An education on the other side of the world

By: Stef Foster, Columnist

This week in my ongoing inter-cultural, cross-continental investigation, I am going to write a little about the differences between the Australian and US education systems. 

Let’s start with the correct terminology – “college” in Australia is referred to as “uni” and nothing else. We chop off the end of words and add “ie”, “y” or “o.” For example: barbie (BBQ), arvo (afternoon), Brissie (Brisbane, one of Australia’s sunniest beachside cities on the east coast), Chrissy (Christmas) or sunnies (sunglasses).

There is no middle school, elementary school, high school or senior year. We have just two school levels: primary school (from prep to sixth year) and secondary school (from seventh to twelfth years). “College” is the word we’d use to describe an expensive, private secondary school. If you graduate from secondary school, you get your high school certificate (HSC). Depending which state you live in, the academic process and scoring system for getting your HSC varies enormously. Every year a fresh debate rises about the benefits of developing a standardized Australian HSC system. However, each year every state stubbornly clings to its idiosyncratic methods and nothing changes.

In the November of their final year of secondary school, Aussie students apply to enroll in their chosen course of study for the following year. The degree program is chosen right from the outset. For example, you might choose to enroll in a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in economics or finance. There is some room to switch majors or swap to a double degree during the first or second year of studies, but certainly not the flexibility to be “undecided” like here in the U.S.

A standard Bachelor’s degree takes three years. Some professional degrees such as engineering or law take four years. Veterinary and dental degrees take five years and medicine takes six or more years. Students are accepted into their chosen degree if they achieve the minimum entry-level HSC score, which changes every year. Interviews and written applications are rarely required. Enrollment period continues right through into March the following year.

The Aussie academic year is split into two semesters, creatively called “semester one” and (you guessed it!) “semester two.” The big summer break runs from mid-November to early March and a shorter winter break runs from late June to late July or early August, depending which uni you are at. The big summer break includes Christmas and New Year’s, so most students go on holiday with their families or travel with friends during this time. Some students take up summer work, but most students use this time to chill out and work part time jobs.

Next week… learn about how uni students are assessed in Australia, how classes are taught, how our professors and lecturers are addressed and more. Happy studies, Towson!

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