Login | Register

UNSW vs USYD: What’s it like to study engineering

By Reiley and Olivia in HSC
19th of December 2019



With ATARs being released, it can be stressful to decide which university should be placed as a first preference. This is why Reiley and Olivia teamed up to compare our experiences as aerospace engineering students at UNSW and USYD.



Olivia’s Experience (UNSW)

I’m currently studying Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering (Honors) at UNSW. This means that towards the end of my degree, I’m required to complete a thesis.


Academic Life

All first year engineering students must complete the following courses:


  • – Design and Innovation (ENGG1000)
  • – Mathematics 1A or Higher Mathematics 1A (MATH1131 or MATH1141)
  • – Physics 1A or Higher Physics 1A (PHYS1121 or PHYS1131)
  • – Mathematics 1B or Higher Mathematics 1B (MATH1231 or MATH1241)
  • – Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications (ELEC1111)
  • – Engineering Mechanics (ENGG1300)
  • – One programming course (ENGG1811, COMP1911 or COMP1511)


Disclaimer: Civil engineering students do not need to take ELEC1111 and only students that do an engineering field under School of Mechanical Engineering and Manufacturing and School of Civil and Environmental Engineering must do ENGG1300.


Another thing to note is that all students must to a first year elective and you can choose based on the list provided here. However, if you take both ENGG1300 and ELEC1111, you do not need to do a first year elective but must substitute first year electives with disciplinary electives, which will be taken later in the degree.


In second year, this is when I start taking courses that are more relevant to mechanical engineering but not specifically aerospace engineering. This includes taking a design and manufacturing course, mechanics of solids or thermodynamics.


Third year is when I start taking courses that are relevant to aerospace engineering. This includes aerospace design, flight and propulsion and aerodynamics.


Fourth year is when I do a thesis since I am doing an honors degree. This is also usually the best time to take general education courses, which are courses that are not related to engineering but must be completed. Essentially, this gives you room to try a course that you’ve always wanted to try but isn’t really related to your degree.


Also, during your engineering degree, you are required to complete 60 days of Industrial Training such as paid or unpaid internships. This is a requirement for you to be registered as an engineer under Engineers Australia. While the uni hasn’t specified when you must take industrial training, it is often recommended that you do an internship in third year.


University Life (UNSW)

There are numerous opportunities to get involved with university life. One way to get involved is to join a society. Engineering societies include EngSoc (Faculty of Engineering Society), ElSoc (Electrical and Telecommunications) and AIAA (Aerospace/Aeronautical). There are also societies that aim to support minority groups, an example being Engiqueers (LGBT+) and WIESoc (Women in Engineering). These societies offer numerous networking opportunities such as site visits and speed networking, but also fun events such as Trivia Night and Galas.


Student-led projects are another way to get involved with university life. Because practical experience is important, it is highly encouraged to join a student-led project. Recently, UNSW has introduced an initiative called challENG, where students can join a student-led project and if they contribute for three terms, it can count for 15 days of Industrial Training. There are a variety of projects to choose from, including Rocketry, Hyperloop, Redback Racing, Sunswift and Design Build Fly.


My Experience

One of the first few things I learnt in Term 1 was to really give myself the time to settle into uni, especially since this was the first time the trimester system has been implemented. The difference between semesters and trimesters is that semesters has 13 weeks of content with a mid-semester break during the semester, and a one month break between each semester. Trimesters, on the other hand, have 10 weeks of content, no mid-semester break and a two week holiday in between each trimester. Initially, I didn’t understand how the trimester system would impact me until I reached the middle of Term 1. I realised that I didn’t have a lot of time studying or catching up, or finishing a group project – remember, engineering is all about designing ways to solve problems! Our projects require us to build autonomous robots, vertical displacement pump, or even a plane!


Another thing I noticed is that lecturers tend to teach concepts at a faster pace. This is because they want to make sure they fit all the content within 10 weeks, which also means I needed to spend more time consolidating what I’ve learnt.


As a result, I’d like to emphasise that it is important to give yourself the time to get used to the new system. Meet new people and learn from older students how they’ve survived uni so far so you can apply their advice to your uni life.


Academically, you may have noticed that you’re not receiving the grades as you used to back in high school. You may be used to receiving high marks in your assessments. University is very different from high school. The first time you receive feedback from an assessment might be shocking but remember, engineering is hard! It’s challenging to get a High Distinction or even a Distinction, especially if it’s your first year since you’re trying to adjust to the new system. You might also find that some engineering students have failed a course. While these factors might cause you to question whether you’re doing the right degree, always think about why you want to do engineering and use that as a source of motivation.


