What is Tertiary Education?
Certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas
These courses can be completed within 6 to 24 months, although apprenticeships can be 3-4 years long. The programs can be hands-on learning, where students learn practical skills to be work-ready. The learning environment is similar to high-school, where you spend time moving about with the same classmates. These courses are usually delivered at TAFEs, ITCs and dual-sector universities. ATAR scores are generally not required for these courses, meaning that VM and VCE students can apply for them. Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas can often provide pathways and credit into Bachelor degrees at universities. It is important to research which Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas can be used as pathways into degrees.
Bachelor / Undergraduate Degrees
Also known as undergraduate degrees, Bachelor degrees normally take 3 to 5 years to complete. Universities offer Bachelor degrees, but ITCs and TAFEs may also offer more specialised degree options. Degrees require a more independent style of learning, where often you will attend lectures, tutorials and workshops, and you may not be with the same group of students for every class. Many courses often require less contact hours, but additional study, including assignments, projects and exam revision, may need to be completed outside of class.
VCE stands for the Victorian Certificate of Education. Students study 5 or 6 subjects generally across two years; over 90 VCE subject options and 20 VCE VET course options. VCE graduates generally receive an ATAR score, a culmination of their individual subject study scores, which they can use to apply for tertiary education courses. VCE graduates are considered more academically prepared to study a higher education course (i.e. degree at university/independent college) but can also apply for vocational education (e.g. course at TAFE), apprenticeships, or go straight into the workforce.
VM (Vocational Major)
VM stands for the VCE Vocational Major which is a 2-year applied learning program within the VCE. Students will develop knowledge, gain confidence and skills for work and life. It will prepare students for work and further education and training. When graduating from secondary school, students graduate with the Victorian Certificate of Education, with the additional words 'Vocational Major'. The VCE Vocational Major is a great choice if students prefer learning in a real-world environment and putting practical life skills into action. No ATAR is achieved upon completion of school. The VCE Vocational Major doesn’t require students to do exams, other than the General Achievement Test (GAT), or as a part of some scored VCE VET programs.
IB stands for the International Baccalaureate and students in years 11 and 12 complete the Diploma Programme. The IB Diploma is offered only at select schools in Victoria. IB requires students to complete six subject areas: studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. The program prepares students for higher education courses, particularly overseas. Note that IB students get their results after VCE students, generally in the first few days of January the year after graduating but this won't impact their chances of being made an offer to tertiary courses they’re applying for. Visit IB Australasia for more information.
This program is similar to VCE however students do not sit exams and therefore do not receive individual study scores or an ATAR. Graduates are still eligible to apply for most vocational courses (e.g. TAFE courses), start an apprenticeship, or go straight into the workforce.
VET stands for Vocational Education and Training. VET programs are nationally recognised. Certificate II or III qualifications are delivered over one or two years to Year 10, 11, and 12 VCE and VCE Vocational Major (VCE VM) students. By completing VET in secondary school, students will have the opportunity to start their career or progress to a range of certificates, an apprenticeship, diplomas or pathway into a university degree.
TAFE Stands for Technical and Further Education. This is vocational education, and TAFEs offer certificates, Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas and apprenticeship programs, and some offer degrees too. It is often more practical and hands-on learning. Students generally spend 20-25 hours per week at TAFE. These courses are available for students who have studied VM, VCE and IB. Students can apply directly for most courses while others can be applied for through VTAC. These courses can either be full fee or eligible students can apply for VET student loans. Some courses are currently being offered for free with government support.
Universities are also called higher education providers. Universities offer Bachelor/undergraduate degrees, which is the first higher education qualification a student earns after high school. Students can progress from here into graduate qualifications such as Honours, Graduate Certificates, Graduate Diplomas, Masters and PhD programs. The learning style is different to high school and TAFE and is a combination of theory and practical learning along with individual and team learning. Students generally spend 12-16 hours in class studying at uni each week, and another 12-16 hours studying in their own time. Note that some students may have a much bigger workload depending on what course they study (e.g. veterinary studies, medicine, engineering etc.). Students studying VCE and IB are eligible for courses at university and apply through VTAC. Eligible domestic students can also apply for Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) and HECS-HELP to defer the payment of their course. Visit Universities Australia for more information.
A dual-sector university is an education provider that offers both TAFE courses and higher education courses. The spectrum of qualifications offered by dual-sector universities usually combine the practical skills taught in vocational education with the analytical knowledge acquired in higher education. These providers offer pathway programs where students can start with a Diploma or an Advanced Diploma that could be recognised for entry and academic credit towards a relevant Bachelor degree.
