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08 Nov, 2020

Why your ATAR shouldn’t dictate your career

A lot of anxiety and pressure surrounds high school students in Year 12, cultivated by the myth that your ATAR will be THE determining factor in your future success.

Firstly, it’s important to clarify that the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a rank, not a mark. It’s a number between 0.00 and 99.95 that indicates a student’s position relative to all the other students in their age group.

What it’s not is a test of your intelligence or a tell-tale sign of how likely you are to succeed in your career.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ‘thinking traps’ you should try to avoid, so you can make the best decision about your next step:

If your ATAR is lower than expected

In a national survey by online tutoring company Cluey Learning, 75% of Australian secondary students said their ATAR score would impact on the rest of their life, and over 80% said a score under 60 would be detrimental to their life.

The fact is, however, only half of year 12 students were admitted to university in 2020 using their ATAR alone.

Receiving a low ATAR is far from a career-limiting sentence. If you have your heart set on a particular degree, it’s important to be aware that there are various pathways available to you:


1. A first step could be to research your options for direct entry into different higher education providers or VET courses.

At Kaplan Business School (KBS), the domestic entry requirement for a Bachelor of Business is a minimum ATAR of 55. This gives you access to high-quality business education, fully accredited by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and widely renowned for industry-leading student support.


2. A second possibility is to explore alternative pathways.

For example, at KBS, you might choose to study a Diploma of Business (one-year standard study duration), and upon successful completion of the course, transition to a bachelor’s degree. You’ll be able to apply for credit entry into the second year of the Bachelor of Business with majors in management, accounting, hospitality & tourism management or marketing.

The benefit of a pathway approach is that it can help make the transition from school to university less daunting, build your confidence and give you an opportunity to get a better feel for your area of interest before taking on further study (and student debt!).

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3. You might decide moving straight into tertiary study isn’t right for you.

Maybe finding employment is your next step. You could work or volunteer for a few years before applying for mature age study. In this case, your work experience and other informal studies may be accepted in support of your application into a postgraduate course.

Getting some life experience before embarking on a tertiary education has its advantages. Aside from providing a financial buffer, it gives you the chance to build your resume and figure out what skills you might like to further develop. You might also gain a better idea of what industries you have a real interest in by acquiring some first-hand experience in an area related to your course.

The underlying lesson: if you’re interested in a certain field or career and committed to working hard to achieve your goal, you shouldn’t let your ATAR dictate otherwise.

If your ATAR is higher than expected

If you receive a higher ATAR than you expected, it’s also important to stop and reflect on what this means for you.

There tends to be this inclination that if you get a high ATAR and you don’t study a course like law or medicine that have tough entry requirements, you’re essentially ‘wasting’ your result. This is supported by findings of the Shergold report* which adds that the pressure students feel to maximise their ATAR can lead to mental health distress.

Although a high ATAR does open your opportunities (and that can be a great thing), you shouldn’t choose a course simply because you feel that it’s expected of you.

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Top questions to ask yourself before applying for a degree

>  Can I see myself working in this field?

>  What are my career prospects?

>  Does it align with my skills, talents and interests?

>  What is driving this decision?

>  Does the institution and course I’m considering suit my individual study needs?

If you don’t take the time to make an informed decision, you might find yourself feeling stuck in a degree that you dislike or have little interest in.

The longer you study, the more resolved you may feel to see it through because of the costs and time involved, but this unhelpful thinking pattern can actually hold you back from finding your true purpose.

It’s also a misconception to think, the higher the ATAR required, the ‘better’ the course. ATAR entrance scores are actually much more closely associated to supply and demand than level of difficulty (with some exceptions).

If you’ve found a career direction you’re really interested in, it’s worth taking the time to research the institutions and courses available in detail.

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What to research when selecting a course provider

>  Subject offerings

>  Quality of teaching

>  Student support services

>  Fees

>  Graduate employment outcomes

>  Academic internship opportunities

>  Modes of delivery

>  Campus facilities

No matter what number you’re working with, it’s valuable to think of your ATAR as the start to your career journey, not a final judgement.

Want to know what your next step could look like at KBS? Click here to learn more about our course entry requirements or here to find out the differences between a business school and university.


*Looking to the Future: Report of the Review of senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training, published by Education Council, 23 July 2020.