If you’re reading this, congratulations.

You’ve survived the emotional rollercoaster that is NCEA, hopefully physically intact.

Regardless of results, simply trying is hard enough, so ka pai young Kiwi. May your holidays be long, breezy, warm and stress-free.

Whether you’re in the final stretch of your secondary education, or have just walked out of your school gates never to return again, you’re probably starting to feel the pressure of deciding what you want to do as a career or profession.

You might have already read our first guide, and you’re hopefully feeling a bit better about the daunting project of Adulting.

However, you may not have completely sussed the nitty gritty, which is actually choosing the field(s) you’d like to explore. Depending on what you’re interested in, you’re possibly going to have to look into further qualifications from a tertiary institution. This guide will break down the finer details around degrees, diplomas, universities, applications, tradies and all of the other fancy stuff that you pretend to understand, but really have no idea about.


Where to start?

Contrary to Uncle Geoff’s unsolicited opinions over family dinner, there is no requirement that you have to start ANOTHER education as soon as you finish high school. If the thought of looking at another text-book makes you want to run for the hills, it might be time for a break.

If you’re in this boat, I’d encourage having a look at taking a gap year overseas. There are a range of exciting opportunities for high-school grads abroad – from work experience, to volunteer programs, to classic old-fashioned backpacking ventures around the world. Foreigners love Kiwis, so your thuck New Zulund Acceent will give you a sick advantage. Milk it all you can.



Similarly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking around NZ, finding a part-time job you enjoy, and spending a year reassessing, saving money and evaluating your goals.

Whatever you choose, do something. While the prospect of unemployment sounds like a stress-free dream on paper, doing nothing all year gets boring really fast. Trust us.

The biggest word of advice: Research! Don’t settle for whatever looks good on the brochure; explore all the options. There are so many subjects out there that you may not have even heard of, let alone thought possible to study (back to planned happenstance again). Alternatively, there are so many out there that at first glance you may not have considered; but under closer inspection, they look pretty mint.


Have you ever considered going to seminars and talks? Universities and other institutions frequently host events featuring successful people in their fields; not only to benefit students already studying in them, but to advertise to the people who aren’t.

If you’re feeling extra stuck, most big-time unis in the country offer free appointments with liaison officers across the country, who can answer any questions you have about degree, course planning and admissions. 

Talks such as from the Institute of International Affairs, who have yearly seminars at our universities, can lead to a completely new realm of possibilities regarding international careers.

Similarly, Curious Minds hosts cool events to support the idea of girls getting into science and technology.

And it doesn’t just have to stop at the open days your high school drags you along. Check out the other tertiary institutes around New Zealand and the unique possibilities they have to offer: robotics at Whitireia, acting at Te Auhua, cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, zoology at Massey. The possibilities are endless.

So, channel your inner Steve Jobs, be proactive in chasing the ideas that seem cool, and get amongst!

Simply put, a tertiary education is any formal learning that occurs once you have finished your secondary education. Tertiary education can take place at an organisation, such as a University or a Technology institute, or it can be training in the workplace.


Institute of Technology / Polytechnic

There are many different Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics, based in a bunch of regions across New Zealand. 

What’s the difference between a University and a Polytechnic? Well, traditionally polytechnics and institutes of technology focus on practical vocational training, whereas universities focus on academic qualifications grounded in theory. 



These days, both universities and polytechnics combine practical work with theory, and there are significant overlaps between the two depending on the degree. 

Polytechnics traditionally have smaller classes, a strong focus on honing practical skills, and often have industry placement programs to secure employment for graduates.

There is a somewhat archaic perception that ‘techs are for dummies. They’re not. This idea is just an elitist hangover from a bygone era where the “upper class” became doctors and the “lower class” were tradies.

These days, modern ‘techs have a range of exciting specialist qualifications that are sought after across the globe. Going through an Institute of Technology or a Polytechnic is often the only way to get employed in certain fields, such as surveying, chef training, engineering and marine studies.

One of the other main differences between ‘techs and universities is the “learn by doing” approach. While university lecturers love to talk about theories and concepts until the cows come home, ‘techs take a more practical approach, so that when you enter the workforce, you’ve got real-life, hands on experience doing the stuff the job expects of you.

For most students, full-time study is usually accompanied by a part-time job in hospitality or retail in order to pay rent. So, another advantage ‘techs have over universities is the flexible working options they have for students. Depending on your field, many students are able to work full-time while upskilling in their area of qualification. Others can be employed as apprentices (automotive, electrical, capentry) and earn while they learn.

In short, techs are for anyone who knows exactly what field they wanna get into, are practical, hands-on learners, and enjoy small classrooms.


