Academic Matters - How Exchange Fits Into Your Course

Most Sydney courses allow you to incorporate a period of exchange. However, there are some courses for which it is not possible, or at least not easy to arrange. This depends on the requirements of individual faculties at the University of Sydney.

If your course has strict requirements but you still want to go on exchange, think about how to arrange your elective units. For example, if your course involves core Psychology units that cannot be substituted, you may be able to do these at the University of Sydney and leave the electives to the next semester when you go on exchange, as electives are much easier to substitute.

The following gives an overview of academic requirements and their impact on a wide range of disciplines at the University of Sydney.

By topic

By Faculty

Undergraduate or Postgraduate?

Undergraduate applicants usually have considerable choice of exchange options, although some restrictions apply for certain disciplines. In all cases, if you are an Honours student you should contact your faculty/discipline coordinator to ensure an exchange does not impede your progression towards Honours. If you wsih to take Honours on exchange, contact your faculty to obtain permission to study overseas, as most faculties (eg: Science) do not permit Honours to be completed overseas.

Postgraduate applicants will face more restrictions, both for research and coursework. Postgraduate research students must have written support from:

  • their University of Sydney supervisor/s and postgraduate adviser in the Faculty Office, plus
  • an academic at the host university who agrees to be their supervisor during their exchange period.

Postgraduate coursework students may also have to meet additional requirements. For example, to be eligible for postgraduate exchanges in Canada and the USA, students must normally have completed four years of undergraduate study by the time of application. A standard 3 year Bachelor degree is insufficient.

Postgraduate students will only be accepted at many universities in North America at the commencement of the northern hemisphere academic year, which typically starts in September (equivalent to second semester at the University of Sydney). Applications in January (i.e. ‘mid-year’ in the northern hemisphere academic year) at these institutions are not encouraged.

Availability of suitable units/subjects

The availability of suitable (or ‘creditable’) units or subjects at partner universities is a crucial factor in choosing your exchange destination. In other words, you must make sure that your chosen university offers units that can be translated back to the requirements of your University of Sydney course. Upon return from exchange, your faculty will use your official overseas transcript and any other required documentation to credit your overseas results towards your University of Sydney course.

The suitability of overseas units can be checked by looking at partner university catalogues in the Exchange Resource Library at International Services, or by exploring online handbooks on partner university websites. A good approach is to find out which units you would be studying at Sydney, review the University of Sydney unit outlines, then look for overseas units at the same level and covering similar topics. In this way you can create a shortlist of suitable overseas universities for your desired areas of study. This information will later form part of the Academic Approvals required for your exchange application.

Combined courses

Students enrolled in combined courses are generally able to take overseas units to meet the requirements of both Sydney courses while on exchange. Combined Law is an exception, as the Faculty of Law will not permit law exchanges unless a student is in the final year of their undergraduate law course. It is important that all combined law students studying non-law subjects on exchange consult the Law faculty regarding the impact of exchange on their degree progress in the law portion of their degree. This should be done before submitting an application.

Not all partner universities, however, are familiar with the concept of combined courses, as they are not common in overseas education systems. These universities will admit you via one faculty or academic area only and your access to units outside this main faculty may be limited or not possible. If you choose to study at one of these universities, you should ensure that you have consulted with your Sydney course coordinators at both faculties about how to make up the units you do not complete overseas, on your return to the University of Sydney.

Combined course students may be permitted to undertake two exchanges at different stages of their course (eg: one semester in 3rd year and another semester in 5th year). For some combined courses eg: Arts/Social Work, students may find that exchange may not be possible for part of their course (eg: Social Work), even though international exchange will be possible for the other part (eg: Arts).

Closed Disciplines

Due to strict degree requirements, Dentistry, Medicine (Graduate Medical Program), Nursing and Veterinary Science (Bachelor of Veterinary Science) do not typically participate in semester or year long exchange programs. Short term overseas study programs or clinical placements may be available. You should consult your course coordinator about available opportunities.

