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Universities spend a lot of money on advertising, like serious money. It wasn’t until I began working in the media industry that I really understood just how much money they were willing to spend to get someone in their doors.
I’ve never really been sold on some of their approaches though. I question how much influence an ambassador pitching you the universities values and motto could really help? I could slap a ‘Too Fast, Too Furious’ sticker on my car, but I’ll still be driving a 2009 Corolla hatchback, praying the oil light doesn’t come on.
I didn’t attend one university open day, I didn’t read one brochure, and I don’t actually even have a huge recollection of visiting the university website. Possibly more fool me, but here we are.
So how did I make the decision of which university to attend?
My preferences were based purely on the people I knew and what they had done before me. Who are you going to trust more? Someone you know and can relate to, like a family friend - or the bouncy 20 year old uni ambassador handing out university stickers in a t-shirt that says ‘we want you’ on it.
Not the latter.
When university offers came out I was choosing between two different universities.
One was a Commerce/Law degree at a smaller university and the other was a Business degree at a larger university. I never wanted to be a lawyer, but think I was drawn to how great it would sound to the family at Christmas.
When it came down to it I chose the straight Business degree because in the end, it seemed silly to study Law when I had absolutely no intention of practicing it.
This choice turned out to accidentally be the best choice I could have made for my future. But why?
Half way through my second year of university I was offered a full time role working at a digital marketing agency as an Account Executive. I accepted it. But only because I could do this and continue to study full time. I didn’t want to drag on finishing my degree.
The only reason I could do both was because I chose to attend a larger university and this gave me the flexibility to complete my classes in the evening after work. Had I chosen the smaller university, I wouldn’t have been given the same opportunity and would have had to make the choice of university or the job.
This simple but pivotal choice also had a huge roll on effect on my overall university experience.
When you attend evening classes, a few things are different.
First, I found that my tutors were usually people who had come from work that day and so they were not teaching you from a textbook, but from their own experiences and real world examples.
Second, it’s the students. The others in the class were usually in a similar position to me, working during the day and so elected to come to night classes. Everyone seemed to be more invested in the class and saw its value. They wanted to learn and engage as they could see the real world application, leading to more stimulating and informed discussion. Everyone could actually see how what you’re learning in the classroom applied to your work. My overall engagement and academic success grew tenfold with night classes.
While this structural flexibility was a game changer for me, there were other things I valued at the university, such as the guest lecturers from industry and the opportunity to complete an internship subject that really pushed everyone to connect with industry and gain experience.
Because of all these experiences, when I did finish my degree, I was applying for manager positions – and I landed one. All thanks to the very unconscious choice to attend this university.
I understand that everyone looks for different things in their university. I for one, did not attend one university event - a uni night or o-week, join an extra-curricular or club. That’s not to say they wouldn’t have had their advantages, but it wasn’t what I was seeking from my university experience. Unknowingly, I was looking for a university that offered me flexibility in its structure and industry access. It’s just lucky that for me, my sage advice is that I found it, not that I missed out on it.
In my opinion, it’s things like this that make all the difference to your university experience and outcomes afterwards– not so much the university values or who forked out for the pens vs the pencils in the open day show bag. What's unfortunate is that it’s also things like this that you often don’t find out about things like this until you’re already enrolled in a course - or you're lucky enough to know someone ahead of you doing the same thing.
So while you're submitting your preferences for university or any institute for that fact, I encourage you to step back and think about what you really want from your tertiary study experience...is it industry experience, study flexibility, exchange opportunities, on-campus culture...? Work this out now, because it's this kind of choice that can have a huge roll on effect after those years of study.
But how do you access experience-based advice if you don’t know anyone who has done the course or attended the institute you’re considering? The Careers Department does just this. It connects you with advice from people studying these courses and working in these industries - sharing the sage advice that you’re seeking. It’s not a university ambassador handing you a balloon and a pen, and it’s not a UAC/VTAC/QTAC/SATAC guide denoting credit points and term structures. It’s real advice from real people.