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Modes of Study

Post-secondary education providers have become more flexible in meeting the changing demands of a diverse potential student population.

You may choose to study:

  • On-campus (also called internal)
  • Off-campus (also called external)
  • Mixed mode (a combination of internal and external)
  • Full-time
  • Part-time
  • Fast track or dual degree

Below is a brief explanation of the various modes of study available. Note, however, that all providers are different and may not offer all the options listed here. You will need to consult your chosen provider for further information.

The resource below, ‘Understanding your Study Requirements’, may help you to identify which mode of study is right for you.

    Internal or Face-to-Face

    Internal study refers to face-to-face or on-campus teaching where students attend campus to undertake classes, lectures, tutorials and or practicals related to their course. There are many benefits to studying internally, such as meeting other students and developing networks, and talking directly with teachers, lecturers and tutors. You can also access on-campus facilities and services such as cafes, bookshops, medical services, counselling and other support services, computer labs, library books, photocopying, and social activities.

    Though the content and academic standard of external versus internal study is the same, the experience can be quite different. On-campus teaching relies mainly on group-based activities as part of classes, lectures, tutorials, practicals and workshops. This group-based experience may be a factor for you to consider when deciding which mode of study to choose.


    External study - also known as distance, online or open learning - means that you don't have to be on campus to study.

    An entire unit/subject may be delivered online, or some components (e.g., pre-recorded lectures, zoom lectures, lecture notes and learning materials) may be offered online in conjunction with some class attendance (either in a block period, or as part of online live/zoom lectures). For a fully online unit you will need to complete and submit assessments online.

    Courses with a substantial practical component, for example, science-based courses involving lab work, may not be well-suited to external delivery and may only be offered in on-campus mode.

    As an external student, you'll receive the same education as internal students, without having to be on campus. The real advantage of online study is that you can study at home at your own pace or on campus with flexibility.

    There are many reasons why a student might choose to study externally. These include the location of the education provider (i.e. the campus), competing family and employment responsibilities, and managing your health and/or disability.

    Full-time Study

    Full-time study means enrolment in the 'normal full-time’ load of subjects or units that make up a course. Post-secondary education providers generally consider this to be the minimum number of subjects that a student must undertake in order to complete their course within the minimum timeframe. This load can vary from course to course and between providers.

    For student income support eligibility, the Australian government’s Services Australia (previously called Department of Human Services and incorporating Centrelink, Disability Support Pension, Medicare etc) usually defines full-time study as 75 per cent of the load of subjects or units that a student is required to study in any given calendar year. Note, however, that a 75 per cent enrolment load will not normally enable you to complete a course in the minimum timeframe.

    However, the definition of full-time study by Services Australia is quite flexible due to the different range and structure of post-secondary courses. Services Australia also recognises the impact that substantial physical, mental health condition or intellectual disability may have on a student’s ability to undertake full-time study.  For example, Services Australia may deem a student that is studying 25 percent of the 'normal full-time' load of subjects or units to be a full-time student if their disability prevents them being able to study a heavier load.

    Part-time Study

    Part-time study means enrolment in less than 75 per cent of the 'normal full-time’ load of subjects or units that make up a course. The subjects or units that can be undertaken is dependent on the course or program and what subject sequence is permitted (some subjects may need to be completed as prerequisites before you enrol in others). If you choose to study part-time you will take longer to finish your course than the usual minimum timeframe as you will be studying fewer subjects per semester than a full-time student.

    Some students with disability choose to study part-time. This can assist with a more gradual and often more successful transition into tertiary study. It can also be helpful if you need to balance other demands and responsibilities with your study requirements.

    Fast-track studies

    At university, you may choose to fast-track your studies by combining two degrees through a structured combined (or double/dual) degree program. Combined courses allow students to complete two degrees faster than if you completed each degree one after the other. It is often cheaper as well. The usual structure for a combined degree involves enrolment in the essential subject requirements for each degree, but with no free-choice electives.

    Some university providers offer another fast-tracking option where you can add a unit to your full-time study load - also known as an overload. Most full-time university students enrol in four units; if approved to take an overload, you may be able to enrol in five units, depending on the provider. Consider whether this option is right for you if you are new to university, you have other commitments such as work or family, or your disability may impact this heavier workload.

    Another option for fast-tracking your studies is to undertake a summer program or third semester. This may also be a good opportunity to catch up on studies or to get a head-start on the next year’s study program.

    Many universities and TAFE providers have arrangements in which the university recognises completed TAFE study and gives credit towards a related university degree. This enables you to fast-track your university course with the credit granted from your TAFE study.

    Other Study Options

    Intensive/Block Mode Study

    Some courses offer units in block mode. These units are taught over a shorter teaching period - anywhere from an intensive week to five or six weeks in duration. Studying in block mode allows you to complete a subject or unit in a much shorter time period.

    Cross-institutional Study

    Some university providers offer an option for you to enrol in a unit(s) with another university, and count this unit as credit towards your course. This may be approved in situations where your ‘home institution’ doesn’t offer the unit(s) you need to study as part of your course, or if you have had to relocate elsewhere before completing your degree and are unable to complete your course with your home institution by distance.  There can be limits to  the amount of cross-institutional study that can be taken with another university and credited back towards your course.

    Mid-year Entry

    Many providers offer several intakes for starting your studies, including at the beginning of the academic year (i.e. late February/early March for university; early February for other providers such as TAFE) or mid-year.  Entering studies mid-year can help prepare you for higher education at a ‘quieter’ time.