The last thing students want is to graduate from high school without an ATAR or with a lower ATAR than they'd hoped for.

ATAR — Australian Tertiary Admission Rank — a 4-letter acronym that creates a load of stress for many Year 11 and Year 12 students as they navigate the final two years of their formal education and prepare for their future. For many, this means a university degree is the next stepping stone to their dream career.

After weeks of waiting at the end of the year and over the Christmas holiday period, the email finally comes and you stare at it as it sits in your inbox. When you open it, you'll likely experience one of three reactions:

  • elation
  • positive surprise
  • disappointment or devastation.

It's the last one students fear but do they really need to?

Despite all the build-up about the ATAR; despite the months of practice for your HSC, VCE, WACE or AST exams (or whatever your state's exam is called); despite all your learning being geared towards getting the best ATAR you can ... it is actually possible to apply for university admission in Australia, and succeed, without an ATAR.

Let us say that again:

You can get into uni without an ATAR.

As with any experience in life, it won't necessarily be easy but at least you have options and, if you work hard, it will be possible to achieve your goal of obtaining an undergraduate bachelor degree in the field of your choice, be it science, health, business, engineering, teaching or the arts.

What is the best degree to study at university?
If your ATAR isn't good enough to get into university, there are other university pathways you can try, including TAFE bridging courses | Source: Pixabay - Photo-Stoo

This article will look first at whether or not you really need to go to university, some of the uni courses you can do with a lower ATAR and then the alternative university pathways that are available to all students.

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Who Needs to go to University?

There are a number of careers that you simply cannot work in if you don't have, at least, an undergraduate bachelor degree, if not a master degree or any other postgraduate degree. For example, if you want to pursue teaching in a traditional school setting, you need to obtain a Bachelor of Education. To become a surgeon, you must have a 3-year bachelor degree and a Doctor of Medicine degree. If you want a career in engineering, a Bachelor of Engineering is essential.

It is, however, possible to still work in the education, health or science and STEM fields without a university degree — you just need to explore alternative options. Take education as an example. While a classroom teacher needs a Bachelor of Education degree, teaching assistants and after-school care workers don't. Neither do tutors.

If you're not sure what you want to do as a career but you know you don't want to go to university, or you didn't get a high enough ranking to apply, perhaps you might want to consider the following top-level, high paying career options you can get into without a university bachelor degree.

CareerAverage salaryStudy required
Electrician$87,000Apprenticeship
Project manager$128,000Diploma (optional)
Construction manager$100,000 plusCertificate
Fitness instructor$97,000Certificate and yearly accreditation
Digital marketing manager$100,000Diploma (optional)

Yes, there is often study required and employees will need to have completed a TAFE diploma, certificate IV or other certification programs or accreditation courses, but the thing that counts in a career such as this is experience. You can apply to university and get an undergraduate bachelor degree in these same fields but your salary will be no different.

How is ATAR calculated?
List your passions and interests then research all your career options | Source: Pixabay - 3422763

So, don't despair if your marks were not what you wanted them to be, or if the university cut-off point rose because of demand (it happens!). Also, don't feel that you have to settle for a low-paying career if you don't have that degree. There are always alternatives and options.

Low ATAR? What Uni Courses Can I Do?

It may surprise you to find out that students still have options for going to uni even when their ATAR is lower than they wanted it to be. Not only that but students can actually gain admission into their preferred degree!

How?

Apply anyway

There is a lot most students do not know about the ATAR system.

Owing to government funding cuts, each university in Australia has been able to move to a demand-driven model of admission at its discretion. What this means is that sometimes the listed ATAR is not actually the admission ATAR — it may, in fact, be up to 10 points lower. (Conversely, it could be higher as well. It changes every year.)

In terms of enrolment options, a student can choose to look at the minimum ATAR listed on the university online site to see if theirs falls within this 10-point range. If it does, and they list that degree at that university as their first priority, the student will still have every chance of gaining admission.

But what if my ATAR is well outside that range?

Apply for a different degree

It sounds like cheating but many students enrol in similar uni courses that have a lower ATAR and then transfer into the degree of their choice in their second year.

For example, let's say you want to apply for an undergraduate Bachelor of Commerce. The required ATAR at the University of Technology Sydney is at least 86. However, a Bachelor of Business only requires 74. Provided you gain admission into the Bachelor of Business and perform well in all aspects of your studies during your first year, you should find it fairly easy to transfer into the Bachelor of Commerce during your second year and apply for credit for subjects already studied.

What if my ATAR is still too low to get into other uni courses?

Do not worry. If you are keen to go to uni, there are many alternative university pathways you can access.

You will get there.

TAFE to University Pathways and Other Options

We'll say it again — a low or no ATAR does not spell the end of your university education. Let's take a look at a few of your options.

Study a TAFE course

Studying a course at a Technical and Further Education institution (TAFE) is a great way to not only build your skills, knowledge and practical experience but it can also be your stepping stone to university admission.

TAFE to university pathways hinges on the partnerships TAFE institutions have with a number of universities. In some cases, you can get yourself a graduate qualification in your chosen field without having to go to uni at all. Alternatively, if you want to have another crack at getting (or improving) your ATAR, many TAFE institutions offer a Certificate IV in Tertiary Preparation, giving students a Tertiary Entrance Score and guaranteed admission into a selection of universities. This Certificate IV is perfect for older students who may have left school early, without going through to Year 12.

Diploma to Degree programs are also fantastic TAFE to university pathways, allowing students to enrol in a diploma or advanced diploma and a related university degree course at the same time. Alternatively, you can study for a TAFE diploma and, when you apply to university later through a different pathway, you can apply for credit for your TAFE qualification.

What experience counts when you are enrolling for university?
There are a whole lot of options for getting into uni, including international work and study experience | Source: Pixabay - ardiyanbayu

Education access scheme (EAS)

This is similar to the 'apply anyway' suggestion given above, however, a student's mark needs to be within 5 points of the required score so they can apply for flexible entry. The EAS is perfect for students who have had an educational disadvantage at any point during Year 11 or Year 12, such as a disability, financial difficulties, living in a remote area, or a family death or serious illness.

Online study

There are a number of options for fully online study available for all students, such as those offered by Open Universities Australia. Often, online courses have no prerequisites and are accredited through a number of participating TAFE and university institutions throughout Australia. The degree you receive at the end is just the same as the one you receive once you graduate from face-to-face university learning. Be aware, though, online study requires exceptional focus and motivation, as well as finely honed independent study skills.

Special University Admission Test (STAT)

This national test assesses student competencies across a range of areas considered important for tertiary study. The STAT can be used to supplement your mark in your admission application.

Use recognition of prior learning (RPL)

This university pathway is particularly useful for prospective students who have been out of school for some time. They may have gained experience at work, through travel or via international study. For new school leavers, taking a few years to experience work and life can be a bonus in many ways but will allow you to use RPL to reapply for a university degree at a later date.

If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.

Flavia Weedn

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Kellie

Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.