Private Training Establishment (PTE) 

Most PTEs offer Certificate and Diploma qualifications and they are usually targeted at specific vocations or industries. There are over 700 different PTEs in New Zealand!

Some PTEs are North Shore Helicopter Training Ltd, New Zealand College of Chinese Medicine, The Professional Bar & Restaurant School, and ACG Yoobee School of Design. Furthermore, many PTEs are targeted at International Students with a focus on learning English.



In many ways, PTEs are just like really niche Polytechnics/Institutes of Technology that are run by a private organisation.


Government Training Establishment (GTE)

There are currently eight GTEs that provide training and educational courses:



GTEs provide on-the-job training and educational courses for their employees and those directly linked to their establishment. I.e. if you want to study with the Navy, you must first join the Navy.

The qualifications offered by these GTEs are almost always directly related to the work you will be doing for the establishment. This could be useful for someone who is wanting to pursue a career with one of these establishments and who wants to train as they go.

NB: The Department of Corrections offers courses for prisoners.


Industry Training Organisation (ITO)

Fancy becoming a world-class hairdresser, or a prestigious seafood chef? As the name suggests, ITOs are very industry focussed. They are set up by industries to ensure there is a national skill standard across the industry.

There ITOs for the Hair and Beauty industry, the Funeral Service industry, the Marine and Composites industry, and many more.

The New Zealand Apprenticeships Scheme is run through ITOs. Once you have chosen an industry you want to build a career in, the next step is to contact the relevant ITO and check you can do an apprenticeship with them and check you meet the entry requirements. Then, once you have found a job in the industry and an employer who wants to take you on as an apprentice, you will sign two agreements.

The first is your employment agreement and the second is your industry training agreement. Then, your ITO will work with your employer to develop the best training plan that works well for all parties involved. This means you will get both on-the-job and off-the-job training to learn the skills you need to get qualified. Your training plan will be reviewed by the ITO to check you’re on track and if you need help with anything.


Doing an apprenticeship means that you can earn money as you learn and gain professional and practical skills in the industry. Once you have finished the apprenticeship, you will normally gain one or more Level 4 national certificates, depending on the programme and industry, e.g. a National Certificate in Seafood (Level 4) or a National Certificate in Automotive Engineering (Level 4).

It normally takes somewhere between two and four years to finish an apprenticeship. There are a whole range of apprenticeships you can do and there is currently demand for more apprentice chefs, bakers, machine operators, electricians, and mechanics.



A Wānanga is an institution with a focus on āhuatanga Māori (Māori tradition) according to tikanga Māori (Māori custom). 



There are three Wānanga in New Zealand:

Just like a Polytechnic/Institute of Technology, Wānanga offer a variety of courses at all levels, from courses that equip you for a job, bridging courses for further tertiary study or even Masters and Doctorates!





The first thing you’ll most likely be asked is which degree you’d like to study for. Degrees aren’t a subject – they identify which type of field you’ve studied in and to what level.

Kind of like NCEA, the amount of time you study your degree for will determine what “level” of degree it is.

In order to graduate, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, and if you want to spice it up with some good grades and an extra year, you can get a “with honours” added to the end. Some institutions count honours as a part of your undergrad, and some call it postgrad. Either way, it’ll probably take an extra year, and involve a lot of writing.

If you want to study postgraduate, you can continue studying to get a master’s or a doctorate (also known as a P.h.D, which lets you tick the “Dr” box on questionnaires).


There are a range of different degrees, which you can look at when checking out universities. These include, but are not limited to: Arts (which includes stuff like languages, politics, and psychology), Laws, Engineering, Sciences, Design, Architecture, and Medicine.

If you can’t decide based on which courses you’d like to study (which we’ll get to in a sec), universities may even let you combine degrees in what’s called a conjoint degree, where you can study courses from two degrees at once, or study two at the same time with a double degree.

Majors and Minors

Luckily for some of us, studying a Bachelor of Arts doesn’t actually mean you have to draw. Each degree is made up of a range of major and minor options, which are pretty much what you want to study – think of it like your subjects.

The difference between a major and a minor basically comes down to the points. Passing gets you a certain amount of points, which you’ll need in order to graduate (cue war flashbacks to NCEA). 

In order to major in a subject, you’ll need more points than minoring in something, which means you’ll be studying more of that subject.

Like with your degree, you can also double or even triple major. So for example, you may wish to pursue a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English Literature and minoring in Film.



Fancy yourself an up-and-coming Steve Jobs? Try a conjoint Bachelor of Commerce majoring in marketing and Bachelor of Science majoring in computer studies. The possibilities are endless.

But wait, remember Part I? How not only do you not have to pick a major for life, you don’t even have to pick one for a year?

