A Beginner's Guide to University Study

Studying at university is very different to studying at School. On this page we try to give an overview of some of the following:

What is university study?

At school, when you complete your studies, you receive the same award as your classmates - the Higher School Certificate (HSC), which can be composed of a huge number of different subjects.

At university, each student who completes their course will receive a degree. There are lots of different courses to choose from, and when you finish, a degree will be awarded to you by your Faculty.

To get your degree you'll need to study and pass a certain number of subjects that are acceptable to the Faculty. At the University of Sydney, we refer to subjects as units of study, or simply units.

Each Faculty has its own Regulations about what units are and are not acceptable and these are listed in the Faculty Handbook. Throughout your studies, you will consult the Handbook time and time again, to decide what units to do each semester, and how to plan your course.

What is the Faculty of Science?

The Faculty of Science consists of a Faculty Office and several Schools and Disciplines in different areas of Science.

The Schools and Disciplines have their own separate offices and staff, and actually teach the units of study (subjects) that you will take as part of your course.

For example: the School of Physics is part of the Faculty of Science and offers all the Physics units of study to students in the Faculty of Science and also to students from other Faculties.

What are all the different courses in the Faculty of Science?

In the Faculty of Science you may choose one of a number of different courses.

Some of these courses can be combined with courses from other Faculties.

You can choose:

  • A generalist course where you have the opportunity to study different types of Science and even subjects from outside Science.

    The Bachelor of Science is a generalist course. Students who choose this course will graduate with a Bachelor of Science (abbreviated to BSc) and will choose a major which is a specialist area of study that can be added to their degree certificate (testamur).

  • A stream degree is one in which you will specialise in one particular area of Science.

    Stream degrees are more specialist and include the Bachelor of Psychology and the Bachelor of Medical Science. Students in those courses graduate with a BPsych or a BMedSc respectively, which indicates that they have studied specifically in that that area of Science.

How do I choose a course?

Go to the Courses and Majors page and browse around the courses that we offer in Science, and have a look at course cut-offs for each course. (Keep in mind that course cut-offs vary from year to year and are an indication of demand for that course, rather than the difficulty or quality of the course.)

You can read about professional recognition of the degree programs, career opportunities and also view more information on what you are likely to study in each year of your course.

You may also like to visit the website of the Schools and Disciplines to read more about your areas of interest.

For example: students who wish to study Psychology may like to visit the School of Psychology website.

Which course you decide on can depend on several factors, including:

  • What you enjoy,
  • What you are good at,
  • What ATAR you are likely to get, and
  • Whether you know what area you want to work in when you have graduated.

What will I study in my course?

Subjects or units of study last for one semester and are worth a certain number of credit points (cp) towards your overall degree (usually 6cp except some 1st year Maths units which are worth 3cp). Most students will take four units of study or 24cp in each semester over three years.

For example: the unit BIOL1001 Concepts in Biology is worth 6cp and taught by the School of Biological Sciences.

To graduate you will have to complete a certain number of credit points in specific areas and at specific levels. This is all laid out in the Science Handbook.

Science students spend much of their first year studying some or all of Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology (with variations depending on which course you are in) plus some elective units. All Science students will have to complete a certain amount of Mathematics.

These first year (or junior) units are the building blocks that allow students to specialise and study in more depth in their second (intermediate) and third (senior) years.

In a generalist course like the Bachelor of Science, students would usually choose their major some time in their second year and start studying all the prerequisites for their third year units of study. A BSc student may choose one or two majors and may study a number of units outside the Faculty of Science.

A stream degree like the Bachelor of Psychology or the Bachelor of Medical Science is much more structured with many of the second year units already chosen for you. In these courses students can usually choose from a range of senior subject areas to specialise further within their chosen field.

Where can I see exactly what I’ll be studying?

The Science Handbook! This will be your best point of reference throughout your degree.

The Science Handbook has enrolment tables for each degree as well as specific information about what you will need to study and descriptions of all the Units of Study in Science. Use the links in the box on the right hand side of the page to help you navigate around the Handbook.

It's not necessary for students to learn about their course in too much depth before they come here to study but some prospective students find it helpful in making choices.