Exchange in your final semester

Approval to go on exchange in the final semester of your degree depends on the program you are enrolled in. Read the notes below for your faculty to find out if you can go on exchange in your final semester or if you need to plan an earlier exchange. Bear in mind that if you go on exchange in your final semester this can delay your graduation and entry into Honours or Postgraduate programs.

Arts and Social Sciences

Undergraduate Arts students generally have considerable choice in exchange destinations, although there are restricted enrolments in some academic areas at partner universities. Most students apply for University-wide exchange places, but there are a few discipline-specific exchange agreements, such as Gotland University in Sweden for archaeology and several others for language study eg: Université Stendhal Grenoble 3, in France.

Students undertaking a compulsory exchange in the Bachelor of Arts (Languages), usually during the third year of candidature, should note that their destinations must be consistent with their language major and be at an appropriate university where the language major is the medium of instruction. Fore information about taking 'Languages on Exchange' click here.


Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Medical Science may be permitted to participate in the International Exchange Program in the first or second semester of their third year. Students intending to apply for Honours following their third year should discuss their subject choices for exchange with the relevant department.

Due to strict course requirements, Bachelor of Medical Science students will not be permitted to undertake exchange in the second year of their degree. The Bachelor of Medical Science requires students to take specific core units in the second year and therefore exchange is not appropriate.

There is one discipline-specific exchange agreement with Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, for Biomedical Science students. As the nature of these courses is quite specific, Medical Science students considering an exchange at Karolinska Institutet should discuss this with their course coordinator early in their course.


There is one discipline-specific partnership with KĂžbenhavn Universitet, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, in Denmark. Pharmacy students are also eligible to apply for University-wide exchange places.

Exchange for pharmacy students is not straightforward due to the strict requirements of the pharmacy course. A successful application for exchange will require significant consultation with a course or year adviser to ensure that necessary progression requirements can be met. You should prepare to be flexible in your exchange preferences.

When considering exchange to Canada and the USA, you should be aware that most health-related courses are only taught as professional degrees at the postgraduate level and will be closed to undergraduate students. However, there may be some possibilities for undergraduate students in Canada, as well as, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia (where some programs are instructed in English).


Undergraduate science students generally have considerable choice in exchange programs, although there are restricted enrolments in some academic areas at partner universities. Most students apply for University-wide exchange places, but there is one discipline-specific exchange arrangement with Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, for Biomedical Science students (see section under Medicine).

Computer science is difficult to access at universities in Canada and the USA due to extreme competition from local enrolments. This has resulted in restrictive quotas for entry into these courses. Where quotas exist, you should prepare to be flexible to increase your chances of placement overseas. Undergraduate students may also be able to participate in research opportunities at some partner universities.

Psychology majors should review department information about exchange options before submitting an exchange application. For more information about 'Psychology on Exchange' click here.

Veterinary Science

Due to strict degree requirements, the Faculty of Veterinary Science does not typically participate in semester based exchange programs. However, it may be possible for students in the Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Science to participate in the program, after careful consultation with their course coordinator. Short-term practical placements may be arranged through the faculty at a partner school overseas.

Visual Arts - Sydney College of the Arts

Sydney College of the Arts has a number of discipline-specific exchange partnerships. SCA students are also eligible to apply for places at University-wide exchange institutions, though gaining entry to many overseas destinations is challenging due to limited studio space. You should prepare to be flexible with your University-wide exchange preferences. Where exchange is available, portfolios will normally be required.

SCA recommends students participate in the International Exchange Program during the later stages of their undergraduate course (excluding Honours) or early part of their postgraduate program and only in March semester for no more than one semester. All applicants must be first reviewed by the SCA Exchange Committee in May, including students who choose to submit an application for a University-wide exchange place through the International Exchange Program run through International Services. Students should consult with SCA for more specific advice on academic requirements for exchange.