It’s totally cool to switch majors and minors as you go through university. In fact, it’s incredibly common, as there are often less required points from your first year or two. What this means is that the box you tick for “major” and “minor” doesn’t have to matter until your last few years, where you’ve started to focus more on particular subjects.

So, don’t worry too much about requirements for majors and minors just yet. Instead, remember planned happenstance – take the subjects that interest you and are in the broad direction you think you might like to go. You’re not “locked in” to a major as soon as you send off your application.

Little known secret: uni’s are generally pretty chill. They want you to choose them to study so that you can throw all your money at them.

This doesn’t mean that you can hand-in all your submissions late, or that you can put off applying for uni ‘til the day before lectures start. Rather, it means if you’re confused at any point, the admin staff will be happy to help you out. They’re on your side.

Courses and Papers

These are the same thing, but different people and different universities use them interchangeably just to annoy you. Each subject is made up of various papers at each year level, and passing these gives you a certain amount of points to fulfill your major or minor requirements and suss that degree (think NCEA internal and external papers).

For example, If you want to study Classical Studies at Victoria University in your second year, you might take CLAS 214: Wine, Sex, Madness, Death (actual paper).


Some are optional, some are required to get that major, but your university will tell you about them. If you’ve got enough space in your timetable but need a few extra points, you can take a few as electives. Calligraphy, anyone?

Again, don’t worry too much about trying to narrow it all down by your first year. Instead, think of it more like a pyramid – start off by trying a whole lot of stuff that seems cool, and narrow it down to a more particular focus as you go along. If you need to go back and take papers from earlier, that’s a usual thing to do; and if you’ve already got a major in mind, check out its prerequisite papers.

Choosing One

All this is all well and good, but sometimes the hard part is actually just picking a university to go to (if uni is your thing, but never fear, we’ll get to that too). On one hand, escaping the nest and flying solo to live in a new home with fellow students, where you’ll live independently and be a real adult sounds and is exciting. On the other hand, you’ll be eating your weight in ramen.

There are a variety of scholarships to study at overseas universities, as well as exchange programs at some tertiary institutes in New Zealand. However, for the sake of the trees required to print this, we’ll stick with the university options in the country.


The good news is, New Zealand’s big universities all perform extremely well internationally, with all of our major universities receiving 5 stars for excellence in the QS system (how universities are ranked).

Auckland University excels overall and in every subject area – you pretty much can’t go wrong. Victoria is known for its Law and Arts, as well as being in the top 150 in the world for commerce. Fancy playing real-life “Operation” for a career? Auckland and Otago scored in the top 100 for Medicine, with Otago even being the eighth best in the world for dentistry. Or maybe lego’s more your thing, in which case you may want to check out engineering at Auckland or Canterbury.

Wherever you go, you’re in safe hands. If you really can’t decide, check out the QS rankings for the universities you’re considering, and also the faculty pages on each university website. Even the non-major universities like Lincoln and Waikato are great in terms of the quality of education that New Zealand offers.

So whether you’re staying at home and saving for that overseas exchange, or travelling to uncharted territory to flat with the lads without parental supervision, be confident that you’ll be in a pretty good spot with internationally regarded teachers and facilities. If you choose the latter, though, just remember to wash your clothes every once and awhile (and maybe eat the odd carrot).


Decision Making Factors

Before you make a final decision, it is important to weigh up all the factors. Some of the usual factors for students to consider are:

  • Distance to home/Where you will live (am I wanting to keep living with my family, stay in my hometown, move away to stay with other family, or move away to somewhere completely new)
  • Affordability (some courses may cost more than others, and other factors may create other costs e.g. moving somewhere new and having to pay to stay in a hall of residence or pay rent, and don’t forget your student loan)
  • Scholarship availability (some education providers have more than others in order to draw students to their particular institution, for example Canterbury has a bunch)
  • Compatibility with your lifestyle (some students may be passionate about a particular sport or hobby and need to be somewhere where they can keep up regular training exercises etc.)
  • Entry requirements (are you meeting the entry requirements for this course)
  • Future (is this course going to set you up for the future? Is it more hands-on or more theoretically based? Will it help you build the career that you are wanting)
  • Rating of the education provider (some education providers may be rated higher than others, either officially or by the public/employers)


Once you have all the information, it is important that you make the decision that is right for you. If you are weighing up two or more different options, it’s gonna be worthwhile to compare them. A table like the one below may help you to objectively compare several different courses or education providers:





That’s a whole lot of options.

You can definitely find something that interests you in New Zealand – and probably a whole bunch of things, if you look hard enough.



Whether you further your academic education at university, chase the dream of Hollywood or those Michelin stars, or have a vision of your fashion label on the runway in Paris, there’s somewhere for you to go and learn how to do it. And in the words of none other than Dr Seuss

“The more that you read, the more that you’ll know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”