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University or TAFE? A Definitive Guide to Everything You Need to Consider

Posted:
04 May 2022   |   by Explore Careers
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It’s a pretty sweet time to be finishing high school! With so many options available around what you could do and where you could study next, you have a lot of control over your future.

And while that’s exciting, it can also be daunting. Having options is great, but it can also lead to some decision fatigue.

Knowledge is power – as they say – so with today’s blog, we wanted to break down what to consider about two of the heavyweights of post-school options; university or TAFE.

Should You Pick University or TAFE?

The short answer? It entirely depends on you and what you want.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but making this decision can be tricky. You’ll have to think about what you want, but we know you’ll also be feeling the pressure of what your family and teachers think you should do and what your friends are doing.

Here’s a comparison of what you’ll be getting out of each of these options:

Skills Development

Both TAFE and university offer a variety of skills development, but the types of skills and how you learn them can be quite different:

TAFE: TAFE courses tend to focus on job-specific skills. These skills tend to be practical, and you’ll typically complete some form of work experience or placement as part of your course to help you hone them.

University: University courses tend to be more theoretical, which is great for developing skills in critical thinking and analysis of ideas. If you pursue some practical-focused degrees, like engineering or medicine, you’ll also learn skills that are directly applicable to your future career.

Employability

Many things impact employability (what you study is quite a big one!). Where you study, though, can help you manage your expectations and prepare appropriately around developing your employability:

TAFE: As TAFE courses are geared around a specific job role and industry, they tend to have direct links to available job roles upon completion. TAFEs also tend to work directly with local employers, bringing in guest lecturers and helping students connect with potential employers once they finish studying.

University: Some careers require a degree to get started – again, thinking about engineering and medicine here, law, teaching and many others. But that doesn’t always mean direct employability – it depends on what you study and the extra stuff you do around it to boost your employment potential. Not all degrees require participation in work placements, which can also make a big difference.

Course Structure

Course structure includes two components; how the course is delivered and the actual content of the course.

TAFE: The course structures offered through TAFE typically do not differ across TAFEs. They follow a nationally endorsed, industry-developed training package that sets out students’ required competencies in each qualification level. The content and structure of each course are consistent, no matter which TAFE you study at.

University: While the overall structure of how a degree is delivered – with a certain number of units being required per year of study – is consistent, the way universities choose to deliver units and the content within them can change from uni to uni. You also get certain choices over which units you want to take within your program to fulfil your degree requirements.

Accessibility

One of the main concerns young people have when making these options is whether they meet the academic requirements. Because the level that you study at is different, the requirements between TAFE and university are quite different, and this does impact how accessible they are for different students.

TAFE: TAFE courses are generally more accessible, as you’ll study at a lower level than a university degree (but that doesn’t mean they’re not as valuable). Some certificate level courses don’t require you to have completed year 12, but you will often have to take some form of entry test (usually to check you have the right level of English and math understanding) and perhaps an interview to understand your motivation for doing the course. These shouldn’t be seen as barriers but rather a great way to ensure the course is a good match, and you’ll be able to commit to it successfully.

University: Every university requires different ATAR scores to gain acceptance onto various degree programs. Some degree programs require higher scores than others. How accessible they depend on factors that influence the ATAR scores universities decide to set, including the popularity of courses, demand for places, the quality of teaching and student satisfaction ratings. More prestigious universities will typically set higher ATAR scores – making them less accessible to certain students. Many universities offer bridging courses that can help you access the full degree program if you don’t initially meet the set requirements.

Length of Study

As you’ve probably guessed, the different course structures and level of study also impacts how long the courses take to complete:

TAFE: Qualifications vary depending on the level and depth of study, meaning how long it takes to complete them. Entry-level certificate courses can be completed in three to six months, while higher-level diplomas and foundation degrees can take up to two years of study. Many TAFEs offer flexibility in studying, with online and in-person courses, full and part-time study.

University: Undergraduate degree programs last three to four years of full-time study – depending on whether you also undertake a final honours year or whether it’s built into the overall degree program. As with TAFE, universities offer in-person and online study, and you can choose to study full or part-time, keeping in mind that studying part-time will mean it takes longer to complete your course. Universities offer greater flexibility over completing a full degree, allowing you to take longer breaks if you need and return to study when you’re ready.

Cost

While cost shouldn’t be a barrier to your continued learning, it’s definitely something to think about. Most people know about the costs involved with university tuition, but what about TAFE?

TAFE: The cost of TAFE courses can vary considerably, depending on what you study and at what level. Certificates can start from a few hundred dollars, and go up to few thousand for diploma level courses. Many TAFE courses require you to pay your fees upfront or on a payment plan. There often isn’t support available in the same way as a university – except for some FEE-HELP for diploma and advanced diploma courses.

University: University degrees are costly – anywhere between $15-$33,000 a year. There are some bursaries and scholarships available and Commonwealth Supported places. The benefit of university is you can apply for a HELP Debt (formerly HECs). This is a zero-interest loan that you will not have to pay off until you earn over a certain salary. Ut it’s still a big commitment and needs to be thought out.

Both options involve significant other costs, so make sure to weigh up everything when considering this factor in your decision!

Next Steps

We hope this has helped clarify a few things and answered a few questions you might have!

The most important thing we want to leave you with when making this decision (and we’ve said it before, but it always needs repeating!); there is NO wrong or right decision – only what works best for you!

You might do a TAFE course and decide down the line you want to take things further with a university degree.

You might start a university degree and then decide it’s not for you, getting more hands-on with TAFE courses instead.

You CAN change direction if you need to and keep going after your career goals as you become more aware of them!

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