Want to do a STEM degree at uni? Here are 8 things you need to know

Thinking about studying STEM at uni? Using a 3D printer in a lab to print prototypes could be 1 of 4,567 cool things you could end up doing. Image: Shutterstock

Making the leap from school to uni is exciting but can be a steep learning curve. To help you get into the swing of things, we’ve put together this handy guide.

1. How do uni preferences work?

The first step into life after high school is choosing your uni preferences. You’ll only receive one offer for your highest eligible preference in each round, so the order is pretty important. It’s a good idea to think past your dream course and Plan B. If you don’t get your first two preferences, think about courses which could be a stepping stone to where you want to go. If you get a welcome (or unwelcome) surprise when your ATAR results come in, you have a two-day window between rounds to change your preferences. And if things don’t go as expected, don’t lose hope! Some unis have dumped ATARs and are enrolling students recommended by their school. And remember uni isn’t the only pathway to a STEM career.

Not sure what to pick? Check out these quizzes and tips.

2. What is an undergraduate degree?

The TV reality show The Bachelor has featured some great STEM graduates, and a bachelor’s degree is usually the first degree you’ll do. A Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Information Technology and Data Analytics will take you three years to complete. A Bachelor of Engineering is four years long, and some double degrees stretch over five years. If you are thinking of working and studying or don’t have time for a long degree, a two-year associate degree is also an option for many STEM careers.

RELATED: Aussie universities ranked according to how many grads have scored jobs

3. How much will my degree cost?

The best things in life are free, but uni isn’t one of them. We’re sure you’ve heard of the dreaded HECS debt! For your first STEM degree, you’ll usually be eligible for government subsidies, but there will still be a cost. How much depends on which degree you study, and how many subjects you take. You’ll have the option of paying up front, or can pay through your tax when you’re earning over a set amount. Check out uni websites to see how much you’ll be up for, and the important dates to drop subjects without copping a bill!

 4. What are uni classes like?

Tutorials, lectures, pracs – uni means learning a whole new language! Most STEM degrees have lectures and tutorials (tutes). Lectures involve a lot of talking and note taking. Picture a professor at the front of a theatre-style room (or online). Tutes are smaller groups where you can get help with assessments from tutors or demonstrators – who are usually more advanced students. You may also have practical classes (pracs or labs) in a computer, machining or chemistry lab – depending on what you are studying. The number of subjects per semester, contact hours and assessments also varies between degrees. Uni websites and open days can help you know what to expect.

 5. What is a major?

The good news is that you won’t have to worry about this in your first year. Most general STEM degrees start out by giving you taste of the specialist areas in your field. For example, a first-year engineering degree has a mix of mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical and materials engineering subjects. In second year, you’ll pick the area you want to focus on – this is your major. Your major will have compulsory core subjects as well as electives. Choosing a major helps you narrow down the wide selection of subjects on offer. But if you’d like to explore more widely, you can choose a double major!

RELATED: Why study STEM at university?

6. How do I make new friends and meet employers?

Uni study is important, but try to keep it real. One of the best things about uni is expanding your horizons and meeting new people. Clubs and societies are a great place to start. There’s something for everyone – whether you’re into extreme sports, helping the community or anything in between. Employers love real-world experience, so internships and industry competitions can give your CV an edge. If you’re keen to see the world, you can apply for overseas exchanges and placements (subject to travel restrictions).

Volunteering is another way to make friends, follow your passions, and impress future employers. Ninety-four percent of employers agree that volunteering builds skills for paid work!

7. What if I want to change courses?

Accepting a course doesn’t mean you are locked in for the duration. If your interests change or you have your heart set on stepping up to a dream degree, you can apply to your uni to transfer to another course. Transferring courses can be competitive, and depends on available places, your marks, and prerequisites. Timing is also important – you should research your uni’s deadlines for applications to move between courses.

8. What happens at the end of my degree?

Work or further study? You don’t have to decide now, but there’s no harm in planning ahead! With a STEM degree behind you, and some internships in your pocket, you’ll have the skills for new and existing careers. And don’t forget transferable skills. Many STEM graduates work in areas such law, the arts or even space exploration. Polishing your CV and brushing up on interview skills will help you put your best foot forward. You can find more job-ready tips here.

If you’re keen to hone your research skills and hungry for more knowledge, you can apply for a higher degree such as a Masters or PhD. Talk to your uni about the best pathways to suit your interests and strengths, and tap into scholarships and other support.

Good luck and enjoy your next big adventure!

Nadine Cranenburgh

Author: Nadine Cranenburgh

Nadine is an electrical and environmental engineer who works as a freelance writer and editor. She loves creating articles and content about exciting and complex technology.

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