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8 different ways to get into uni (if you don’t get the ATAR you need)

8 different ways to get into uni (if you don’t get the ATAR you need)

If you’re in the middle of your HSC (or equivalent) and you’re already searching for ‘different ways to get into uni not ATAR’, I get ya!

We’re in the weeds of year 12 at the moment, with my eldest muddling through. I say muddling deliberately because he isn’t the kind of kid to bother too much with school. School’s a social construct, you see. Brought in to keep the masses under control (or something like that, I tend to tune out when he mentions the word “construct”).

His English teacher told me at a recent parent-teacher interview that to try to teach a student who is highly capable but doesn’t care is a very unsatisfying thing to have to do. I hear ya, I said. Oh boy, do I hear you.

In contrast, a family friend’s daughter is stressed up to her eyeballs about getting a specific ATAR to get into a specific course because life will end completely if she doesn’t. She studies long into the night, presumably lit by her own bright brain. Which would be fine, but she’s developed something of an eating disorder because she’s basically too stressed to keep food down.

For different reasons, both of these types of students are enough to send a parent grey (though, of course, we’ve all been parenting for 17/18 years so we’re all pretty much white haired these days anyway).

One probably won’t get the ATAR they need because they don’t care; the other might not get it because they care too much.

Fortunately, there are many different ways to get into uni

Which is precisely why I’m writing this article, though I don’t really want my son to read it. He doesn’t need extra ammo as to why his HSC doesn’t matter.

BUT, my little nightlight friend absolutely does. I want her to know that this year is a single year in her dazzling life and she’s going to be okay, no matter what number she ends up getting. She’s super smart, but even more importantly, she’s a hard worker. That will all still be there next year, and the year after, and the year after and so on.

So, on the off-chance that she doesn’t get her number and the even off-er chance that my son decides he might like to go to university after all, here are some different ways to get into uni to become the person you always wanted to be.

1. Early entry

It’s not all about the ATAR these days. Well, not for many courses anyway. If you want to be a neurosurgeon you still need to hit that 99.99999 repeater ATAR, but for the rest of us, there’s early entry.

Early entry is basically getting a place in a uni degree before you even sit your final exams. Talk about a pressure-release valve! You might know as early as June that you’ve been accepted into the course you want.

Of course, your acceptance has to be based on something tangible and many uni’s will look at your year 11 results combined with a ‘soft skills’ assessment (think of a question on a form like, “Describe a difficult time in your life and how you overcame adversity”, etc). They may even ask your school to assess your capabilities as a student – your motivation, diligence, etc. 

So, this is not a get out of jail free card, but getting early entry is an extreme balm for the final exam blues.

We live in NSW, so I’ve pulled together this chart for my son (though I think he plans to go to uni in Perth as he figures he won’t be able to hear me nagging him from there). Check out universities in your state to see their early entry requirements. And always check with your choice of uni anyway because my chart might not be as up to date as I’d like.

Criteria for early entry at some popular NSW universities
University Early Entry Scheme About Application
Australian Catholic University
ACU Guarantee – Open to year 12 students who completed year 11 in Australia
– Based on year 11 results
– You can write up to personal statements to increase your chances of an offer
Opens 1 June 2022 – check website
Australian National University
Direct Application Admissions – Open to Australian year 12 students who receive an ATAR
– Based on year 11 or year 12 depending on which round you apply for
Open now until 23 May – check website
Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt Advantage – Open to year 12 students 
– Based on year 11 results and demonstrated ‘soft skills’ like resilience, communication, empathy and motivation.
Open now until 24 June 2022 (second round) or 31 August (3rd round) – check website
Griffith University
Year 12 Early Offer Guarantee – Open to year 12 students in QLD and northern NSW
– There’s specific criteria to meet depending on where you are doing year 12, so check their website
Open now – check website
Macquarie University
Macquarie Leaders and Achievers Early Entry Scheme – Open to year 12 students completing the HSC or IB
– Based on year 11 academic performance
– You need to show three examples of your involvement in leadership, sport or casual work activities
Opens 1 June 2022 – check website
Macquarie University
Schools Recommendation Scheme (SRS) – Open to year 12 students completing the HSC or IB
– Based on your year 11 academic performance and your school’s view of you as a student
Opened 12 April 2022 via UAC
University of NSW
Gateway Admission Path – Open to year 12 students doing their HSC
– Based on a written personal statement, year 11 results and your school’s rating of your aptitudes and performance in relevant areas of study
– Administered through the UAC Schools Recommendation Scheme
Open now until 19 September 2022 via UAC
University of Newcastle
Schools Recommendation Scheme (SRS) – Based on your year 11 academic performance and school recommendation
– SRS offers for all undergraduate degrees (excluding B Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine and B Midwifery)
– An application must be submitted via UAC and if successful, does not consider your HSC marks
Open now until 19 September 2022 via UAC
University of Sydney
Early Offer Year 12 (E12) Scheme – Assessed by UAC through their Educational Access Scheme
– The conditional early offer comes with an additional scholarship of $5950
– Students must be experiencing financial hardship, residing in an area of socio-economic disadvantage and/or attend a rural or regional school to be eligible
Open now until 19 September 2022 via UAC
University of Wollongong
UoW Early Admission – Open to Australian students completing year 12

If you can meet these four criteria, you’re in with a chance: academic readiness, motivation and passion, communication and collaboration and, planning and persistence
– You’ll also be assessed on your marks so far, relevant to the degree you want to study

Open 18 July – 12 August 2022 – check website
Western Sydney University
HSC True Reward Early Offer Program – Conditional early offer based on year 11 and 12 results plus achieving a minimum band in your HSC for subjects specific to your degree
– Based on your HSC results, not the scaled ATAR
Open now – check website

Many of the universities listed above offer early entry through the UAC Schools Recommendation Scheme (SRS). Here’s more info on that:

2. Bridging courses

If you don’t get the required ATAR, many universities offer short courses that will develop your skills in prerequisite areas of your chosen study path. Bridging courses are also helpful if you didn’t study a prerequisite subject for your final exams. So, you might have decided too late that you have a passion for science, so you didn’t study any science courses.

