Preparing for life after Year 12

Ryan Kerr shares his tips for making the transition from secondary school to tertiary studies.
Ryan Kerr shares his tips for making the transition from secondary school to tertiary studies.

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Thousands of Years 12 around the country are preparing to sit their final exams.

After the intensity of study and exams, what can they expect to feel when it is finally over? And more importantly, what should they do to prepare themselves for the future?

According to experts at Open Universities Australia, they will probably feel an eerie sense of wonder that the world continues to operate around them as if nothing has changed. In the post-Year 12 universe,  everything is different. 

The stress has gone. The beach beckons. So does the next step. Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATARs) are out and university offers won't be released for another month, so there's plenty of time to reconsider which course or university to like attend.

The important thing to do in the meantime is to make sure preferences are in order.

Even if a student isn't sure his or her marks will be high enough to get in, put they should put their top preference first and work down the list, with a possible nine options.

Contact the universities through their websites or advice hotlines and attend the special advisory or open days organised by many of the different campuses. 

 The Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) recommends leaving plenty of time to lodge preferences before the close of main-round offers.

"Don't leave it until the last minute in case your internet connection goes down right when you don't want it to," says Kim Paino, the information services director at UAC.

Kim also advises students to avoid disappointment by checking whether any of their preferred courses have specific selection criteria or different closing dates.

And when main-round offers are made, she suggests candidates accept the course they are offered, even if they are not certain it's the right course for them. That will give students "something in your back pocket" while deciding whether to seek a better offer in the late round, she says. 

Most universities provide the option to transfer from one course to another once you are there. Or if a you're not quite ready to knuckle down and study again, some universities allow you to accept an offer and defer study. Not all courses can be deferred so ask each university about their policy, including whether you can defer for 12, 18 or 24 months.

The University of Wollongong encourages students to travel while in their first year of study through its gap year program.

Once you know which uni you are going to, you may need to find a place to live and you should apply early.

Rental properties may be scarce and hard to get into, especially if your university is in a densely populated urban area. 

The University of New England (UNE) in Armidale has a database of student-friendly properties and assists students who choose to rent accommodation down town, through a real estate agent.

Like most other universities, UNE also has a variety of on-campus accommodation, from fully catered colleges to self-contained halls of residence and occasionally properties off campus to rent.

"The colleges have the advantage of being close to campus and offering personal and academic support as well as many other opportunities such as participating in sporting competitions," the university's student support officer, Alex Dunn, says.

Mr Dunn recommends students research which college is the best fit, as each has its own "distinctive history and character".

Academic and student tutors often live in the campus accommodation to provide support for people making the transition from school and coming from different environments.

The executive director of student administration at Charles Sturt University, Geoff Honey, says this support is crucial to help students adjust. 

"We all take that very seriously. Most universities have a first-year experience program to ensure that we retain our students but also that they enjoy the experience," he says. 

University can be a bigger, less personal institution than school, so it is easy to feel lost and scared. "We provide them with lots of information that assistance is available," Mr Honey says.

"On the learning side, we have things that identify students at risk and try to provide specific support or tailored support." 

If you still don't have the marks to get into your preferred course, consider enrolling at TAFE and transferring to university later, or study through Open Universities Australia (OUA), an online education provider that is not hampered by cut-off marks.

"With OUA  you don't need to worry about ATAR scores as most first-year undergraduate units don't have any entry prerequisites," media spokeswoman for OUA, Jessica Singh, says.

Owned and operated by seven major Australian universities, OUA allows students to study the course they want, build their own workload by choosing as many or as few units as they like, then graduate from the university offering the course. 

There's no getting around the fact tertiary study is expensive, with tuition, textbooks and materials, accommodation and living costs.

Most campuses will charge about $250 in service fees to support advocacy, health, legal and sporting groups.

You are most likely to be eligible for a Commonwealth-supported place in which the government pays part of your costs and you pay the remainder when you are in the workforce.

Don't forget to check whether you can get youth, student or indigenous allowances. 

Ryan Kerr knows for a fact that a less-than-anticpated ATAR score isn’t the end of the world.

Mr Kerr faced some post-Year 12 drama when he didn't think he had enough marks to get into his course of choice but he still managed to secure an offer.

His ATAR of 88 fell short of the 94 required for physiotherapy so he considered other options.

"When I got my ATAR, I thought I wasn't going to get in and I was frantically running around searching for alternatives," he says.

But bonus points for getting band sixes and band fives pushed him over the line and he accepted a place at his second preference, the Australian Catholic University.

One of his biggest adjustments to university life was learning to study more independently. "You don't get spoon-fed anymore," he says.

"At uni, you have to stay on top of the work and make sure you do; otherwise, you'll fail the course."

Mr Kerr still lives at home in Randwick and travels by bus to the North Sydney campus. He has joined lots of clubs and made many new friends.

"At first, I found it a little bit hard to form a balance between uni work and social life but by now, uni's got a little easier."

*This story was written by a Fairfax Media journalist and is published as part of a commercial agreement with Open Universities Australia.