University or TAFE? What is best for me? - Career HQ
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University or TAFE? What is best for me?

How do you decide whether you should study at University or TAFE? What are the main factors you should take into account to help you make the right decision?

university options

Match your strengths and interests

It might seem obvious, but one of the main things you should consider when choosing to study at university or TAFE is what you enjoy doing.

Start by identifying your current skills and strengths and what you like doing.

Do you like to make things with your hands, or do you like spending more time learning the theoretical side of subjects also? TAFE is generally more vocationally focussed, and prepares students to work in fields like construction, hospitality, tourism, community work or in a trade. University, on the other hand, offers more ‘professional’ courses that typically prepare people for professional advisery, management and consulting roles in a chosen field.

There will often be more than one field of work, and therefore a range of jobs, that match your strengths, likes and interests. For example, if you enjoy working with animals, and also have strong people skills, you might be interested in being a Vet – which would require 5-6 years of study at University – or a zoo keeper, which requires a VET or TAFE qualification which you can even start as part of your final senior schooling.

There are a variety of career assessment tools, like our Career Compass, which you can use to match your strengths, interests and abilities with career options that could suit you.

These assessment tools can help to point you in the direction of career options that play to your strengths and interests rather than your relative weaknesses. USA research shows that if you study courses that suit your strengths and interests, you are more likely to finish the course and get higher marks.

Financial considerations

Financial considerations can also play a part in the type of course you might think of choosing.

If you prefer the practical side of things, a 2-year TAFE diploma might be for you. University degrees will take at least three years, and often longer – and statistics show with no greater certainty of a job afterwards.

Most uni students take advantage of government loans (HECS / HELP) to cover tuition fees. Most university courses have similar costs across institutions. Once you start earning, you have to pay the loan back at a prescribed rate.

While TAFE courses often need to be paid for upfront, the costs per subject are considerably less than at uni. And if you get a job sooner, you can perhaps achieve the same end goal without having the larger student loan to pay back.

If you are best suited to a trades or similar career there are quite widespread skills shortages in these fields at present with good salaries being offered. On the other hand professional, medical, business and similar degree based qualifications offer pay higher in the medium to longer term.

What career paths can this course lead me into?

Another way to look at your options is to consider a certain uni or TAFE course, and then explore the career pathways that might open up for you from that qualification.

Our CareerHQ database links courses with job descriptions and potential careers to enable you to explore a range of occupations for which that course is the base qualification.

Each job description has information on the typical suitable skillset for the role, typical job activities, the sorts of environments you could work in, and the types and amount of study you would need to do that role as your career goal.

Just because you decide now to do a particular course, it doesn’t mean you are stuck with that forever. One of the big pluses for considering TAFE is that you don’t need an ATAR to be accepted into a course. But once you finish a TAFE course, you will be assigned an ATAR-equivalent score, which you can use as a pathway to university if you love what you are doing and decide to undertake further study.

Will I be able to get a job when I qualify?

One of the real considerations for a lot of people in deciding where, and what, to study, is the likelihood of getting a job in the field for which you are qualified, after you graduate.

Tertiary institutions usually publish figures on employment outcomes for the courses they offer. These are good indicators for how likely you are to be able to get a job after you graduate.

Another factor to take into consideration is that the world of work is currently going through considerable change, and if you are just starting out, you want to be able to focus on a career that will offer reasonable future job stability.

There are many articles available online that talk about ‘jobs of the future’, ‘jobs that will disappear’ or ‘future-proof jobs’. It’s worth taking a look at some of these to get a good sense of the prognosis for the career options you are currently considering, and whether you would be best served by a uni or TAFE course as a result.

Whether you choose uni or TAFE, remember to choose the course that best suits you, not anyone else. Then enjoy the course you choose, gain some valuable life and job skills, and start your career journey!

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