A famously sunny country with a fast-advancing economy and a well-recognised university system, Australia is understandably among the top study destinations in the world for international students.
Australia has the third highest number of international students in the world, behind only the UK and the US – pretty impressive for a nation of just 24 million people.
According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022, there are 37 top universities in Australia. Six of them feature in the prestigious top 100.
Below is everything you need to know about applying to university in Australia as an international student, including visa information, costs, scholarships and post-study work prospects.
What kind of universities are there in Australia?
The Australian higher education system is home to a range of universities, from leading research institutions to technical colleges, art schools and more.
Universities are mostly clustered on the east coast, with a total of 21 institutions in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and other towns in the states of Queensland and New South Wales.
A further eight universities are based in Melbourne, six more in Adelaide on the southern coast, and one in between Adelaide and Melbourne.
On the other side of the continent, there are five universities on the west coast, in Perth and Fremantle, and just one in Darwin, far to the north in the Northern Territory.
The Group of Eight, also referred to as the Go8, is an association of Australia’s leading research universities, similar to the Russell Group in the UK or the Ivy League in the US. Universities in the Go8 include the University of Adelaide, Australian National University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, UNSW Sydney, The University of Queensland, University of Sydney and The University of Western Australia.
As well as these older traditional universities, many younger Australian institutions are beginning to make a splash on the global stage. More than a quarter of Australia’s universities in THE’s top 100 universities are under 50 years old. Examples of these up-and-coming institutions include Charles Darwin University and Queensland University of Technology.
Then there’s the Australian Technology Network, an association of universities with a strong history in design, engineering and technological innovation. The five universities in the network include Curtin University, RMIT University, the University of South Australia, the University of Technology Sydney and Deakin University. Each institution has strong links to Australian industry, often leading to work placements and job opportunities for students.
How does the Australian university system work?
At the undergraduate level, it is common in Australia for students to take double or combined degrees, choosing two subjects such as arts and science, arts and law, or commerce and engineering. Degrees typically take three years, but combined courses and some specific subjects can take longer.
If you want to become specialised more quickly than a four-year American undergraduate degree would allow but keep the flexibility to study more than one subject, Australia offers a good middle ground. In the first year, you’ll take a range of courses – about four subjects each semester.
Also, Australian universities often place a lot of emphasis on acquiring work experience as part of your studies, and many institutions will encourage students to take on internships and placements as part of their degree.
How do you apply to Australian universities?
For international students applying to Australia, there is no centralised application system, meaning you’ll have to apply to each individual university directly, either online or by post.
To apply for a place at an Australian university, you’ll normally need to submit academic transcripts, course preferences and, if applicable, a summary of your employment experience. You usually won’t need to write a personal statement or personal essay, but you may be asked to outline why you wish to study in Australia when you apply for your student visa later down the line.
In the Australian system, you have the option to start university in the first semester (March-June) or the second semester (July-October).
If you want to start in the first semester, you must apply to the university by December at the latest. Most domestic students will get their application in much earlier, and it is often a good idea to do so, since universities can return with a decision just weeks later.
The latest deadline to start in the second semester is in May, but again, it would be wise not to wait that late.
In addition to completing an application form, you may also have to pay a one-time application fee, usually of between A$50-A$100 (£25-£50).
Vlog: international student orientation week at Charles Darwin University, Australia
Do I need to do a language test to study in Australia?
As with most English-speaking universities, you will be expected to prove your language proficiency. Different universities and subjects will have different expectations, so research the language requirements for each individual course you’re interested in. Required scores maybe reduced if you also take an intensive language course or are applying for a foundation year.
In most circumstances, you’ll be expected to prove your language ability through a test, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) or the International English Language Test System (IELTS).
You’ll also be expected to provide proof of your language ability when applying for your student visa for Australia. The normal bar for this is an IELTS score of 5.5 or a Toefl iBT score of 46 or equivalent, but usually your university’s requirements will be higher.
How much does it cost to study in Australia?
Similar to the UK and the US, studying in Australia comes with a hefty price tag, but you won’t necessarily have to pay for everything on your own. The cost of living differs greatly across the country, and it is worth exploring financial aid avenues before ruling out the possibility of studying Down Under.
Fees in Australia are generally calculated per study unit, rather than per year. Most students will be studying a combination of units from different bands, and each unit will fall into a different band and costing – so all students will be paying varying amounts each year.
Students could pay anything between A$20,000 and A$45,000. Undergraduate degrees last between three and four years.
