"Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."

∼ Albert Einstein ∼

Education in Australia has always been the responsibility of individual state governments, rather than controlled by the federal government. For this reason, the year education became compulsory varies between states, although most introduced legislation during the 1870s-1880s mandating compulsory attendance from ages 6 to 14  for at least 140 days each year.

Currently, the Australian education system is divided into three main components:

  • primary education — Foundation to Year 6 (from 5 or 6 years of age until 11 or 12)
  • secondary education — Years 7 to 12 (from 11 or 12 years of age until 17 or 18)
  • tertiary education

School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, or from Year 1 until the end of Year 10. However, the majority of students start in Foundation (or Kindergarten) and often continue until the end of Year 12.

Tertiary education, also known as higher education in Australia, is comprised of universities, TAFE colleges and any other institution that offers qualifications from undergraduate diplomas to postgraduate doctoral degrees. Institutions can be private or public, but all course programs must be registered with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

Currently, there are 1.5 million people enrolled in a program of higher education in Australia, 31 per cent of whom are international students. Many applicants for tertiary enrolment have been thinking about the course they wanted to study since their early secondary years, and have been able to work towards this through their subject selection in Years 11 and 12.

However, this is not the case for all. Many students are unsure about their choices, and some have no idea what they want to do after graduation.

There are a huge number of local organisations and online resources you can access to source advice, but the whole process can be overwhelming, even intimidating, if you don't have the support to wade through all the options available.

Perhaps think about starting with one — the Universities Admissions Centre.

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What is UAC?

The main role of the University Admissions Centre (UAC) is to support students to process applications to undergraduate and postgraduate courses, mainly in NSW and ACT. For enrolment options outside of these states, you need to apply through the relevant state admission centre as per the table below, or directly with a private university as per their enrolment process policy.

State/TerritoryAdmissions Centre
New South Wales, Australian Capital TerritoryUniversity Admissions Centre (UAC)
VictoriaVictoria Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC)
QueenslandQueensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC)
South Australia, Northern TerritorySouth Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC)
TasmaniaUniversity of Tasmania (UTAS)
Western AustraliaTertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC)
National (online)Open Universities Australia

Apart from undergraduate and postgraduate enrolment application processing, UAC will also process applications for:

  • Educational Access Schemes (EAS)
  • Equity Scholarships (ES)
  • Schools Recommendation Schemes (SRS).

In addition, UAC calculates and provides the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for eligible students.

The Centre supports the application process for any student who is:

  • a citizen of Australia or New Zealand
  • a permanent resident of Australia
  • the holder of a permanent resident humanitarian visa
  • an international student who meets the eligibility criteria for undergraduate enrolment.

In the following article, we will examine the ins and outs of tertiary education (including the answer to the question, what is ATAR?), how the UAC services can support you, and answer your questions, about admission into higher education programs and demystify the UAC application process.

Why Complete Higher Education in Australia?

What are the benefits of university study?
The options a university degree provides are endless (Source: Unsplash)

"A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled."

∼ Plutarch ∼

In years past, a university application — or pursuit of any tertiary qualifications — was a dream achieved only by the elite and rich. These days, particularly after the introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) which allows Australian citizens to pay off their university fees once they commence full-time work, anybody who wishes to apply for entry into a university course is able to do so, provided they attain the requisite entry scores for their selected degree program.

There are, however, still two schools of thought on the benefits of higher education in Australia — both of which centre around the ability to gain employment in a tight job market.

  • The more education you have the more options you have in the employment sector.
  • A solid Year 12 certificate is all you need because employers want young people who they can train — hands-on experience trumps a degree.

Of course, the industry you wish to enter will have the most influence on whether or not you need to apply for a university placement. But for people who are unsure about what career path they want to pursue, further education is often the best option.

If you still have doubts about whether several more years of university study are going to benefit you, think about the following advantages:

  • Improve your prospects

Having professional qualifications can greatly improve your employability in many industries, both in Australia and overseas. Pay rates are often higher as you don't have to start at entry level, meaning improved financial stability.

  • Broaden your experiences

While the Australian curriculum attempts to offer engaging programs and relevant content, the compulsory school system cannot match the options available at a tertiary level. University students are exposed to the most current research and technology, and can also maximise their opportunities through involvement with cutting-edge local, interstate and overseas programs.

  • Establish connections

University is a student's first opportunity to start building adult networks at a professional level. Through your degree program, you are not only going to meet new friends but mentors, academic staff and other experts in your field — all of whom may become contacts or even colleagues in the future.

Yes, there are sacrifices (like a minimum of four years of further study, and working parttime jobs to make ends meet) but at the end of the process, the advantages override those sacrifices. If you are concerned about finances as a student, or the workload, make an appointment with a guidance counsellor at the university as they will answer any questions and support you to devise a work-study program to suit your circumstances.