Independent Tertiary Colleges (ITCs)
ITCs are independent tertiary colleges and offer a combination of vocational and higher education: They also offer all levels of study from certificates through to degrees so all students can find a course. These institutions often specialise in specific fields such as creative arts, IT or photography. Courses may be run in similar ways to TAFE or universities. These courses can be applied for directly, or through VTAC depending on the institution. Most courses are full fee and eligible students can apply for FEE-HELP.
Double degrees are not considered to have more work than a single degree. In most cases you'll study a couple of subjects from each degree concurrently, and elective units are removed to reduce the duration of the final course. For example, when combining two degrees which are normally 3 years in length, it will only take 4 years to complete when studied as a double degree. Students studying these degrees have the same annual workload as students studying in a single degree.
The free TAFE initiative offers a select number of courses for free in careers which are deemed to be a priority by the government, such as early childhood education, disability services, nursing and accounting to name a few. These courses are only for eligible students. Check the link above for specific courses and to see if you meet eligibility requirements.
How do you get in?
Prerequisites are studies that you must have completed to be eligible for selection to a course.
Some institutions will require an extra range of criteria as well as prerequisites to be eligible for a course, these may be a body of work such as a portfolio or an audition, and additional testing such as CASPer testing.
A raw study score will be a number between 0 and 50. It is not a score out of 50 but a calculation of where a student ranks in comparison to all the other students who studied the same subject that year. To calculate your ATAR score, VTAC will scale your study score up or down. It is important to note that universities will look at your raw score and not your scaled score, especially if a student is required to obtain a particular study score in a particular subject.
Pathways provide students with an opportunity to access a large range of vocational courses (TAFE) that lead on to undergraduate study. Pathways don’t necessarily mean you’re taking the long route. Plenty of pathway options provide streams or direct-entry into corresponding higher education programs. Students may be eligible to receive credits when using a pathway option.
Fees and Fee Assistance
One of the great things about being an Australian citizen or a permanent resident is that the government wants to help students get a tertiary education. The government offers fee assistance programs to students studying in Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP), including HECS-HELP, FEE HELP, and VET student loans, based on the type of course students would like to study and their citizenship or residence status. These fee assistance programs are where the government provides students with a loan to pay their tuition fees. Students will be required to pay the government back once they've graduated and are earning over a certain salary. For example, students that get a HECS-HELP or VET student loan to help pay for a tertiary course will start repaying their loan when they earn over the current salary threshold of $51,550 (2023-24 income year). This generally comes out in the individual's tax. This threshold amount has changed recently and has the potential to change in future years, so it is important to do some research into fees, to understand whether fee support might be available or suitable for you.
A range of certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas have their course/tuition fees covered by the government and students don’t need to pay it back. However, students may still be required to pay for materials including uniforms, equipment, textbooks, resources and excursions. Students will also need to pay an amenities fee.
Students must first create an account with VTAC before they can put in course applications. Check out all the details at VTAC's website.
Each year most applications for higher education, some TAFE and ITC courses, are applied for through VTAC (Victorian Tertiary Admission Centre). VTAC usually opens in early August, closing in late September for timely applications. These specific dates are usually advertised on the VTAC website around June or July. Check the VTAC website for specific details. Some high demand courses only accept applications during the timely application period, such as medicine and dentistry, so be sure to check the courses you're applying for. Some institutions also take direct applications and may operate on different timelines, so be sure to check with the institution you're applying for.
In many cases students can apply after the timely application period for courses that are still open. However at this point the fee for applications increases from around $55 to $180. There are different fees for timely, late and very late course applications, so the amount you pay depends on when you apply. See dates and times for course applications.
Students can add up to 8 courses to their preference list. It's best to order these with your dream course at number 1, and follow in order of your preference from there. Students don't have to use all 8 preferences, however it's recommended to include more than 1 course. We generally recommend students include a few pathway options in their VTAC preferences. Once they receive their results in December, they can reorder, add or remove courses from their preference list during the Change of Preference periods.
SEAS is the Special Entry Access Scheme. This scheme recognises various forms of educational disadvantage that students may have experienced and there are 4 different categories. SEAS may help improve your selection rank score to get into your dream course, depending on your circumstances. Students apply for SEAS through VTAC as part of their course application. There is no disadvantage to applying for SEAS. We encourage all students to apply for Category 1 as this is based on your personal information and location, including school, home address, if you have a non English speaking background, if you identify as Indigenous or if you are the first in your family to go on to tertiary study. Category 1 is just a tick box, and is really easy to apply for!
