How to find the right university for you

08 Feb 2023


Whether you’re graduating soon or just making plans, it’s important to find a university that fits you and your goals.

Australia is blessed with some of the best tertiary education providers in the world, but how should you decide which university is right for you?

Each year, tens of thousands of high school students graduate. Working hard with classroom teachers, private tutors and on their own, it’s an achievement just to make it through (so congratulations if you’re graduating!)

The big choice, though, is where to go next. If you’re thinking about university now or in the next couple of years, it can be tough just figuring out what you want to study, let alone where to go. If you’re in this boat, that’s okay. Let’s have a look at some important things to consider when deciding on a university.

Start by making a list of the courses that you’d ideally like to study, regardless of the ATAR requirement.”
Nav Phokela


The first thing to consider, of course, is what you want to study. Some institutions have specialties – like Monash University’s Pharmacy-focused campus – and this can heavily influence your decision if it aligns with your study preferences. On the other hand, generalist degrees like a Bachelor of Science can be studied at nearly any university around the country. In these cases, you might like to consider if there’s a particular major stream that you’d like to study. If it’s not common, you might find that you have to choose a particular university to study it.

Tip: You’ll know better than anyone what you want to study and it’s the first step to figuring out where you want to go. Start by making a list of the courses that you’d ideally like to study, regardless of the ATAR requirement. It’s important just to find some clear direction first, so take note of your ideal courses and use that as a base.


A university’s physical location can be an important consideration. If you’ve listed your dream degrees, you might find they’re not all offered at your local uni. Particularly when things start getting a little niche (like, say, taking the lessons of your chemistry tutor and heading for a Graduate Certificate in Brewing at Federation University), you’ll find your options start narrowing. This can make deciding on a university much easier, but if you’re intending to start with a generic course you’ll have to make a choice.

Tip: The location of your first-choice university will completely depend on your own preferences, but ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Are you okay moving out of home?
  • Would you move interstate?
  • Is commuting an option? If so, how?


Rankings can be a good indicator of a few things: the quality of the education you’ll receive, the specialisation of the institution (whether they’re physics-focused, for instance) and how your degree will be perceived after you graduate by employers or other institutions. It’s complex, but is it important?

The government’s Study Australia page points to three key rankings: Shanghai Ranking, QS World Ranking, and the Times Higher Education Ranking. Each has its own set of criteria: it might be academic results, staff quality, class size, employment trends or academic citations. In the end, they add up the results and rank the institutions.

Tip: Rankings can tell you a lot, but they’re not everything. When you’re thinking about where to study, university ranking shouldn’t be your first priority. The overall standard of higher education in Australia is exceptional, so consider rankings if you’re in an elite ATAR bracket or have very particular goals – otherwise, consider it a little lower than the first two points we made here.


Link this with the point about location. If you’re moving away from home to study (and if you’re not in a major city, there’s a good chance you’ll have to), consider where you’ll live. If you’ve received a scholarship (check out our scholarships guide for more on that) then you might find a housing bursary or fully-funded accommodation included. For everyone else, the financial side will be important.

Your options for accommodation will likely be one of the following:

  • On-campus: This can be halls of residence and residential colleges, ranging from simple rooms and facilities to grand, all-inclusive lifestyles. Colleges at the University of Melbourne or University of Sydney are expensive and not for everyone, but you’ll get a room, meals and access to plenty of extracurricular fun.
  • Off-campus: A room in a sharehouse or university-focused apartments like UniLodge offer some alternatives to on-campus living. Sharing with other students can be great value and a fun experience.

Tip: Consider your budget as the first point. Sure, colleges are great, but is it feasible to pay $20,000 per year? Will you have to work to fund your stay? If so, what’s reasonable? The next point is location. A sharehouse will likely be cheaper if it’s further from the university, but if you’re spending an hour commuting each way, it might not be all that convenient.

Extra tip: Psst…education tutors are often current students, recent graduates or university professors. Talk to them about their experiences living away from home, because their insight can be invaluable.


If you’re really struggling to split a couple of your ideal picks, consider what else the institution offers beyond your course. If you’re a sports star, is there a team to join? Does the university have a choir or theatrical department? Is there a gym or swimming pool on campus for students to use? There’s often a wide range of specialist clubs and activities to join too – many of which will be actively vying for your attention on open day.

Tip: Study isn’t everything. Particularly if you’re planning on moving away from your friends and family, it can be good to have hobbies, social activities and exercise to keep you grounded. Don’t prioritise extracurriculars over the other points here, but they can be a great way of narrowing down your choices.