High school can feel like such a huge deal, and sometimes it feels like the choices we make when we are teenagers could define the rest of our lives, but that’s far from the truth. It’s important for young people to know the choices they make (and the marks they get) in grade 11 and 12 do not determine their future. The aim of this article is to provide information on how to get into uni without an ATAR or what to do if university doesn’t seem like the right option at all.
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University Pathways without ATAR
For those people who wish to pursue tertiary education, there are a variety of ways to get there even if you don’t have the perfect ATAR right out of high school.
How eligibility for an ATAR score works
Criteria for entry to university courses can differ between institutions, but a student’s ATAR is generally what will determine university entry and course offers. In addition to an ATAR rating, there are often other considerations like:
- English language proficiency
- How many places an educational institution has available
- Age requirements
You may also find some courses need additional submissions like interviews, auditions and portfolios, to mention a few. In some cases, depending on the course, these may be considered in lieu of an ATAR.
Adjustment of ATAR for hardship
QTAC provides allowance for hardship, which can adjust an ATAR by up to a maximum of 10.00 ATAR or selection ranks. Some of the criteria include impacts in relation to:
- Financial hardship
- Disrupted home environments or increased responsibilities
- English language difficulties
- A disability, injury or health condition
- School environment
If you want to know more about qualifying for QTAC assistance schemes, you can find all the information on the QTAC website and also individual university websites (which will talk about specifically about courses that may not be included).
Transition Programs or Bridging Courses
Some universities offer their own transition programs, where they will guarantee a place at the university for students who complete a transition program or introductory courses. They may also look at credit for any studies undertaken during school. It’s best to contact the university you’re hoping to study at to find out if this might be an option for you.
Bridging courses can be enormously helpful if you want to pursue a degree that requires a certain standard, such as in maths or science. A bridging course becomes the equivalent of a high school subject. This means students don’t need to worry that they missed out on their dream degree simply because they weren’t able to study a particular subject at school.
Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT)
Also referred to as an alternative pathway, students can sit a STAT (Special Tertiary Admissions Test), which is a one-off test that is suitable for university applicants who did not complete grade 12 with the ATAR they require for a particular course, or for mature age students. It is a one-off test and you do have to pay to sit it ($225 for the multiple-choice test, at the time of writing). This can be a quicker option for students wishing to apply for university, rather than undertaking a bridging or foundation course.
More about the STAT here: https://stat.acer.org/au/
Transfer between courses
Almost every university will accept students into alternative courses when they have completed a semester (or more) at a university in any course. It’s often possible to study elective subjects outside of your faculty too, so, for example, if you enrol in an arts degree to begin with, you could take some electives that might count as credits towards the business or law degree you have your eye on.
The QTAC website has a lot of information about different courses and their entry requirements here: https://www.qtac.edu.au/
TAFE and Colleges as a pathway
TAFE Institutes and private colleges also offer a variety of courses, many of which require no up-front fees. Depending on your goals and interests, TAFE-level courses can be an excellent way to get a qualification to gain employment, or to show an interest in a subject area to help you acquire an apprenticeship or traineeship, or even count towards a university-level degree. Some universities even view a diploma as the equivalent to the first year of some degree studies.
TAFE QLD also offers adult tertiary preparation courses which are generally at a Certificate IV level. TAFE Early Learning actually offers these courses at any time of year, providing a student with opportunities to commence at anytime. In some cases, these studies can allow you get direct entry into universities and, in turn, mean you can bypass the QCAT process altogether.
Find out more about TAFE options here: https://tafeqld.edu.au/
It’s really important for our young people to know that what you get for your ATAR doesn’t define you or determine your future. It’s normal to change your mind, change your degree and alter your path as you grow and learn. The choices we make as teenagers don’t set our path for life, there are always different ways to work towards our goals.
Other options for people after High School
In 2015 the FYA (Foundation for Young Australians) reported that the future of work is changing. Young people are expected to have 17 jobs across 5 careers in their lifetimes. But it’s more than that. The entire landscape of work is changing, even since this FYA report was released.
Depending on how you read the reports, unless a student is intent on an end pathway that requires a qualification (i.e. a teacher, surgeon, etc.), a university course may not even be the ideal pathway at all. Granted, this can be hard for students, parents and teachers to reconcile, and the education system often seems in denial of this fact, but none-the-less The times they are a-changing.
It doesn’t mean that university isn’t important for some careers or that there isn’t value in a university education, but simply that university is no longer the only pathway to many professions. We recommend reading the reports and information at the Foundation for Young Australians to understand not only the nature of work today, but how it looks in the future. A young person is very likely to make multiple career changes across their life, more likely to have multiple income streams and it’s very possible that many of their future roles haven’t even been created yet.
Apprenticeships and Traineeships
Qualifications can begin before school finishes, with school-based apprenticeships and traineeships. Students can even begin some work placement prior to the end of school. Apprenticeships and traineeships today encompass a wide range of end goals, from trades like carpentry and plumbing, to courses that allow you to work towards a career in tourism, business, animal care and hospitality.
Going straight into work from school, sometimes still referred to as a gap year (often by well meaning parents), is a chance to get out into the real world and earn some money. Working means you have the chance to develop important skills, but equally can give you a chance to see and decide what it is that you enjoy doing.
There are many successful people that have never attended university, who are happy and valuable contributing members to society. This used to be the exception, where a few successful people were often used as examples, but this pathway to life success and enjoyment is no longer an exception. There are many that would argue against this, that some sort of qualification is important, but it really depends on what you want to do and what you enjoy doing.
Taking a year to travel pre-COVID was pretty common, and for good reason. Travel is a wonderful way to expand your world and to learn more about yourself which will in turn help you make better decisions about what you want to do in the future. With the world opening up to us once again, this is definitely still a fantastic option.
Another great way to explore different pathways when you aren’t quite sure what you want to do, is to volunteer. As an example, you might want to work with animals and so volunteering at the RSPCA could be a way to see if this sort of career is something you will enjoy doing. The benefit of this method is that you aren’t spending years in a degree before deciding it isn’t actually what you want to do.
TAFE courses as a stand alone qualification (without the intention of bridging to university) offer numerous pathways into a wide range of careers. Depending on the course, online TAFE courses can be conducted year-’round and many provide professional recognised qualifications.
Often students in Grade 11 and 12 aren’t even sure what they want to do right after they finish high school, which can make choosing subjects and being self-motivated to study difficult at times. Sometimes, a particular path that once seemed clear no longer looks like the best fit and that’s all a normal part of growing up, trying new experiences and learning from them. If there was one vision when we created this article, it was to ensure the reader came away knowing high school grades and whether you get an ATAR or the ATAR you want neither define a students’ success, nor do they determine the future.