Throughout their primary school and high school education years, students are being prepped for their 'college' years (senior secondary school or Year 11 and Year 12). They're taught study skills that are supposed to get them ready for the academic rigours of upper secondary school and exposed to a broad range of concepts across all subjects so they are better able to make an educated choice when they're finally allowed to choose the subjects they wish to study.

These subjects, however, are not only about what students are interested in but often the subjects that meet requirements to provide the highest possible rank when it comes to the Year 12 certificate and the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) result.

Yes. Thirteen years of school learning is building toward the ATAR — one score that, apparently, can make or break your future when it comes to higher, tertiary education.

Or does it?

This article, and others in this series, will examine what the ATAR is, what the ATAR score or rank really means and whether students are being pushed into focusing too much on something that may, ultimately, mean very little.

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Entry Requirements for University

Generally speaking, when compared to international tertiary institutions, an Australian university is 'easy' to get into.

If you are an international student, when you apply for admission to Australian tertiary courses, you must:

  • prove your English proficiency
  • show a qualification equivalent to senior secondary study in your country
  • provide the required documents (English test score, academic transcript or certificate, relevant visa)
  • ensure you can afford the relevant fees.

For domestic students, each university sets its own entry requirements. However, in general for Year 12 applicants, a university will require students to provide:

  • Year 12 certificate (relevant to the state the student completed their studies in)
  • ATAR rank (or the state equivalent)
  • a tertiary English major at Year 12 level.

But what if your Year 11 and Year 12 studies didn't quite go as well as you planned? 

Are there other university pathways apart from ATAR?
Getting an ATAR is only one way to access uni courses | Source: Pixabay - andrew_t8

Things happen but don't despair, it is actually possible to gain entry into a university undergraduate degree course without a Year 12 certificate or ATAR.

What Uni Courses Can I Study Without an ATAR?

The simple answer is — just about any course you desire. Getting into uni without an ATAR, or with a lower ATAR than you expected, is entirely doable!

What about medicine or law? 

The ATAR for some degrees is super high, however, if you bombed out in Year 12 for whatever reason this should not count against you. In fact, the ATAR is only one part of the university admission requirements equation. Other selection factors that can be taken into consideration when you apply for your uni courses include:

  • your grade point average (GPA)
  • individual results in subjects that are prerequisites
  • admission interview
  • references
  • results from bridging courses you complete.

Often, taking a gap year or developing your skills in related work for a year or two can help. It also gives you a break from study so you can start your university studies fresh.

How Do I Access Alternative University Pathways?

There are a number of university pathways available that don't have prerequisites such as an ATAR rank.

Take a bridging program

Most universities offer bridging programs to help get eligible students up to speed with their degree requirements and prerequisites. If students successfully complete one of these programs, they will receive a selection rank they can use to apply for entry to their desired undergraduate bachelor degree.

Enrol in a tertiary certificate or diploma program

Not only will this give students extra experience that can be used towards their selection rank. If studies are undertaken in the same field as your preferred bachelor degree, your university may award credit for some of your courses in the future. Undertaking certificate or diploma study also allows students to find out if this is the career pathway they really want to pursue.

Enrol in a vocational education and training (VET) course of study

Like a tertiary certificate or diploma, a VET certificate can allow students to be assigned a selection rank. As VET courses of study are practical and competency-based, many employers look upon these favourably should you end up deciding not to apply for university after all.

Take the Special Tertiary Admission Test (STAT)

This two-hour aptitude test assesses student capability in taking further tertiary study. You would need to check with your preferred university to see if they accept STAT results or if they have their own version.

Work and life experience

If it has been a number of years since you left high school, and you've been working in another career, you can apply to enrol in a bachelor degree as a mature-age student. There are several factors, including the type of career you have had, professional association membership or other qualifications, that help with your admission and selection rank.

Do all uni courses need an ATAR?
There are alternative ways to enrol in university if you don't receive the ATAR rank you need | Source: Pixabay - jarmoluk

Doing well in your Year 12 subjects and achieving a good ATAR score and rank is obviously the best way to meet university admission requirements but in the real world, this is not always possible so it is good to know that you don't only have one chance.

Alternatives to University Tertiary Study

Earning a university degree is not the be-all and end-all of life. In fact, it has been many years in Australia since a university degree came with a job guarantee upon graduation. Furthermore, some employers look more favourably upon practical experience than a piece of paper that says you know the theory.

That is not to say that university study is a waste of time. There are a number of career pathways that require a university degree to progress or even to enter. However, there are just as many satisfying and well-paid career pathways that do not require an undergraduate bachelor degree.

If you're interested in an education career or working with children ...

... why not consider childcare, education support work, tutoring or after school care? You can work in all of these areas without needing further study. However, if you want to progress in these careers, you may choose to consider a Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care or a Certificate III in Education Support — both of which can be undertaken part time or full time at a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institution.

If you have a passion for health ...

... a career in aged or disabled care, nursing support or community support could be perfect for you. Again, as with education, you can increase promotion opportunities by enrolling in certificate or diploma level courses at your local TAFE or online. In addition, if you are keen on fitness, working in the fitness industry as an instructor or personal trainer doesn't require a university degree and is also one of the highest paying, non-academic career pathways.

If you have great people skills ...

... a career in sales, working as an administration officer or as a real estate agent are all great options. Real estate agents regularly rank in the top ten highest paying jobs that don't need a degree and while Certificate III or IV programs of study will help workers gain promotion, it is often job experience and performance that sees you advance in rank.

For people who prefer hands-on work to books and study ...

... any of the trades provide great options. You can apply for a position without prior qualifications, however, an apprenticeship, along with TAFE study, is going to see you advance more rapidly and be more employable. Interestingly, electricians and construction workers come in as first and third respectively when we look at the highest paying career pathways that don't require university study.

What is a VET course?
VET courses, such as childcare, accounting, nursing and management, are one of several alternative university pathways | Source: Pixabay - pasja1000

If technology is your thing ...

... your career opportunities are almost limitless and include website design and development, cybersecurity, digital marketing management, software engineering, ethical hacking, coding and so on. You can, of course, advance your skills by undertaking a degree at university or a TAFE diploma or certificate course but, realistically, the information technology industry advances so rapidly that everything you learn will be out of date before you finish your course.

We can't change our past but we can change our future by working in the present.

The point of this article is to show you that your life will not be over if you don't do as well in high school as you would have liked. You can go about getting into uni without an ATAR. You can achieve wonderful things if you apply yourself and look outside of the square. And you just may be pleasantly surprised at where life takes you in the process.

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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.