It’s important to note that bridging courses don’t guarantee you a spot in the degree you’re chasing. What they will do is help you experience university life, confirm that a particular study direction is the right one for you and give you a basic ‘foot in the door’ at the university of your choice. Check with the uni.

3. Enabling courses

These are university offered courses that basically teach you how to be a uni student. They are often offered online and give you the academic skills and – just as importantly – confidence to tackle tertiary study. Many enabling courses have units that count as credit towards an undergraduate degree, but do check the fine print.

Some universities offer what they call ‘outreach’ enabling courses. These offer even more assisted learning options, like smaller class sizes and more 1:1 tutoring. They’re expensive, but they might be a good option for you if you dozed your way through senior high school and aren’t sure you’ve got the skills you need to do a degree.

Search for your university of choice + enabling courses to find out what you need to do to apply.

Try these different ways to get into uni

4. ‘Mature age’ entry

It’s fascinating, but ‘mature age entry’ to university is available for anyone over 19 years old. That’s basically a gap year (maybe two) after year 12 and you’re ready to sit the Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT). This is a general intelligence test combined with a personal essay. You then get a score that can be used instead of an ATAR to gain entry to university courses.

There are ‘colleges’ that offer STAT workshops and training, but ACER (the Australian Council for Education who administer the STAT test) aren’t a fan of them. Instead, they suggest students prepare by doing the practice tests offered on their website.

Any work experience you can gain during your gap year/s in your chosen field of study will also enhance your mature age entry candidacy. This can be as simple as doing some night telemarketing work if you’re interested in getting a marketing degree.

5. VET and TAFE pathways

There are many courses offered through TAFE that transition by agreement to a university undergraduate course. So you might finish TAFE with a Community Services Diploma and have a guaranteed pathway into a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) at Deakin University. Check all available credit transfers here.

You can also study at TAFE for a degree, bypassing the university system altogether. See, you don’t even need an ATAR at all to do a degree at TAFE.

School VET programs may also help you enter your chosen university degree. For example, you might do the Certificate III Health Services VET course through school. After year 12, you could do a  Certificate IV in Preparation for Nursing a TAFE, then a Diploma of Nursing. Your diploma can then be applied as credit towards a Bachelor of Nursing at uni.

There are many alternative pathways into university

6. Adjustment factors

Most universities will take your extracurricular activities into consideration in an adjusted entry scheme. Factors that may be deemed significant enough include things like special consideration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, or for any student who experienced a significant educational disadvantage during years 11 and 12. Students who experienced financial hardship or even simply went to school in a regional or remote area may also be eligible for an adjusted ATAR.

Other recognised circumstances include students with elite achievements in sports or the arts. So if you spent year 11 and 12 focused more on making nationals for netball or you were busy being Becky on Home and Away, you’re probably eligible for some ATAR compensation. Some university degrees also allow for a portfolio or audition pathway to further support these high-achieving students.

If you achieve a band 5 or 6 in high-level English or Maths, you may also receive an ATAR adjustment from the university. This varies from uni to uni, so check your chosen institution and course to see how much this adjustment might be. 

Finally, students who were school captains or achieved dux of their school are generally also able to gain entry to eligible courses with a lower ATAR.

7. Choose a different course

There might be a similar course to the one you’ve got your heart set on that has a lower ATAR. Talk to the university about your options for enrolling in this course and transferring to your chosen course if your marks are up to scratch.

This is quite a well-trodden path into medicine for many students. They start out studying for a Bachelor of Science (Medical Science), which has an ATAR around 90.0 with the goal of transferring to a Bachelor of Medicine (ATAR 99.95) after their first year (or more). Their medical science degree can often be used as credits towards the medicine degree.

Entry into popular degrees like Civil Engineering (ATAR 92.0) or Psychology (ATAR 96.0) can also be achieved this way. Enrol in a Bachelor of Science (ATAR around 80.0) and do very well (you’ll generally need at least a distinction average) in your first year of uni and you can apply to transfer to your preferred degree.

Find a different path into uni without the right ATAR

8. Repeat and try again

Well, technically this isn’t repeating your entire year 11 and 12 years. Instead, you can retake subjects you didn’t do well at and keep the units you were happy with. You can repeat the units at either school or TAFE.

For instance, in NSW, you can take up to five years to finish your studies from the first year you complete an HSC subject. So, if it suited you best, you could effectively do 2 units each year until you’ve completed the necessary 10 units you need for your HSC. I mean, you’d be 22/23 and only just finishing high school, but that’s a small price to pay for your mental wellbeing, no?

Chances are, it will only be one or two subjects you need to ‘re do’. Or perhaps one or two subjects you didn’t do, but are prerequisites for the uni course you want to do. The year 10 kid picking all humanities subjects wasn’t to know that the year 12 you wants to become a vet. Talk to your school careers advisor in the first instance and see this page for a bit more info.

The main thing to remember about all of the above is that you have options. Although achieving the necessary ATAR is the smoothest entry into uni, it’s not the only one. There are so many different ways to get into uni that don’t even involve an ATAR at all.

So, complete your final years at school safe in the knowledge that no matter what happens academically, you’re going to be okay. You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do with the ‘rest of your life’. The many different ways to get into uni show that a bit of lived experience can help you decide, plus you can always change your mind.

Best of luck!