Universities are never very interested in making their products easily understandable. And one of the most confusing things is the difference between a Bachelor of Science or BSci, and the Bachelor of Science (Advanced), BSci (Adv) for short. What does “Advanced” really mean? Are you really going to get any difference out of taking this long term? Will not getting into this course have a huge impact on your future?

The short answer to most of your questions is that there’s no irreconcilable difference, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t make that ATAR.

But what about the reconcilable differences? Well, they’re not too scary either, so let’s dive right in.

Difference 1 – Attention

The BSci (Adv) is an easy way for universities to bookmark lots of students as “having demonstrable potential” very quickly, and without ever having to actually meet them. As a result, they often can more easily form professional relationships with lecturers and lab demonstrators, and this often translates into having an easier time asking for things like summer internships or research placements within the university.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a huge advantage – but nothing that you can’t gain just as readily by working hard at university and making yourself known.

An older colleague of mine is fond of saying “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”, and this is definitely something that applies here. Being in the BSci (Adv) rather than the BSci is basically just a stamp from the university saying this kid worked hard and is smart. But you know what? There’s nothing stopping you from earning that stamp for yourself once you’re at university.

In fact, I’d say forming a good relationship with your academic staff will get you much further than being in an advanced program. Recently, an opportunity was offered to UTS Chemistry students. It was advertised first to our staff, and they selected 16 of us from the School of Chemistry that they believed would make use of the opportunity. Not a single student enrolled in the BSci (Adv) was on there. We’d all earned a reputation as hard workers, and that meant more to the staff than three extra letters after our choice of program.  

This, of course, is less testament to our work ethic and more indicative that my Advanced classmates in particular were lazy. There’s nothing saying that you can’t be in the BSci (Adv) and also cultivate good relationships with academics. In fact, you’ll then see the advantages doubled. Several of my friends at other universities have done this, and it’s paying dividends for them in a huge way. It’s just saying that the Advanced course isn’t necessarily the biggest factor in deciding your success.

This is probably one of the most important differences in between the BSci and the BSci (Adv) – but it’s also one of the easiest gaps to close.

Difference 2 – Opportunity

This one is more difficult to overcome. The specifics change from university to university, but often being in the BSci (Adv) does come with some extra opportunities. Students may be allowed to take more rigorous courses, with extra skills taught, or may even be able to circumvent certain foundation courses entirely, with the understanding they already know the content.

I’ll tell you what I know of the specifics of advanced programs at the major Sydney universities, but I only know what I’ve heard through the grapevine as well as what the unis advertise. It may be worth doing a little more leg work and see if you can find a friend that takes science at your target university – they’ll probably know a little more, and can tell you about their own experiences as well.

The Advanced program at UTS allows students to gain an early start on analytical chemistry work through the Chemistry 2 (Advanced) subject. Note that other students can also gain access to this subject by performing well in Chemistry 1. It also affords access to certain more specific courses slightly earlier in the course, allowing for a more targeted education.

USyd offers what they call the “Talented Students Program”, which substitutes the electives in a normal BSci with special undergraduate research projects. Students gain experience planning and acting out investigations independently with the supervision of a member of staff. While it is uncommon, it’s not unheard of for third-year TSP students to produce work which then gains publication in mainstream academic journals. Students will also occasionally receive author credit for assisting with the research of established academics.

UNSW doesn’t provide much detail on the specifics of their Advanced program, so most of what I know is hearsay from friends who are enrolled in it. It mostly involves access to higher-level subjects. Foundation subjects like Chemistry 1 are redesigned to suit the needs of Advanced-level students, who more than likely already have good established background in at least one science. It also includes guaranteed entry to an Honours year, where the student will perform independent research under a supervisor. Note that students can gain access to the Honours year anyhow, but need to maintain a certain level of performance to prove their worth.

These gaps can be difficult to close – but depending on what your long-term aspirations are they may not particularly be gaps at all. Which segues nicely into:

Difference 3 – Career Options

I said before that Advanced programs “bookmark” students. This is more literal than you might think – Advanced programs are often built towards producing researchers that will go on to seek careers in academia. The university then hopes they’ll be able to snatch the cream of the crop before they venture out into the world and find other opportunities.

But of course the question is then “what if I don’t want a career in academia?”

Quite frankly, the Advanced programs lose an awful lot of their value in this circumstance. In fact, it’s not unheard of in chemical industry  to prefer students who did not take academia-oriented programs. I assume this applies to industrial science in general, but I’m only involved in the chemistry community myself so take that with a pinch of salt. This applies more strongly to PhDs, but the sentiment exists for Advanced programs as well.

While the bias is slowly shifting, the belief in industry is that students from PhD programs or Advanced programs generally expect to be treated like gold. It’s not true – you know that, and I know that, but it’s still how you’re perceived. They expect to enter the industry in higher-ranking, higher-paid positions than other students, and anticipate that they will be promoted more quickly. Industry disagrees, particularly since many university students will graduate with little-to-no practical experience, be they Advanced or not. This means that an Advanced student, who probably spent a year or two longer at uni than most other competitors, is now a year or two short on useful experience for that employer.

And when an employer is staring down the barrel of as much as $50 000 to train a new recruit to competence, they want some kind of guarantee that their investment will pay off. Seeing (Adv) after BSci on a resume doesn’t give them that.

Again, this is more of an issue for PhD graduates, and there is a movement away from these ideas as more and more people begin transitioning into industry from academia. But beware the stereotypes that will surround you, because although they may be false, they inform other people’s opinion of you.

And of course, if you do want to pursue academia, having Advanced Science under your belt could prove to be a deciding factor. But it’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to skin the cat that is your career. Remember that you’re going to university to learn skills, and those skills are things you can pick up and transfer to your profession, be that academic or industrial.

My colleague from earlier also explains this very well. At university, you learn a language that allows you to understand the demands of your job in the science field. What you do not learn is how to do that job – you’ll learn that when you start the job.

 

Now, at this stage, you might almost think I’m trying to discourage you from taking an Advanced program. This isn’t the case at all! They’re a fantastic head-start in lots of ways, and even though you definitely can catch up from a normal BSci, why not take the advantage if you have the choice?

You just need to understand that, if you don’t make a BSci (Adv), it doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. And just as importantly, having it doesn’t guarantee success.

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Matt Saunders is a huge nerd who first got into writing through fanfiction. He’d known science was the path for him since a young age, and after discovering a particular love of bad chemistry jokes (and chemistry too), he’s gone onto to study Forensic Chemistry at UTS. His HSC in 2014 was defined in equal parts by schoolwork and stagecraft, which left him, weirdly enough, with a love of Maths strong enough to inspire him to tutor any level, along with 7-10 Science and HSC Chemistry.