Tertiary study

By now, you’ve probably got a good idea of the type of courses you should apply for. Your choice of subject area will influence the choice of institution at which you want to enrol. For example, if you want to be a doctor, you will need to enrol at one of the university medical schools (The University of Auckland or University of Otago).

If you want to be an IT professional, you have a huge range of options, from computer science degrees at university, polytechnic level diplomas or certificates, or qualifications from specialised IT private training establishments. Each institute has a different spin on the broader topic (some are hands-on, some are more theoretical), so do your research and compare the courses before you apply.

It’s a bit more challenging if you have no idea what you want to study, right? JETmag has some suggestions to help you narrow your search:

What are your hobbies?

This is how a lot of people decide what they want to study after secondary school. You might think you want to be a scientist, but if you’ve always been good at art and love drawing pictures of buildings and funky designs, then maybe you should consider studying as an architect or draughtsperson. For some, the passion is even more personal. If you’ve lost a family member to cancer, you might be motivated to become a cancer researcher. Bear in mind that you’re more likely to enjoy studying a subject you already love rather than the subject you think – or your parents or whānau think – you should do.

What subjects have you most enjoyed at school?

This is a no-brainer. If you are a maths guru, why not consider studying to be a mathematician or statistician? Is English awesome? Consider an arts degree. Enjoy history, te reo Māori, or cultural studies? Continue your study in the social sciences or anthropology at uni. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be a school subject. Do you love hanging with your friends and defusing their dramas? What about studying youth work or social work?

What is your personality type?

The Myers – Briggs personality test on page 6 will guide you to study areas that are in harmony with your personality type. Just remember, your selected personality type is not set in stone – it reflects your thoughts and feelings right now. That could change subtly in the future … but for now, it’s a handy, quick tool to draw your attention to relevant subject areas.

Scour the web

The very best way to find information about study and specifics of courses is to go directly to the websites of the various universities, ITPs (polytechnics), wānanga, and private training establishments. Check out the maps on page 26 (New Zealand) and page 27 (Australia) for comprehensive lists of all the tertiary institutions in New Zealand and universities in Australia. Remember, Kiwis are treated as domestic students in Australia, so you have more study options than you think!

Use government resources

Foremost among these is the Careers New Zealand courses database www.careers.govt.nz/education-and-training. If you’re a lazy Googler, this website is a good place to start. You’ll find general information on hundreds of different study areas. Our advice: once you’ve decided what subject areas interest you, look on the individual institutions’ websites to get specifics about those courses. As with any third party website, the information is not guaranteed to reflect the latest changes. Go straight to the source for that.

Will my course lead to a job?

Another consideration to study is your job prospects. Sure, a psychology or visual arts degree might sound awesome, but the job prospects after graduating might not be as high as other fields.
If you come away from a tertiary institution with a qualification in an area that desperately needs workers, then finding a job will be relatively pain-free. This is something you should look into prior to enrolling.

It also pays to think about what parts of the country employ the most people in different sectors; for example, Christchurch might have a higher demand for builders during the rebuild, than, say, Dunedin. Be aware that you may have to move to where the work is to land your first graduate job. To make yourself attractive to potential employers, ensure you work hard while studying in order to make your academic transcript something to be proud of, and something that gets you noticed.

When deciding on a qualification, you should look at how well recognised it is in the workforce; ask your teachers, parents, parents’ friends, whānau, and careers counsellors which institutions and courses are well regarded in the area in which you want to study.

Get a job

Decided that tertiary study isn’t for you? At least not right now? No sweat, there are still plenty of options. You can use your time to figure out if study might be an option further down the track. This is something all students should consider if they are unsure what they want to be doing.
If you’ve been working a weekend or part-time job while at college, ask if they can bump your hours up once exams have finished. This doesn’t have to be a permanent move, but it helps to keep earning money while looking for a job that’s more suited to the career path you want.

Sometimes, to get an idea of your future, it helps to look back. The same advice for study options applies to career options. What made you feel happiest or what do you feel came to you most naturally? Did you love geography? Biology? Art? Think of your favourite school subjects, your hobbies, even the sports you play.

But what if you have no idea what you want to do?

Don’t stress. You are at the beginning of the path to your future – not many people are certain of what they want to do at this point. Many people change their minds repeatedly before they settle on a career path: it takes time.

Sometimes, to get an idea of your future, it helps to look back. The same advice for study options applies to career options. What made you feel happiest or what do you feel came to you most naturally? Did you love geography? Biology? Art? Think of your favourite school subjects, your hobbies, even the sports you play (yes, being a professional athlete is a legitimate career choice – you just need amazing talent, perseverance, and a bit of luck … although it’s a dream many may never achieve).

From there, look into what companies have these jobs, and research them online.

It might pay to contact a place that looks interesting to see if you can come in to have a look around for the day, or set up a time to meet with someone who works there to talk about what is required in their role. Refer to our sector profiles to get an idea of some different jobs and sectors.

The gap year

You don’t need to dive straight into a decision once you leave school. The time-honoured big OE (overseas experience) can show you the world in a way you only imagined in school. Take your pick where you go – the world is your oyster, and pearls of adventure lie in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. However, every country has different visa requirements, and for almost every country you will need a visa to enter. Research these on your chosen country’s government website.

The glory of the gap year is that you can get a working holiday visa in some countries, which allows you freedom to earn while you experience life abroad. Great first-up jobs for gap year Kiwis include working as an au pair (nanny), summer camp work in the US, or as a snowboard instructor in Canada or Europe. Casual work in hospitality (pubs, cafes, and restaurants) is a staple gap year income.

The reason it’s called a gap year is because when you return to New Zealand, you then face the same choice: study or full-time work. Many successfully get into a course, defer their enrolment for a year, and then go off for their big OE for 12 months.

Unpaid work

If you’ve kept a part-time job following secondary school, then you could try and set up some work experience or an internship at a company that you’re interested in. This is a common practice in fashion and some media companies.

With many businesses under financial pressure, jobs aren’t exactly being handed out at the door, but if you’re interning at a place on an ongoing basis, then you could be considered for a paid position when one becomes available.

Potential employers may also appreciate someone who is willing to help out for nothing, and it’s a great experience you can add to your CV.

If interested in the not-for-profit sector, you could also use the time to get into some volunteer work. Volunteering makes up a surprisingly huge sector in New Zealand, and help is always needed. You can find out how organisations handle getting the job done on a shoestring budget, and feel proud that you’re helping parts of society that desperately need it.


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