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Study options for skilled migration in Australia

By Charlie Zheng, Registered Migration Agent and Senior Education Counsellor at IDP Sydney Office
As a migration agent and an education counselor at IDP, I often get asked this question: “If I want to apply for skilled migration after graduation, what should I be studying?’ There is no straightforward answer to this question. Answering this question requires some basic knowledge of Australia’s skilled migration system. Here are some things you may want to consider when thinking about your study plans for skilled migration.

Australia’s skilled migration is point-based

Whether or not you are qualified to apply depends on the points that you have. You are allocated points according to factors such as age, English capability, qualifications and work experience. Most occupations require 60 points, however a few occupations require more. 

Your occupation needs to be on the Skilled Occupation List

If you intend to rely on yourself to meet the requirement, which generally means you will apply for an independent skilled 189 visa later, your occupation needs to be on the Skilled Occupation List (SOL), which you can view here.

Occupations on the SOL are considered to be highly valued and the skills embedded in these occupations usually take a few years to acquire. For example, it usually requires three years’ undergraduate study to become a registered nurse, plus there is also an IELTS or an Occupational English Test (OET) that need to be passed. Some occupations, especially those assessed by the VATASSESS, require at least one year’s work experience on top of a formal degree. 

Each state has its own SOL and may differ

Thirdly, each state can determine their own skilled migrant intake according to their state’s labour needs. All occupations on the SOL, and more, can be found on a list called the Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL). There are about 500 occupations on the list. If you are nominated by a state government, you will be given 5 extra points for a skilled nominated 190 visa or 10 points for a regional skilled 489 visa. 

Things to consider

Now that you have some basic ideas about skilled migration and the occupations associated with it, how do you choose your future career? Think about some of the following factors:

Your interests  

Find something that you a genuinely interested in, and don’t choose a course you don’t like!

Your natural strengths 

Certain courses require people to be naturally talented with certain skills and subject matter. For example, studying engineering requires a solid foundation in maths and physics. 

Your family’s expectations 

If your family runs a successful business and expects you to go back home to help, you should consider studying a BBA or MBA.

Your finances 

Some courses are very expensive, so you need to consider that when choosing.

Career ideas for skilled migration

I would like international students to look beyond the usual accounting, IT and engineering courses and consider the following study options if you think about applying for skilled migration after graduation.

Early childhood and secondary school teaching

While primary school teaching is not on the SOL, these two occupations are both on the SOL and there is a big demand for them (please refer to the “occupation ceilings” in the link here).

Becoming an early childhood teacher or a secondary school teacher requires a four-year Bachelor of Education or a two-year Master of Teaching. For overseas bachelor’s degree holders, the difficulty of getting into the Master of Teaching lies in your English, as most universities ask for IELTS overall 7.5, with 8 in listening and speaking, with a few exceptions. 

Social work

If you are compassionate and enjoy helping the disadvantaged, then you could consider becoming a social worker. As a country that cares for the poor, the old and the sick, Australia needs more than 2000 social workers each year, but only a small percentage of that demand is currently being met. Social work requires four years of undergraduate study or a two-year Master of Social Work. Something to be noted is that it does require IELTS 7.0 in all bands for the skill assessment after the course is completed.


Looking at the “occupation ceilings”, you will be surprised to see that the ceiling value of a “solicitor” is more than that of an “accountant”, so it is worthwhile giving this career path a thought. You can either study law at the undergraduate level, usually combined with another degree, or you can study a three-year Jurist Doctor (JD). 


There is no doubt that Australia needs a lot of nurses, with the ceiling value of nurses being 13,872 for Financial Year 2015-2016. Once again, only a small percentage of that demand is met. It is expected that there will be a continuous shortage of nurses. Students already in a nursing course, or those looking to enter the profession, can be more confident of their residency and employment prospects if they can pass the English level required for registration, which is IELTS 7 or OET B. However, this can be waived if they have studied in Australia for at least five years (excluding English study period). 

Medical laboratory science

If you think you may enjoy working in a laboratory, you may consider becoming a medical laboratory scientist. There are only one to two programs accredited by the Australian Institute of Medical Sciences in each state.

Obviously there are many other study options that can lead to skilled migration and a fulfilling career and we can’t list all of them here. Also, everyone’s situation is different. For this reason you are encouraged to make an appointment to meet with one of IDP’s experienced migration agents or education counsellors to discuss your individual needs.


All information is correct at the time of writing and the writer does not take responsibility for consequences caused by the change of law.



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