1. Focus on your own qualities.
Consider first your personal motivations and hopes. Are you the type of individual who finds formal study hard work, or do you get enjoyment from such activity? Are you seeking specific understanding and skills to boost your future employment prospects, or will study be simply a way of keeping youself up to date, giving you a chance to catch up with what’s new and interesting? To what extent are you motivated to learn?
2. Consider your personal circumstances.
Examine your current personal situation. Can you, for example, afford the tuition fees, textbooks, additional travelling, residential workshops, laptop computer, or other requisite tools? Will the demands of home life and work allow you enough time and energy to undertake the course? Will your current employers acknowledge, reward, or appreciate your acquisition of additional skills or qualifications? Just how realistic are your hopes?
3. Analyse the big picture.
Always try to begin with the entire menu of courses that interest you. Never enrol in a course or institution simply because you happen to have heard of it. Obtain a copy of such publications as ‘The Australian Good Universities Guide’ or TAFE handbooks, which usually list all available courses in detail. Begin with a process of elimination – rule out those courses that you can’t afford, can’t reach, or can’t get into. Arrive at a short list of viable options after also considering whether you want to study full-time or part-time, on campus or off campus, course duration, assessment methods, and whether the offerings are too specific or too general for your purposes.
4. Explore the quality of your short-listed courses.
Having isolated several possible programs or courses, your process of elimination can become even more specific. Ask such questions as these:
- How experienced and qualified are the teaching staff?
- Who are the other students in the course likely to be?
- Will those students have backgrounds that I will find helpful or interesting?
- Is the program or course too big or too small for my requirements?
- How employable are the graduates of this program?
- What are their starting salaries?
You will find the answers to such questions in the range of Australian Good Universities Guides currently available – e.g. ‘The Australian Good Universities Guide to Business and Management’ – and in material provided by the institutions themselves.
5. Focus on your chosen course of study.
Once you have eliminated all but one or two likely programs, you should begin first-hand research. This process may seem like hard work but, because of the amount of time, energy, and money you will eventually be allocating to your final choice, now is the time to be certain of your selection.
Approach the course coordinator. Explain your hopes and background, and discuss the appropriateness of the course for someone in your position.
Seek evidence. Ask the coordinator for evidence from student evaluations and course reviews, as well as labour market research on graduate employability, salaries, and career success. In an age of high competitive-ness, most reputable institutions have such data readily available.
Approach previous students. The coordinator should be able to provide you with the names of graduates – and drop-outs. Ask graduates how the course affected their skills, outlook, and careers. Inquire about course basics – the quality of lectures, tutorials, assignments, staff assistance, and so on. Would they hire a graduate from the course? Have they heard of similar or better programs offered elsewhere?
Check gender issues. Women might be interested in the extent to which gender issues are addressed in the program, the number of female students and staff, and the degree to which the course is female-friendly.
Consider the on-line possibilities. Increasingly, for those with heavy family, work, and other commitments, tertiary institutions are offering online study opportunities for busy students. Investigate this possibility in your areas of interest.
6. Don’t be fooled by the glossy literature.
In competing for students today, educational institutions have become increasingly market-wise. Their brochures, handbooks, and websites can contain plenty of hype and gloss, and only after having penetrated this sometimes superficial material and conducted your own thorough research into all available offerings can you afford to fill out your application form with confidence.