So you didn’t get a great ATAR – it’s not the end of the world

Getting a low ATAR, or not getting the ATAR you need for the university course you want, can seem like the end of the world. But it’s not. Shutterstock

The release of this year’s Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) will result in mixed feelings among school-leavers. There are those who will be elated at having achieved a score that places them in an advantageous position for entry into a university course of their choice.

But for others, learning of their ranking may result in some discouragement and anxiety at the prospect of certain doors being closed to them. What should students do if they are faced with less-than-expected rankings?

The ATAR is a ranking not a score

Perhaps the starting point is to place the score into context. It is a ranking, and therefore a comparative score. It locates every student in that particular national cohort, relative to every other student. ATAR scores can thus vary from regional to metropolitan areas, from independent to government schools, from one state to another.

In this regard, every state governs its own entry requirements into local tertiary institutions. For example, the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) is the authority overseeing admission into Victorian tertiary institutions.

Entry requirements may vary from other states. A student is free to apply across states and territories to access courses of their choice in line with their ranking.

Alternate pathways

Attaining the right ATAR ensures direct access to a particular university course. Students who think they have missed the mark as a result of a lowered ranking should understand that there are alternate pathways to a career of their choice. Changing the institution, rearranging preferences or considering a related course with a lower ranking are all viable options.

For example, a student who wishes to work in the health sciences may have not reached the required score for a specialised science degree. An alternate pathway could be to enrol in a more generalised course, such as a Bachelor of Science, attempting to incorporate some of the specialised units. In the second year of study, an application could be made to transfer into the original course, with a request for Recognition of Prior Learning, and thus secure a place in the desired course.

Course advisers and pathways counsellors at universities can be invaluable points of contact when looking at individual pathways and unique course mapping.

Considering flexible study options

A student may have always desired a university education leading to a certain career. However, landing with a lower than estimated ATAR may require a re-appraisal of other post-school options.

There are additional channels to follow, and school-leavers may still reach the same destination. Courses offered at colleges and TAFEs prepare individuals for well-paying, highly regarded occupations, sometimes offering more accessible, practical training to students.

In the workplace, it is the hands-on, real-world training that counts. Having access to a course – no matter what the tertiary environment – which encourages proactive thinking and equips with beneficial concrete knowledge stands to provide a strong basis for success in that vocation. This unprejudiced view of what is on offer is a vital factor to be borne in mind when making decisions about prospective careers.

Bridging courses

Many universities now offer bridging – or pre-tertiary – courses to assist students who have scored lower ATARs. These are preparatory courses which serve as a transition for students, frequently offering sound, long-term grounding for success with university study.

The Diploma of Tertiary Studies at Monash University in Victoria, or the bridging courses program at the University of Technology, Sydney, are transition programs aimed at assisting school-leavers with getting ready for university study.

These programs often incorporate units of study related to the student’s desired course of study, consequently offering a targeted package that has significant benefits. It not only places the student in a strengthened position to tackle a full-blown degree course at university, but it increases their chances of success.

Special entry access schemes

Finally, students who have scored lower than anticipated ATARs should investigate whether they qualify for Special Entry Access Schemes. Some students may be eligible for additional points based on their backgrounds or their school status.

Special Entry Access Schemes consider personal, cultural and financial circumstances, among other factors, in order to more accurately assess a student’s position when they apply for post-school study. These bonus points could make the difference between acceptance and rejection into preferred courses.

A lower than expected ATAR may not necessarily indicate firmly closed doors. It may require a re-evaluation of your position. Keeping the score in perspective as a ranking, rearranging preferences, considering alternate pathways, contemplating a bridging course or investigating the possibility of special entry access are all worthwhile options. The key is to persevere and understand that there are always opportunities.