We'll be frank - y'all have made one of the best decisions of your life coming to UNSW, especially if you're studying a CSE degree. Nevertheless, transferring universities can be a difficult and intimidating decision. Sunny Chen (2nd year Software Engineering and Commerce student) studied the first year of his degree at the University of Sydney (USyd) before choosing to transfer to UNSW. Wondering what made UNSW so enticing to him? Was it the quality of the CSE school here? The large number of student societies and vibrant student-life? Find out in his article below...


From USyd to UNSW

Sunny Chen

How come you chose to leave USyd?

Simply put, I did not have a good time at USyd and I thought that jumping ship might fix some of those problems. In my first year at USyd (2019) I went in with an optimistic mindset and hoped to make the most out of my year. I'd say there was an element of unluckiness in that I initially met a string of isolated friends rather than a connected friendship circle. I found myself having to put a lot of effort from a sheer logistical front to maintain these newly forged friendships; quite a contrast to the convenient ecosystem of high school. Coming fresh out of the HSC grind I indulged in the freedoms of university life a bit too much as I got lazier socially and academically, letting the first friendships I made slip away into acquaintances.

Whilst battling through the difficulties of learning to code, I couldn't help but compare myself to my high school friends who all went to UNSW and seemed to have a lot more figured out both academically and socially.

I'd say the nail in the coffin was the mandatory "Professional Engagement Program" forced to us at what felt like metaphorical gunpoint. The program felt quite bureaucratic since the person who ran the program even told us it was meant to improve the university's ailing QILT rankings; a solution effective as placing a band aid on a cracked concrete wall.

Those factors and other personal issues, led me to believe that USyd wasn't what I thought it was going to be and got me thinking about changing universities.

What attracted you to UNSW?

When I was deciding to switch, UNSW was the perfect foil to Usyd. Starting at the doorsteps of the two engineering faculties the contrast is evident. I remember seeing the Hilmer / Science building and its gigantic scale. Even humble K17 was significantly better than our PNR engineering building, which had been long condemned out back all the way to Redfern.

The competing sizes of the computer science communities was also alluring. I once came to UNSW to do a programming challenge and was astonished as to not only how many people participated but also the amount of people in the building after teaching hours (as a side note it was indeed offered by CSESoc). The presence of my high school friends was an evident reminder of my position as the minority who chose the path less taken; something to make my socially isolating position at USyd increasingly evident in my mind.

The air surrounding UNSW simply felt a lot more vibrant and alive. Even its professional reputation in the software engineering industry was a lot more established; in terms of academic rankings, industry connected events hosted and societies and so on seemed to blow USyd out of the water.

I think on a comical note I think that even the logistics of the two universities are quite divergent; semesters vs trimesters, train to Redfern vs 891 from central and so on.

"The air surrounding UNSW simply felt a lot more vibrant and alive. Even its professional reputation in the software engineering industry was a lot more established; in terms of academic rankings, industry connected events hosted and societies and so on seemed to blow USyd out of the water."

What were some of the biggest differences you first noticed when you transferred? What do you think about the way CSE is run at UNSW?

The thing that first attracted my attention was the sheer height of contrast of the buildings; everything at UNSW seems really tall. That goes from the library all the way up the behemoth steps; I learned pretty quickly that the back way through the Arc office was the way to go.

To limit the rambling, the biggest difference was definitely the faculty organisation. The teaching quality is really good! I must preface by saying I've heard that's just Marc Chee baiting us with god tier 1511 content, but it still amazed me how these foundational courses are taught so well and efficiently. Another evident contrast was the idea of having a CSE account; a foreign concept from USyd. We had to code on our own machines which meant tough luck for Windows users who had to install laggy virtual boxes. The idea of being able to SSH or use VLab to connect to a CSE machine was pretty cool in my opinion and was a sign of the commitment being offered by the faculty to support us from a top-down perspective in our studies.

Did many of your courses transfer to UNSW successfully? Did you have to repeat many courses?

I completed 48 credit points and I think 30 of them got through. Specifically those were the foundational maths courses for engineering (1A and 1B here I think?). None of my programming units got approved apart from the COMP1521 Computer Systems Fundamentals USyd equivalent. The reason the transfer people gave me was that the language differences between C and Python 3 were too vast to be made up for, further down the track in other COMP courses so I had to retake 1511.

Repeating 1511 felt like finishing a game and going back to level 1 with all your overpowered weapons and fine tuned skills; learning C was more about semantic and syntactical details, which opened my eyes as to just how much Python holds your hand in the programming process.

On a logistical note at USyd engineering commerce students take statistics under the business faculty as opposed to the mathematics one here at UNSW. I think it stemmed from the fact that it was a 6 credit point unit as opposed to 3 for the one offered by the maths faculty. Here it's the opposite where I think eng com students are barred from taking the commerce stats unit and have to take it under maths. God bless it was pass fail when I retook it though.

"The idea of being able to SSH or use VLab to connect to a CSE machine was pretty cool in my opinion and was a sign of the commitment being offered by the faculty to support us from a top-down perspective in our studies."

What do you think about the the student-life and societies at UNSW?

Student life seems pretty good from my admittedly limited involvement with it. Apart from CSESoc I did once visit the KPop Dance society and was very keen as a Blink myself. The passion and commitment was really evident from the people organising it and I'm glad I got a chance to see it just before COVID-19 ruined all in person events.

Yes, to address the elephant in the room, being apart of the CSESoc Media Subcommittee was pretty good and vouched majorly for the quality of student life at UNSW. Having a common goal or uniting purpose is a theme in all new university friendships but I think that became especially difficult during COVID-19. I value the friends I made over the past year so much, who helped me along the ride. I enjoyed writing articles and also the in-person recordings of podcasts and videos quite a bit; they were a gateway to having a conversation with people I wouldn't be able to meet otherwise like the CSE Head of School Aaron, or Marc or Hayden who taught 1511 and 1531 respectively and so on.

On the note of student led projects, I wasn't even sure about what we had at USyd on that front. However at UNSW I found out there are so many that it comes down to just diving in as opposed to having to find the pool first. Things like Illuminate and Sun Swift looked pretty cool.

Advice for anyone thinking about transferring to UNSW? (especially CSE)

The decision has probably been the hardest challenge I've had to face since the HSC.

Having to leave behind something once perceived as a positive in life is difficult and not something that should be taken lightly.

Overall, I think being comparative can set very strong biases. Akin to how premature optimisation is the root of all evil, comparing yourself to others is the root of self doubt. The fact that I compared myself a lot to others really set it stone the idea that I had to leave and how it would magically simplify all the problems I was facing at the time.

Speaking from a practicality standpoint, before you transfer make sure you check all your completed units to see how many might be eligible for credit at UNSW. I got mostly lucky for my transfers but even then, I've heard of people that have transfered unis and courses 3 times. That's all to say that in the grand scheme of things having to spend an extra few terms at uni isn't a deal breaker for the future.

"On the note of student led projects, I wasn't even sure about what we had at USyd on that front. However at UNSW I found out there are so many that it comes down to just diving in as opposed to having to find the pool first. Things like Illuminate and Sun Swift looked pretty cool."

Choose your own adventure!

If you're considering transferring to UNSW, get familiar with one of the largest student societies at the uni and !

Or go back to the basics, and get to know the essential tips you need to start at UNSW.

Don't like these options? Check out the full roadmap below!