Academic Differences in Australia
Academic terminology overseas is different compared to American terms. For example, at some Australian universities a “course” actually means a “degree program”, such as “I am studying the Bachelor of Business course”, while a “subject” or “paper” refers to an individual class/subject matter. Below we have outlined some of the main academic differences that American study abroad students have consistently noted.
This will vary for each faculty but, in general, most courses have only limited assessments/assignments throughout the course of the semester. For example, some courses have one paper worth 20% and one final exam worth 80% of the final grade. This is very different from the American system where there is usually continual assessment, i.e. quizzes, essays, papers, midterm and final exams. In the American system students often know how they are progressing throughout the semester. With the limited on-going assessment throughout the semester in the Australian systems, many students think there is no point going to class because there are fewer assignments. However, given that there are fewer assignments, each assessment becomes proportionately more important and can make it harder to get a good grade in a course. If you fail one assignment you will have a lot of ground to make up with the remaining assignment or exam, and how much ground you are able to makeup can be mathematically limited. Do not get lulled into a false sense of security – do the coursework as the semester progresses! If you don’t, when the mid-term/final exam is upon you, it will be quite difficult to pass the class. At that point, it will be too late to withdraw from the class so the poor mark will be on your official transcript.
Emphasis on independent work
Even though there are limited assignments, it is expected that students are doing continuous independent research/study during the course. Students may not get extra points for attending class and participating, but if a student continually misses class the lecturer will notice and can factor the absences into the final grade. Additionally, some American students are used to having professors available daily for assistance if they are finding the course difficult. It may vary from department to department, but generally students in Australia are expected to be independent, do the work and make sure they pass the class on their own.
Courses in Australia can be more difficult
The degree programs are very streamlined (if you are a business major all you take is business — there are no general education requirements). Additionally, Australian students have prepared for their degree in high school. As such, first year economics at the university, for example, is quite difficult, as it is assumed students had a significant background in economics in high school. In contrast, most first year students in the U.S., regardless of their degree, take broader courses to satisfy general education requirements. Such general education courses tend to be a bit easier since they are intended to be taken by a variety of students from a variety of academic disciplines, and not necessarily by students specializing in that field. This also means Australian students have significant background in their area of study by the time they reach their second and third year of college.
Australian Course Levels
Study abroad students will generally take a combination of 100/1000, 200/2000 and 300/3000 level courses. Course levels in Australia do not correspond to the same course level in the U.S. Because Australians earn an undergraduate degree in three years versus the customary four years in the U.S., course levels are slightly different than what most students are accustomed to at their home institution. For example, a 400/4000 level course in the U.S. generally equates to a “senior” year course, but in Australia a 400/4000 level course would equal a “Graduate” course. Please see the chart below for more examples.
Because of these academic differences you should not take all 300 or 3000 level courses at your overseas university just because you are a junior. 300/3000 level courses in Australia are equivalent to “senior” year courses in the U.S. and “senior” year courses assume the highest knowledge base going into the course, which many U.S. juniors or sophomores may not possess. Most universities will allow you to take some 300/3000 level courses, but they will strongly recommend you take a balance of first, second and third year courses to ensure you are not academically overwhelmed.
We will discuss these academic differences in more detail upon arrival. If you have any questions or concerns regarding academic differences, please do not hesitate to contact us. The majority of our participants do quite well overseas, but it is important to be aware of the academic differences. Participants need to be prepared for the pitfalls as there will be many potential distractions.
Australian institutions determine grades quite differently from U.S. institutions. It is common for U.S. students to start with a 100% when they turn in an assignment. As the teacher marks the paper and finds mistakes, the student is marked down until they reach a final grade. At Australian universities, however, students start with a 0% and are marked up as the teacher finds things correct until they reach a final grade for that assignment. As a result, students will generally end up with lower grades overseas than they would have received in the U.S. For example, in Australia a 75% on a paper is normally a “Credit” which is equal to a “B” in the U.S. It is much harder to get a higher grade in Australia than in the U.S. This can affect students psychologically – that is, students accustomed to receiving grades in the 80 – 90% range will be disappointed to be receiving lower, but equivalent, grades in Australia.
Below is a general comparison of the Australian grading system (some universities use the Distinction grading scale and some have a scale of 1 – 7) and their American grading equivalencies. Please note that this comparison is only general and your home institution ultimately decides the amount of credit you will receive and the grade equivalencies.
||7 or HD
||6 or D
||5 or C
||C “Pass I”
||4 or P1
||D “Pass II” or “Conceded Pass”
||3 or P2
||2, 1 or F
Please note: Most U.S. universities do not include overseas grades in the student’s total GPA. The credit is recognised as transfer credit but is excluded from all GPA calculations. However, this may be different at your home institution. Please check with your home university regarding their transfer credit policies.
As you select your 6 – 8 courses, keep in mind your ultimate goal at final registration is to have:
- A total number of credit points within the university’s stated enrollment range
- A balance between 100, 200 or 300 (1000, 2000 or 3000) level courses
- A combination of courses that will keep you on track for graduation at your home institution