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Your guide to Australian university terms at Deakin

July 27, 2023 - 5 min read

Do you need help understanding terminology used by Deakin? They might be different than the words used in your home country. Here is a guide on key terms you need to know.

Study periods


Deakin uses a trimester system. When you begin your course, you will need to enrol in your first trimester. But what is a trimester? It is the period that you have classes.

There are three trimesters per calendar year. Each trimester lasts four months. Two trimesters are equal to one full academic year. Typically, students study in Trimester 1 and 2, but the third trimester can offer the opportunity to finish certain degrees sooner.

Deakin’s trimesters run from:

  • March to June (Trimester 1)
  • November to February (Trimester 3)
  • July to October (Trimester 2)

Deakin’s key dates for this year

During the trimesters that you are studying, your student visa allows you to work up to 48 hours per fortnight (2 weeks). If you are not studying in Trimester 3, you can work unlimited hours to support your education.


A few courses at Deakin, such as medicine and medical imaging, run on a semester system instead of trimesters. Two five-month long semesters make up a full academic year. Semester 1 runs from February to June and Semester 2 runs from July to November. This is explained on the web page for those courses.

Courses and units

What is the difference between a course and a unit? Different institutions use the  terms in different ways, so it can get a little confusing. Here are the definitions used by Deakin.


A course is the program of study that you must complete to qualify for a particular award (e.g. a bachelor degree or masters degree). For example, the course you are studying could be a Bachelor of Commerce. Other institutions might refer to these as a degree or program. A course normally consists of a number of units.

Find a course

Course duration

The time it takes to complete your course will depend on the type of course you take:

  • Bachelor degrees take three to four years of full-time study to complete.
  • Bachelor degree with an honours year takes four or more years and provides you with the foundational knowledge to undertake a research degree.
  • Graduate certificates are usually one trimester in duration and are designed to build practical skills.
  • Graduate diplomas are usually two trimesters in duration and often build on the understanding and skills developed during a graduate certificate.
  • Masters by coursework are typically 18 months to two years full-time study, or up to four years when taken part time.
  • Masters by research take two years full time to complete and can serve as a prerequisite to applying for PhD studies.
  • Doctoral (PhD) programs take a minimum of three years full time and a maximum of seven years.

Units are the components of a course that focus on a particular subject or topic. Other institutions may refer to these as a subject or even a course. A unit may comprise lectures, tutorials, class presentations, group work, computer lab sessions, case studies or workplace assignments. A unit is normally one trimester long and most have a value of 1 or 2 credit points. In each trimester, you will be enrolled in 3 to 5 units. Some are required and some are electives.

Required and elective units

When you select units to study in a trimester, you can choose from required or elective units. Required units (also known as core units) are ones that all students in the course must take. Electives are units you choose based on your personal interests.

Credit point

For each unit you successfully complete, you will receive the credit point value of that unit towards your studies. You must complete a specified number of credit points to obtain your degree.


This is how you demonstrate that you are acquiring the skills and knowledge that you need for your chosen profession. In school, you probably wrote essays and exams. But at Deakin, many units offer alternative assessment methods to showcase your learning that are more like what you will do after graduation. Depending on what you are studying, assessments might be a presentation or maybe you create something.

Combined degrees

Combined degrees reduce the duration and cost of study when compared with studying two degrees separately, allow you to fast-track the two qualifications. This may also be known as a double degree. These can be two undergraduate degrees such as the Bachelor of Criminology/Bachelor of Cyber Security combination. Or they might be a bachelor/masters combination, such as Bachelor of Design (Architecture)/Master of Architecture.

Major, minor and specialisation

Now that you know the components of your course, you can decide if you want to undertake a major, minor or specialisation. Not all courses include major or minor sequences or specialisations, so check the university handbook if it applies to your course.

Major sequence

Typically just called a major, in undergraduate studies, a major sequence is a group of six or eight related units in a particular study area or academic discipline. A successfully completed major sequence will be listed on your academic transcript.

Minor sequence

A minor is a group of related units in an area of study or academic discipline. Minors are usually four units taken during your course. A minor sequence will not appear on your testamur, but will appear on your academic transcript. As an example of this, a student might major in film and television studied with a minor in animation during their Bachelor of Arts course.


A specialisation is a group of related units, which are usually a further study within a particular area or field of study at postgraduate level. A successfully completed specialisation will be listed on your academic transcript.

Work experience

Work integrated learning

A work integrated learning (also known as WIL) program at Deakin allows you to undertake a professional work experience placement while you are studying. You can enhance your job prospects with real world experience and gain credit towards your degree. Some courses have a compulsory placement unit, which you must complete. Or you may complete a placement as an elective unit in your course.

Work experience

You may have the opportunity to undertake work experience as part of a course. Work experience may involve placements, work-based training, community-based learning or collaborative research training arrangements. Work experience can also be organised outside of your course with our support.

Testamur and transcript

A testamur is the official document you will presented with when you graduate. It will say what degree you have been awarded. It will have the University crest on it and be signed by the Vice-Chancellor. Other institutions might call it a degree certificate or a diploma.

A transcript is also an official document. It has more details about your degree, such as the name of each unit and the grade you received.

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