requirements, students will also require sufficient mastery of English. That can sometimes be a formality: students with sufficiently good English grades within the IB system, for example, are generally exempt from additional language tests. For certain subjects, though, a test like IELTS might be required.

While interviews aren't standard, they are often part of the admissions process for certain subjects, such as medicine. For others, for instance, those in creative fields such as fine arts and film studies, students might also be required to submit a portfolio.

Australian universities also offer scholarships aimed at international students, judged based on academic performance, although 100 percent scholarships are rare, even for tuition fees alone. Those scholarships are often awarded automatically, rather than requiring students to apply for them separately.

Cialfo, with its wide range of Australian universities, is an ideal platform for students looking to study in Australia. The Direct Apply feature helps students find and apply to Australian universities directly from Cialfo, speeding up an otherwise laborious process. They also benefit from access to Cialfo's Student Education Advisors, who can guide them through the entire process. Direct Apply also opens up access to exclusive scholarships, visa service fee waivers, etc. To learn more about how students can use Direct Apply to apply to Australian universities, contact us on directapply@cialfo.com.sg.

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