And don't forget UAC services.

Finding Courses with UAC

The bulk of the UAC services centre around the university application process, however, the website also offers two guidance services:

  • Subject Compass supports students in Year 10 to make subject choices that are relevant to the courses they want to apply for after Year 12.
  • Course Compass provides support to students in Year 12 to select the university course that is right for them.

While neither of these programs will make the decision for you, they will support you to narrow down your options (and to discover ones you hadn't previously realised were options).

How do you apply to university?
To apply to most universities, you need to go through UAC or the admissions centre that services your state (Source: TeroVesalainen)

Another of the UAC services provided are links to all associated universities and other higher education institutions, including the Academy of Interactive Entertainment and the Endeavour College of Natural Health. This allows each prospective student the opportunity to explore the courses on offer and to prepare the resources and information they might need when they eventually apply.

Information about undergraduate, postgraduate and international programs is kept up-to-date, along with general information pertaining to policy documents and the process for enrolment. Alternative study options and career information is also readily accessible.

In addition, contacting the student services office at a few of your shortlisted universities can be useful. They will be able to answer any specific questions you have about their admissions policy, and also send you a current university prospectus. You may even want to organise a visit and tour.

If, after checking the services and information available on the UAC website and speaking to staff at the admissions office, you're still unsure about your next steps, you may wish to consider an academic appraisal.

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The UAC Application Process

In the past, applying to university courses has been fraught with legwork, paperwork and stress!

Not anymore.

The UAC application process is streamlined, clear and easy to access and navigate.

No matter where in Australia, or New Zealand, you live, if you want to apply to enrol at university in NSW or the ACT, all the information you need is right there in front of you. (And, the same thing applies at other admission centres in the other states of Australia — see the table from earlier.)

How do you enrol at university?
The UAC website has all the information you need to make the university application process stress-free (Source: JESHOOTS-com)

So, what do you need to do?

Firstly, make sure you have all the relevant information at hand — including your previous studies, qualifications and course preferences. Then, simply log on and follow the prompts. If you don't get everything finished and submitted in one sitting, you can save your application and come back to it later. Through the same portal, you can also change your preferences, upload documents as you get them and track the progress of your application.

It's as easy as that.

In fact, the longest (and probably most stressful) wait is likely to be for your ATAR.

What is ATAR?

The most important thing to know about ATAR is that it is a ranking, not a mark.

ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank and is a number that indicates your position in comparison to other students in your age group and subject area. More importantly, your ATAR is one of the things a university or other tertiary institution will use, along with your application statement, work portfolio or interview, to determine your eligibility for their course.

Each course has its own eligibility criteria, often determined by the popularity of the course, so while your ATAR might be enough to get you into a course in one field, it may not be enough to get you into a different area. Also, some universities have higher ranking requirements than others.

The other important thing to know is that your ATAR is calculated by your state (where you completed your Year 12 studies) and is a comparison of other students in your state — not nationally.

Of course, UAC also recognises that not every university applicant has recently (in the last year) completed Year 12. If you have spent a number of years in the workforce or didn't finish Year 12, or if you are an international student, universities and the UAC will take other factors into account when they process your application, including:

  • employment experience
  • secondary school records
  • other studies.

In some cases, a student may be offered a bridging or pathway course prior to enrolment in their selected university degree.

How is your ATAR calculated?

The process for calculating an ATAR is convoluted, however, in a nutshell, it scales your raw scores from:

  • your best two English units
  • the best 8 of your remaining units.

The scaling process means that, despite the perpetuating rumour, one subject is not necessarily 'better' than another for ATAR purposes — mostly, it's about your score in comparison to other students in the same field.

The following table shows the correlation between mean scores, your marks and the scaled mark used for ATAR:

CourseScaled MeanYour MarkScaled Mark
English40.280.062.4
Physics61.091.084.6
Business Studies48.089.077.4
History47.889.077.0

As with application procedures, each state has its own process for calculating ATAR results. If in doubt, especially if you didn't do your secondary schooling in NSW, please check with your state's Admissions Centre.

Apart from putting in the work throughout Years 11 and 12, there is little else you can do about your ATAR. It's a good idea, however, to keep an eye on the advertised cut-off scores and the prerequisites for the universities you are hoping to attend.

If you're not wondering about your ATAR then, are you still a bit concerned about what you'll be able to do once you achieve your degree? Jump on to UAC, or one of the other sites we discuss in other articles for some motivation to keep you going and achieve that ATAR.

