It's an exciting time for school leavers as they start making decisions about their future - whether to get a job, go into a trade or do further study - and if so what and where.
They're all good options. But if you have a passion, are simply curious, or academically able, here's some information to help make choices about studying at university.
A university education is a smart choice as it opens up more options and opportunities for your future. In addition to gaining professional or industry-led qualifications, you'll learn thinking and analytical skills as well as other transferable skills that will be of use throughout your career - not just your first job. You'll have better job prospects as many jobs now require a degree, and you're less likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for young people with just a school qualification is about 14%, whereas for those with a degree it's about 1-3%.
Another big carrot is that university graduates earn more. On average a university graduate will earn about $1.3 million more over their working lives than those with just a secondary school qualification.
New Zealand universities also offer many opportunities for you to develop as a person and to improve your employability through opportunities such as international study experiences, internships and other work placements, involvement in clubs and societies, and developing friendships and networks with other students.
What should I study?
My advice is to follow your passions - study what interests you and what you love doing. But, if being employed is important to you, keep an eye on the employment prospects for graduates in fields that interest you.
Start by making sure you understand your strengths - talk with teachers or your careers adviser, or try the toolkits available on Careers NZ and university websites. Careers NZ has an online tool that allows you to compare study options. It shows what different qualifications are likely to earn and lists some of the jobs you might aim for.
Yes you will earn the most as a doctor, engineer or information technology graduate. However, you will also have better than average earning potential and high rates of employment on average with an arts degree.
Next explore what courses and degree options different universities offer. All universities have special teams dedicated to helping you navigate your way through all the options and information. You can also ask them about enrolment, university and course admission, campus tours, information for Māori and Pacific, as well as eligibility for scholarships.
One tip - when choosing subjects, take the opportunity to study new options and specialist subjects, rather than just replicating what you studied at school.
Where to study?
Students are very fortunate to have access to eight world-class universities right here in New Zealand. All our universities are ranked in the top 3% in the world and each has one or more subjects ranked in the top 100 universities in the world.
In choosing a university, think about the subjects and degrees they offer, the disciplines they specialise in, as well as other considerations like location, accommodation options, clubs and activities available, as well as scholarships and exchange opportunities.
It's a good idea to attend an open day or take a campus tour offered by the university. There's information and links to all eight universities on the Universities New Zealand website.
I strongly recommend that you think about a university education as an investment that will pay off over the rest of your life.
The breakeven point for most graduates is around age 33. This is where what you earn from having a degree, exceeds any loans, fees, living costs and income lost while studying.
On average those who take out a student loan pay it off within just seven years. The average loan balance on graduation is around $14,000, which is a good investment considering the additional $1.3 million more a university graduate will on average earn over their working life.
You may need to borrow money to help get you through. We are fortunate to have a good system where full-time New Zealand students are entitled to an interest-free Student Loan to help cover course fees and costs and living costs while they're at university.
Some students will be entitled to more assistance such as a Student Allowance or an accommodation benefit. Unlike the student loan, these don't need to be paid back but eligibility is based on your family income. There's more information on loans and allowances on Studylink at www.studylink.govt.nz
Apply for a scholarship to help fund your studies. Many universities offer scholarships to attract students so check out their websites. Universities New Zealand also offers undergraduate scholarships, see www.universitiesnz.ac.nz/scholarships/undergraduate.
Check entry criteria
To gain admission to university you'll need enough credits to gain University Entrance. This means more than just getting NCEA Level 3.
To get UE you need NCEA Level 3 as well as 14 credits each in three approved subjects, 10 Literacy credits at level 2 or above, and 10 Numeracy credit at level 1 or above. I advise you to check with your school to make sure that you are taking a mix of subjects and achievement standards that will allow you to get UE.
It's also important to know that some universities have higher entry standards than UE to gain admission. And some subjects will have special admission criteria. So talk to the university or check their website.
There's also help available. Universities offer foundation courses for students who don't have the grades, or may feel unprepared or lack confidence. They're also good if you left school early, or haven't studied for some time.
So get onto those websites and start enrolling!
Finally, enjoy your university study. It's a special and unique time in your life as you study and socialise with others who are thirsty for ideas and knowledge.
Chris Whelan, is the executive director of Universities New Zealand