Category 1: Personal information and location
Category 2: Disadvantaged financial background. Additional evidence is required
Category 3: Disability or medical condition. Additional evidence is required
Category 4: Difficult personal circumstances. Additional evidence is required
Check out the VTAC website for further details and how to apply.
Go to VTAC SEAS applications and follow these steps to ensure you've completed your Special Entry Access Scheme (SEAS) application correctly, met the eligibility requirements and provided the appropriate evidence. Students can complete the demonstration applications to see what is involved before applications open.
Students must apply for SEAS by the nominated deadline. Unfortunately, applications are not accepted by VTAC after this period. Check with the institution that you're applying for, as some institutions may accept late applications directly.
Scholarships provide financial support to help students with the cost of tertiary education. Scholarships are not only for high achievers. Many scholarships can be applied for through VTAC, while others may require direct application to the institution you're applying to. Scholarships come in a range of categories including, but not limited to, equity based, merit, sporting, music and accommodation. Demonstration applications are available for students to try before applications open. Find out more about the types of scholarships available and learn how to complete your scholarship application.
The Change of Preference (COP) period commences when Year 12 students get their results, usually in mid December. At this stage students can access their preference list and reorder, add or change their course preferences if needed, based on their results. Students who perhaps have not met the prerequisite study scores, or the minimum expected ATAR may need to look at pathway courses to get into their dream course. The VTAC system will open and close between each offer round to allow students to amend their preferences between each round if they wish to. Refer to VTAC COP for more information.
Students need to log in to their VTAC account and access their course preferences. There are a series of up and down arrows and a cross at the end of each course. Students use the arrows to move their course preference up or down their list, or use the cross to remove the preference from their list.
In 2022, we saw the first round of offers being made to domestic students in December for further education in 2023. There are also a round of offers in January and a number of offer rounds in February as well. The VTAC website will have the full details on dates when these are available. Please check the VTAC website for regular updates. Other State and Territory institutions are participating in the Victorian offers for December 2023/24 offer rounds, so please see your Admissions Centre for further information.
Many courses can be deferred, however students will need to check with the individual institution as some courses do not offer this option. You will be provided with instructions on how to defer at the time you are sent a course offer.
When offers are made through VTAC, students will receive a notification of their offer through their VTAC account, and they may also receive an offer letter directly from the institution as well. Students often need to enrol in their course to accept the offer, so make sure you read the offer letter instructions carefully. Lapse dates may also apply to your offer, so ensure you accept before this date if you intend to enrol.
To reject an offer, you simply do nothing. If you receive an offer and decide it's no longer what you would like to study, you can ignore this offer letter.
What supports are available?
Scholarships are a great place to start. We encourage all students to apply for scholarships through VTAC as well as any direct applications through the institution you are looking to study with. They can provide great financial assistance for course fees, accommodation and living expenses or equipment and amenities, based on the scholarship you apply for. Monetary values vary and we recommend applying for as many scholarships as you are eligible for. Please visit the VTAC or individual institution websites for more information.
There are plenty of resources to utilise when making a decision, including:
People - this could be your Careers Advisor, a person who works in the field, your teachers and even course advisors from multiple educational providers.
Publications - there’s lots of information out there! Download a course guide, brochure and visit providers websites.
Places - Includes opportunities for you to experience in person the different options you are considering: work experience, institution open days and campus visits, and other industry experience days.
Moving away from home
What are the options to consider if I need to move away from home? For many, moving away from home is an exciting opportunity to discover new places and meet new people. However, for others, the experience may seem daunting. It is important to consider that you may be moving to a place where you have no family and friends, the cost of living may be higher, and you may need to adjust to balancing work and study. With lots of new experiences occurring, it can seem overwhelming but it is also the beginning of your new adult life! There is lots of support available for students who move out of home including social activities, financial assistance and welfare. Take advantage of the opportunities around you!
The financial cost of moving away from home varies depending on what expenses you may have and where you are moving to. Some of the costs to consider are; rent, utilities (including electricity, gas, water usage and internet), vehicle running costs, public transport, food and recreational expenses.
The best place to get help with accommodation is through the institution that you plan to study with. Many institutions will have on campus accommodation, or may be able to provide guidance or assistance with finding accommodation off campus nearby.
Make sure you speak to your careers adviser about your interests and strengths. It may be that you are not yet aware of certain opportunities that await. This is the perfect time to do your research. It is always wise to have a plan in place, whether it is applying for courses, travelling or working. Institutions look favourably on students who have used their time effectively after they have completed school. If in doubt at any stage, please contact your careers adviser or the institution you are considering attending.