Additional Resources Available from the UAC

How do I plan for my future?
The UAC website has lots to offer, and accessing their resources can help you find and navigate the right path to success for you (Source: Unsplash)

The UAC is not only about processing university applications and listing final ATAR results — although this does form the bulk of their service.

Other resources provided through the UAC website include:

  • FAQ pages which answer every possible question you could have, including the ones you haven't thought of, about the application process, eligibility requirements, mature age students, alternative programs and alternative pathways to university.
  • Subject Compass guides students up to Year 10 to support them in their subject selection with a view to tertiary study requirements.
  • Course Compass provides advice on the best courses to choose to spearhead your career goals.
  • UAC media and publications produce a wide range of resources for anybody involved in higher education in Australia, including applicants, careers advisers, teachers and parents.
  • Hub for schools and careers advisers containing free resources to assist students and track their application progress and acceptance.

And, if you can't find what you need — log in for a live chat with an expert in the UAC office who can answer your questions, point you in the right direction or refer you to another service.

Is help available to fill in the application and write the personal statement, or if I want to go to an institution not covered by UAC?

If you're still at school, your careers adviser should be able to assist you with this process. However, they do get notoriously busy at this point in the year so, if you've missed out on an appointment time, or if you are no longer at school, another option is to find a private career tutor, or a private academic tutor to support you in the area you need. The Superprof platform is the perfect place to start looking.

Where can you find support resources?
If you're looking for other support resources or information, UAC can help (Source: StartupStockPhotos)

Many students and parents start the research process early — well before they 'need' to. This is not a bad idea. Early and gradual research means you won't be overwhelmed by all the information and you'll be familiar with the processes and expectations when it is finally time to submit that application.

If nothing else, familiarising yourself with the key sections of the UAC platform will mean you won't waste time searching for sections you need, and because the key dates are always the first thing you see, you'll be less likely to miss those crucial deadlines.

Checking different platforms for career advice is always recommended as well.

Getting Career Information from UAC

You can always ask your parents and other family members for career advice but, in the rapidly changing world, even your most trusted people may not be up-to-date with current and emerging career opportunities.

To find out about job opportunities in specific fields, there are a number of career services, including online job platforms and career counselling, available for people who need assistance at all stages of the journey, including:

  • deciding what they want to study at a tertiary level
  • refining study habits and improving research skills
  • searching and applying for jobs
  • learning interview techniques.

Using the services provided by UAC, or other platforms, is highly recommended as they build their business around this specialisation. However, there are also some knowledgeable and experienced tutors on Superprof who are happy to assist students with other academic aspects as well.

In both cases, it might be suggested that you take a career quiz if you are unsure about your goals the career path you want to follow. These sorts of quizzes, while not definitive, can help you discover your personality type and your strengths, which can be useful in identifying potential careers.

How can you find out more about university?
The UAC website has comprehensive information about tertiary institutions, their courses and entrance requirements (Source: kaboompics)

Advice and Support from Superprof Tutors

Searching for and finding tutors near you is easier than ever before with the online Superprof platform. There are tutors available for a huge range of academic and recreational subjects, as well as life coaches, professional development tutors and career support tutors.

In most cases, you can access three different types of tutorial, each one with its own benefits. Check out the options carefully to work out which tutorial style best suits your needs, your budget, your schedule and your goals.

Face-to-face Private Tuition

This is probably considered the most traditional tutoring, and would be the style most people automatically think of when they hear the word 'tutoring'. Benefits include having each session specifically tailored to your needs, as you will be the only student. They may appear the most expensive, but when you think that you are getting undivided attention you may realise that they are also cost-effective.

Online Tuition

The biggest advantage of online tuition is that you and your tutor do not have to be in the same town, state or even country. This is great if there are no tutors available near where you live, although, for some subjects, trying to learn when you are not in the same room can be difficult. As long as you have a computer or device with a microphone and camera or webcam, online tutoring sessions are easy to set up. They are often cheaper because there are no travel expenses involved, and are definitely more flexible in terms of scheduling.

Group Tuition

A very cost-effective way of accessing private tutoring, small group tutorials can be conducted both face-to-face and online. Although the tutor will not be able to give you undivided attention, and you may sometimes need to cover areas that are not part of your personal goals, small group tutoring is still more effective than a large classroom setting.

Thinking about your budget, your goals and your personal learning style before you start looking for a tutor is a good idea. Then, do your homework — look carefully at the profiles of different tutors to make sure their teaching style and skill set is what you need. Also, it's reassuring to know that the majority of Superprof tutors offer the first session for free, with no obligation, so you can both be sure you are a good fit.

Taking the plunge into the world of tertiary education requires some serious decision making and can be overwhelming. Just remember, there is support available for you to access. All the best!

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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.