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How people choose what to study

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to weighing up study options

In recent decades, it's become common to group Australia's universities, TAFE and private colleges together and assume they are all competing for ‘consumers' (i.e. students) who rationally weigh up their options then choose the course and institution that's right from them. It might work like that in theory, but the reality is a little more complicated. The considerations that inform where and what a student chooses to study can be grouped into four broad areas:

1. Social factors

Research shows that the environment people are brought up in and the people who surround them have a big impact on their educational choices. For example, if your parents went to TAFE NSW, they're likely to socialise with and live near people with a similar background. That means you're likely to be brought up in an area where going to TAFE after school is common, so that will seem like the logical path to take.

2. Limiting factors

There are obviously a range of things that can narrow the number of available options. You may not have received the marks or studied the necessary subjects required to undertake a course of study, or you simply may not be able to support yourself for years on end while studying for a certain qualification.

3. Future employability factors

Research shows that Australian students differ from their American and British counterparts in that they're more focused on the course they want to do than the institution at which they study. The reason seems to be that Australian employers are more interested in what skills potential employees have rather than whether they learnt them at a university, TAFE or private college.

4. Institutional factors

In terms of choosing between institutions, all of the following have been found to impact on a student's final decision: the quality of the teaching; the curriculum and course availability; the campus and the facilities it offers; jobs placement and careers counselling; and the reputation of the institution.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to weighing up study options. While you have to take final responsibility for the decision, friends, family members and high school career counsellors can all provide valuable advice. Today's students also have the advantage of having a wealth of information available online about courses, institutions and industries they're potentially interested in.