University guide for parents

A brief parent’s guide to helping your child choose the right university and course

Deciding to go to university and choosing which university and course to take are big decisions for students and their families.

University undoubtedly offers many advantages. Graduates enjoy better employment prospects and are likely to earn more throughout their lifetime. But studying at university is a big investment of time and money and there are big variations across different institutions and courses, so to make an informed decision, it’s important to decide priorities and do plenty of research.

Luckily there is no shortage of advice out there and we have listed some of the main places to start looking below.

But perhaps the best thing parents can do when helping young people make their decision is to start by asking a couple of basic questions:

  • What would you be interested in studying at university? What do you enjoy? What are the career prospects? Do you want to do something broad to begin with then specialise later or do you want to focus on a particular field or profession?
  • Are you going to live at home while you study, or do you want or need to live away from home?

These two questions will help narrow down your research, but the best advice any parent or carer who has gone through the process is to then find out as much information as you can on prospective universities and courses and discuss the pros and cons with your young person.

Your school careers counsellor is a great source of advice about all options and can help with applications, help you look for universities that may give early offers, which take away a lot of the pressure on young people, and finding support.

Encourage your young person to attend as many student expos and university open days as possible, as these can give students a real insight into the course and what it would be like to study at each university.  Importantly it gives them a chance to picture themselves there and decide whether the course and/or university are right for them. They also get to find out about all sorts of other interesting opportunities, course options and extra-curricula activities that can give them an insight into university life.

Universities publish ATARs (Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranks) for entry into courses. These are the cut-off score for students getting a place in the main round of offers for that course the year before. While these are a guide to how competitive it is to get into individual courses, they can be deceptive. Many students get into the course with lower ATARs, for example in second round offers, with bonus points or with special considerations. It is worth looking at these, especially if your child’s ATAR is close to the cut-off.

It is also possible to swap into your desired course once you are at the university of your choice, or if you want to do a joint degree, starting a single course degree and then looking at adding the second course later. Cut-off ATARS vary greatly between universities, so if you are set on a particular subject, consider applying to at least one university with a lower cut-off, just in case things don’t go according to plan.

These are all options worth exploring. There is more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.

Universities have a lot of help available for students, both in choosing suitable courses, and once students are enrolled. There’s financial support available, for students experiencing hardship. Look for information on access schemes, equity scholarships and help for students from regional and remote areas. There are also academic scholarships for high achievers. These vary across the country and from university to university, but you can find out more from your state or territory tertiary education body (listed below) or from the universities themselves.

Below are the state and territory bodies responsible for most university admissions (some universities, especially private universities, only accept direct applications). They each have detailed information about the universities they cover, how to apply and student support available.

  • ACT/NSW: Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) (
  • NT: To apply for undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Charles Darwin University, you must apply through South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC) (
  • QLD: Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) (
  • SA: South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC) (
  • TAS: University of Tasmania (
  • VIC: Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) (
  • WA: Tertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC) (

The following links are to articles offering useful advice:

Job outlook - Your guide to Australian careers.  Job Outlook can help you make decisions about study and training, your first job, or the next step in your career.

How to choose the right university for you

While it can be difficult to choose between universities, you will find that there are some key differences between them that can help you make the big decision. The most important thing is to determine what sort of character and focus the university has and ensure that it aligns with your own personality, interests and goals. Every university has its own persona, and here we give you some tips to ensure that you choose one that is the best fit for you.

How to Choose a University: 6 Tips

Five things to think about when choosing a university course

Don’t stress, your ATAR isn’t the final call. There are many ways to get into university