You hear the alert of the text message. Your heart races as you realise that the number in the message could change the direction of your life.
With sweaty hands, you swipe into the message, your eyes blurring momentarily, as the number hits your vision. It dawns on you: Too low, too low … what now? Anticipation is replaced by the cold hand of dread, disappointment, even fear.
What to do if your ATAR is too low
Does this scenario sound familiar?
First off, don’t panic – you still have many options available to you. Your ATAR does not determine your future grades beyond school.
Each state in Australia usually has a central processing unit for the handling and management of student scores. For example:
- Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre in Victoria
- University Admissions Centre in New South Wales
- Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre in Queensland
- South Australia Tertiary Admissions Centre in South Australia and Northern Territory
- University of Tasmania in Tasmania
- Tertiary Institutions Admissions Centre in Western Australia.
These centres process the scores of students wanting to go on to further education. They also work with universities and Technical and Further Education institutions (TAFEs).
Each centre will have links on its website that may help guide students in the right direction – it’s worth taking a look at these sites for information.
Go back to the admissions booklet
The first step is to return to the admissions booklet provided by your state’s admissions centre.
The booklet (whether online or in hard copy) provides you with a list of courses and the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) required for entrance into that course.
A search on the web may bring up other courses on offer in the same area, but at a different university that requires lower ATARs.
Courses run at smaller institutions or in regional centres often have lower ATARs.
Some students may dismiss regional centres or smaller universities on account of these not having the same rigorous standards as larger universities. However, this is not necessarily the case. Smaller universities may offer a more personable experience overall.
Once you begin on your career path, it may not matter that you did not acquire your entry qualifications through a particular institution.
Reports reveal that employers are not really interested in the institution you went to. Instead, they want to know about other aspects such as working within a team, possessing diverse abilities, work readiness and overall grades.
Look at other education providers
University isn’t always the best option. Sometimes you can study the course you want to at a TAFE or private college.
These institutions will offer varying entry grades and tend not to place all the emphasis on an ATAR.
Entrance into some TAFE courses is managed through the tertiary admissions centres. However, many courses are managed by individual institutions. Cut-off dates usually do not apply until January of the following year.
Find out who is the careers advisor at the place you want to study and speak to them about your options. This will help you understand if the course you’ve chosen matches your preferred career path.
Consider bridging or pathway programs
Many universities offer bridging or pathways programs. This is where you study for a year, often enrolling for units that will create a path into your desired degree.
Numbers for these pathways programs are sometimes small, as universities offer a more personalised experience to students requiring support with post-school study. Important skills such as researching and academic writing are built into these courses.
Pathways programs may also be navigated through alternative study. You may opt for a similar study program at another university, requiring a lower ATAR, then apply in your second year to the institution of your choice. You just need to maintain a good academic average.
See if you’re eligible for Special Entry Access Scheme
If you qualify for it, the Special Entry Access Scheme (SEAS) may add vital points to your ATAR, which may get you closer to your desired course of study.
Difficult circumstances, disadvantaged financial backgrounds, Indigenous heritage or a medical condition all act as moderating factors that may allow students to gain additional points for their ATAR scores.
The added extra for some students qualifying for SEAS may open up other options, such as applications for scholarships. If you are applying for SEAS, it may be wise to check first whether the institution you are applying to recognises SEAS.
Check if a university course has uncapped places
Many universities now have uncapped places for certain courses. This means universities are placing a lower importance on the ATAR and are considering other factors too, such as work folios for arts degrees, scores obtained on external tests, and student interviews.
Scoring below the required ATAR may not necessarily push you out of the running.
The route you take may involve a deviation or a side-step, but you are still going to reach your destination – so don’t panic!