Once you’ve given yourself time to settle in, explore what uni has to offer! Uni is known for having a variety of societies so use this to your advantage. Because engineering requires you to do Industrial Training, joining societies and student-led projects is a great way for you to learn new skills or even network.


For example, I am currently a member of the Media Team for Rocketry and the Marketing Director for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). To some people, these positions may not look like they’re relevant to engineering but as you continue to learn about the engineering industry, you start to realise that companies care a lot about soft skills such as leadership, strategising and interpersonal communication.

ABOVE: The AIAA’s 2020 executive team.


On top of learning new skills, societies and clubs are a great way to meet new people, whether they are doing the same degree as you or a degree that isn’t from your school. Using AIAA as an example, our aim is to create an aerospace community since aerospace engineering is a very narrow field of engineering.


My last piece of advice is to enjoy uni. Uni can be a bit daunting, and I’ll admit it’s not a smooth ride, but the whole point of uni is to finally learn the things you’re passionate about. Keep reminding yourself why you want to do engineering and eventually you can push through and survive!




Reiley’s Experience (USYD)

Uni Life

Transitioning from school to uni was always going to be a big deal for me. I was able to learn the content I actually wanted to learn, learn about more specifically useful things and find people more like myself to share a deeper connection with.


When I first stepped into the University of Sydney (USYD) on O-week (orientation week) I was swallowed up by the sheer amount of stalls set up by an endless number of societies and by the different faculties such as engineering, IT, Science, Business, Law and so on. Simply going up to one of these stalls you were interested in opened up the possibility of new friendships and definitely a deeper understanding of what the endless opportunities are at USYD.


Now I know it can be daunting; I only knew one person going into O-Week at USYD. To help ease your way into Uni life, USYD runs a mentoring program specific for you per faculty. If you study engineering, you would be shown around the uni with a group of people who will be studying the same course as you. This mentoring program was the start of many of my deepest friendships which I have today!


If you are like me there are more organisation based societies like the USYD Rocketry Team, which I am a part of, indoor gyms, almost every sport including quidditch. But there are also more social based societies which run event every week, with big engineering events usually happening on Thursday nights.


Overall uni life is pretty great with a wide selection of clubs to be a part of and a high chance of meeting a bunch of awesome individuals who are all in the same boat as you (don’t forget that!).


Academic Life

From an academic point of view, you’ll learn that there are many buildings in which you will spend your time in. We have modern lecture halls with comfortable cinema line chairs to old fashioned wooden bench seats (especially in the engineering quarter of the uni. Most lecturers and tutors are helpful and knowledgeable as well! What’s most important and what has helped me the most is the collaborative nature of the students studying engineering at USYD. If I’m stuck on a problem I can count on more than one person, even people I don’t know helping me out and assisting me.


This would have to be the biggest point I can make about USYD Engineering. Everyone at USYD understands that we are in it together and will lift each other up to make graduating with whatever grade you please a reality.


Intertwined with lectures and tutorials we have labs or practical based activities such as in the workshop building a metal hammer, a lunar lander to bounce of a simulated lunar surface, machining, coding and so on which provides a very much more realistic learning environment which I found to be extremely helpful.


The one thing I should say is that all engineering streams are quite packed in terms of workload, with roughly anywhere between 18-26 contact hours a week (made up of labs, tutorials and lectures). If you play your cards right, you can choose to pack it in 3-4 days or can evenly spread your time out over 5 days, a luxury of planning we didn’t have at school!


Aeronautical/aerospace engineering at USYD is also unique in that we offer the only pure Space Major in Australia. This allows you to graduate with specific space knowledge otherwise not focused on in a pure aerospace/aeronautical specialist.


Personal Experience

Walking into uni is daunting. Not knowing anyone can be scary, but you can not forget that we are all in this together. One of my closest friends now is someone I simply said hi to as we were walking in the same direction to an engineering breakfast on the first day. If you take a chance and put yourself out there you’ll realise you are all the same and all want to build connections. USYD has some of the most friendly people you will meet and there’s no doubt you’ll find your very own group of amazing friends.


If you are a sportsman like myself and you’re worried about elite opportunities, don’t be. USYD athletes from our athletics, cricket, swimming teams – you name it – have gone all the way to the Olympics in some cases!


Aerospace/aeronautical engineering is a hard degree and each other stream offered including biomedical, electrical, mechanical, mechatronic engineering follow a similar pathway. However, I have friends from each stream and further ignites just how collaborative engineers are!


For an overview of my time at USYD, I have gone through hard assessments, easy assessments, time management problems, an extreme workload but I’ve pulled through not only just getting by but acing subjects which I couldn’t have done without the amazing support base of students who come to study engineering at USYD.