How to choose your uni preferences

Posted August 8, 2013, by Julia Watters

With August already upon us, it’s a crucial time for final year students – it’s time for you to choose your university course preferences.

Applying for university can be a daunting task. Each state has its own admissions facilitator and, as a result, the process of choosing your preferences can vary. I went to high school in Tasmania but was keen to study at a mainland university, so had the arduous task of applying through different state platforms.

Keeping my options open, I also applied in Tasmania and that process was pretty simple. There is only one university, the University of Tasmania, so all I needed to do was apply directly to the university.

Other states are a little more saturated when it comes to tertiary competition, so applications are funnelled through online admissions centres. You can nominate anywhere from six to 12 course preferences, depending on what state you’re applying to.

Being a child of the dial-up Internet generation, it was tough trawling the net for information when I was going through the process, so I went to the newsagency and grabbed every admissions centre guide I could get my hands on. Armed with application codes for each course, I set about putting down my preferences for each state.

As I ended up studying in NSW at Charles Sturt University, I’ll use the University Admissions Centre (UAC, the admissions centre for NSW and the ACT) as an example. To apply you will need a UAC number and a PIN which, if you are a year 12 student in NSW, will be provided by your careers advisor.*

UAC offers applicants nine course preferences which can be altered as many times as you want before the preference close date in early January. Some students take full advantage of this flexibility – I’ve heard UAC representatives speak of students who changed their preferences over 500 times before the cut-off date!

So what is the best way to choose your preferences? Here are some of my recommendations on how to best utilise the preference process.

Get your preferences in on time

Even if you haven’t finalised your preferences yet, just put something down when applications open. It will stop you having to pay additional late fees later, and you’ll have until January to add or change your preferences.

Make full use of your preferences

Even if you know the exact course you want to study, you should still nominate a list of preferences. As focused as you may be on a particular course, it’s important to have a back-up plan in case you don’t get your top preference. You can do this by choosing similar degrees with a lower ATAR cut-off and placing them further down your list.

It’s called your first preference for a reason

Always put your first preference as the degree you REALLY want to study. Don’t move your dream course down the list because you don’t think you’ll make the cut. If you don’t get the ATAR to get into your first preference, the system will just move to your second preference and see if you’re eligible, and make its way down the list. But it’s always worth going for your first preference.

Regardless of whether you’re a school leaver or a mature age student, most university applications need to go through an online admissions centre. This also includes people looking at applying for mid-year enrolments.

Online study is a great option, especially with university courses offered through providers like Open Universities Australia (OUA). OUA offers uni courses through partnerships with leading Australian universities, but with minimal prerequisites – so it’s an option worth exploring.

You can find out more information about deadlines and application processes on each of the admissions websites. 

NSW/ACT – University Admissions Centre (UAC)
QLD – Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC)
SA/NT – South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC)
TAS – The University of Tasmania
VIC – Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC)
WA – Tertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC)


*Correction: UAC PINS are not provided by careers advisors and are sent directly to students by UAC. 

Julia Watters

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