Didn’t Get The ATAR You Wanted? You’ve Got Options…


Didn’t Make Your ATAR? You’ve Got Options…

Cue: the feeling that the world is falling apart. After all of your hard work it can feel pretty gruesome to discover that you haven’t made the cut. But do not despair! There are alternatives to the traditional university pathways, and huge numbers of people who didn’t get the best grades in school go on to have incredibly successful careers – Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Michael Dell to name a few.

Life Goes On

It may have seemed for some time that the HSC, VCE and other high school certificates are the be all and end all of life, and so it will come as either a relief, or a disappointment, to discover that your ATAR does not define you, nor does it determine the rest of your life. Once high school is over your grades don’t matter for very long, and whatever your ATAR, life will go on regardless.

As Angel Calderon, education expert at RMIT, advises:

The preference system is such that even if someone misses out on their first preference, their second and third preferences really shouldn’t be that different and won’t really change anything about their career future… I would say take the best offer you get, you may really enjoy it and find it better suited to yourself.

Being open minded about where you study or thinking about studying a slightly different course are totally legitimate ways of pursuing your goal from another angle.

Alternate Pathways

James Arvanitaeis, Head of the Academy at the University of Western Sydney, writes:

We are lucky to live in a country where the ATAR is only one pathway into university…No matter your ATAR result, please refuse to be defined by it. The ATAR is not a measure of intelligence but one of aptitude: of your ability to work through a program named the HSC… If your goal is university and the results are not what you desired, don’t stress, there are many options available.

One such option is a bridging program; a supportive preparatory course for uni which can lead directly into the second year of a degree. There are a variety of programs which provide a kind of orientation into tertiary study, and assist in the transition from high school to university. Arvanitaeis has seen a number of people enter university this way and go on to complete PhDs.


Another option is to apply to a related course, work hard to achieve good marks, and then apply for a transfer. You could choose a related course at the same university, or choose to pursue a diploma in your chosen field, leading to a transfer into a bachelor’s degree.

You could decide to enrol in a more generalised course with a lower ATAR than your first preference, and incorporate specialised units as electives. In a subsequent year of study you could then apply to transfer into your original first preference and gain credits for part of what you’ve already studied.

Private institutions like Kaplan Business School have programs in place that help students easily transfer credit points to and from other colleges/universities.

Following one of the many other pathways available can end up taking you along a different route to exactly the same destination.

Alternatives To Top-Tier Universities

Whilst there is higher demand for some universities than for others, that doesn’t necessarily equate to the highest standard educational experience or the most successful graduates. A number of universities for which there is lower student demand in fact rate more highly in overall student satisfaction and teaching quality.

Colleges and TAFEs offer many high quality courses that prepare you just as well, and often in a more practical way, for a range of well regarded, high income career paths.

As long as you are persistent and keep yourself well informed regarding what options you have there is nothing stopping you achieving your goals.

Take it from James Adonopoulos, who failed his ATAR but went on to complete a PhD and is now the Dean of Kaplan Business School:

When I was in high school, we had a TER instead of an ATAR … and I failed it.  Not by a little but by a lot.  And yet, I still went on to university, then I did my Masters, and now I’ve just finished my PhD.  So please don’t be disheartened or demotivated by your ATAR result.  There are many roads to academic success – and Kaplan Business School is best placed to help you get there

You’re Not Alone

Remember to contact course advisors and student services both at your school and prospective tertiary institutions, as they are there to be points of contact, and assist you with guidance while you’re figuring it all out.

And keep in mind that your ATAR is simply a ranking of your aptitude in one program, not an indication of your overall ability, potential, or future success. There are always opportunities ahead of you, all you have to do is work hard, stay motivated, and keep your options open!