A year-long master’s degree will usually cost A$22,000-A$50,000 in tuition.
Veterinary and medical degrees cost considerably more. For example, a medical degree in total can cost between A$50,000 to A$75,000 per year, while a veterinary degree can cost A$50,000 to A$70,000 per year.
Accommodation costs vary, depending on the type and region: the more rural regions, in the western and northern Australian states, will be much cheaper; the big cities will cost more, particularly if you want to live centrally.
On-campus accommodation is typically A$440-A$1,100 per month, a homestay is about A$450-A$1,200 per month, and shared rental accommodation is about A$380-A$850 per month. Rented accommodation may have some of the utility costs included, but double-check so you aren’t caught off guard by extra bills.
There is a possibility that students will be charged a Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) on top of their tuition fees. This is a non-academic fee that funds services and support programmes that can be used by all students. This varies by university and region but is typically A$308 per academic year.
It is also compulsory to have Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC), which costs the average undergraduate student A$478 for three years. Exact prices will vary across providers and based on the cover you choose.
You’ll also need to factor in lifestyle costs, which will depend on your financial situation and personal preferences.
The average weekly grocery shop in Australia costs A$80 and eating a meal in an average restaurant is A$18. The average cinema ticket costs A$14, and the average gym membership is A$65 per month. Nights out vary, depending on the area, but can be between A$50 and $60.
An ISIC card is well worth applying for as a student and offers 20 per cent off at restaurants and cafes and up to 40 per cent off international airfares.
Resources: applying to university in Australia
What scholarships are available for international students in Australia?
There are a range of scholarships and grants available for international students in Australia. Most come directly from the universities and are merit-based, but there are also some government, private and country-based initiatives on offer.
Government scholarships include the Australia Awards, available to international students from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. These include full tuition fees, return air travel, a contribution to living expenses and health costs. The closing dates for applications are mostly in April, but this differs for different countries. Similarly, Destination Australia is a government mobility programme that encourages international and domestic students to study in regional Australia.
At the postgraduate level, the Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship Awards and the International Postgraduate research scholarships provide financial support for international students seeking to do a master’s or PhD in any field of study in Australia.
Australian universities directly offering scholarships to their international students include for more information. You can also use from the Australian government website to explore scholarship options and your eligibility.
How do I apply for a student visa for Australia?
In almost all study cases, you’ll need to apply for a student visa (subclass 500), except for research-driven postgraduate study. This usually costs A$1,240 for applicants over 18 and A$885 for applicants under 18.
To obtain a visa for studying in Australia, applicants will need to prove that they have at least 12 months of course fees in a bank account, plus A$21,041 for living costs, and travel costs of up to A$3,000. Alternatively, you can show that your parents or partner had an annual income of at least A$62,222 in the 12 months before your application. Applicants might also have to pay fees for health checks, police certificates and biometrics.
You can apply for a student visa only after you have accepted a place to study at a specific university in Australia. You’ll need to provide either your offer letter or enrolment letter with your application.
Applicants from some countries may also need to provide proof of an IELTS score of 5.5 or a Toefl iBT score of 46 or equivalent.
Depending on the duration and start date of your studies, you will be able to stay one or two months in Australia after your degree ends. During your studies, you can leave and re-enter Australia multiple times, depending on Covid-19 restrictions.
Students can usually work up to 40 hours every two weeks when their course is in session, and unlimited hours outside term time.
You’ll need to plan in advance as 90 per cent of higher education student visas are processed within four months. It’s worth applying in plenty of time before your course starts, so fairly soon after you receive your offer.
What can I do after I graduate in Australia?
With a low rate of unemployment and a high quality of life, Australia is a great place to build your graduate career.
If you want to work in Australia after graduating, the temporary graduate visa allows you to stay in the country for work, study or travel for two to four years depending on the course. Applicants must show that they have reached a certain level of English.
Permanent visas are open to skilled workers and depend on qualification, work experience and, sometimes, employer sponsorship.
Employers in Australia place particular value on local work experience, so studying in the country and taking advantage of any work experience opportunities during your degree is a great way to get your foot in the door to full-time employment.
The Australian economy is dominated by the services sector, but recent high-growth industries include education, healthcare, technology and engineering.
How many universities are there in Australia?
Please note all costs and conversion rates were correct at the time of publication. These may vary over time.
Want to study abroad in Australia? Learn about the Australian university system, costs, visas and how to apply as an international student