Does your ATAR really matter?

Regardless of your ATAR, there’s a range of ways to work towards your ideal future. Here’s how. 

Young woman reading text message on kitchen bench


Years 11 and 12 can be the most stressful period of your school career. Perhaps you’re feeling the pressure to get the “right” ATAR—from your parents, teachers or even yourself.

In the grand scheme of things though, no one will ask or care about your ATAR once you’re at uni and after you graduate.

But do they matter when you’re applying to uni? Well, the answer is a nuanced one.  

Do universities care about your ATAR?

In most cases, your ATAR is just one of several criteria a university will consider when reviewing your application. Depending on the course you’re interested in, you may also have to write a personal statement or essay, attend an interview or assessment, or even submit a portfolio.

And that’s because universities know that ATARs are an indication (not a guarantee) of how well you’ll handle the rigours of academic study—which is also highly dependent on some factors that might be completely out of your control… more on this later.

Essays, interviews and portfolios provide a more well-rounded view of your character, critical thinking and communication abilities as well as your passion for learning—criteria which are as important, if not more, than an academic rank.

In an op-ed piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Verity Firth, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney said, “Only 30 per cent of first-year Australian students gain their place at university based solely on their ATAR.” A comforting fact, we think

However, there are some exceptions. If you’re hell-bent on entering a competitive field (like engineering, architecture, law and medicine) and want to immediately join your degree program after finishing school and study on campus, then yes, your ATAR will matter to the universities you apply to.

But even then, a high entry ATAR does not mean that a course is ‘better’, only that the course is popular (lots of people are applying for admission). As places are capped in most courses, universities have to raise the ‘cut-off point’ to ensure that they don’t accept more students than they can teach.

It’s a bit like waiting to get onto a Ferris wheel that can only seat twenty. If you’re the twenty first person in line, you may not be able to get on as soon as you’d like.

Can you be successful with a low ATAR?

The answer is, of course you can! Many successful people finished school with a low ATAR, but it didn’t hold them back. Cases in point—a power couple who headed to Harvard for postgrad, a CEO and a high-profile chef.

Closer to home, our alumnus, Daniel, had a low ATAR, yet studied business with Griffith University through Open Universities Australia. He then got hired as a graduate analyst by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

And if by ”successful” you mean in your performance at uni, the answer is also yes.

“A study of students at Victoria University showed many low-ATAR students achieved high marks in their first year, particularly when they were appropriately supported by the university to succeed,” says Verity. 

What other factors influence ATARs?

‘Just study hard’ is not helpful advice on achieving a high ATAR. There’s a strong correlation between how well-off someone’s family is and how well they do in their school-leaving exams.

Says Verity, “Data from the Universities Admissions Centre in 2019 shows that 57 per cent of students who achieved ATARs of 90 and above were from the highest socioeconomic status quartile. For the students from the lowest SES quartile, only 7.6 per cent achieved an ATAR of 90 and above.”

“There are many factors that affect educational outcomes that have nothing to do with the ability of the individual student. Results are influenced by the economic circumstances of the family, the resources available to that young person’s school and community, whether the student is from a regional or remote area, lives with a disability, has caring responsibilities, is from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background or a non-English-speaking background,” she continues.

She sums it up best by saying, “Not taking account of these factors is like setting up a 100-metre race and allowing a quarter of the athletes to start at the 50-metre mark.”Take this into consideration when comparing yourself with your friends. We don’t always get the same start in life as those sitting at the desks around us. The good news is, an ATAR is just one way to get into university study.

Are there other ways to get into a university degree without the right ATAR?

Through Open Universities Australia, you can start studying towards your future with no entry requirements. In other words, no ATAR score. Yes, really. 

Enrol via single subjects

We’re here to let you in on a little secret (which shouldn’t be a secret at all).

You can actually qualify for entry into certain undergraduate degrees by completing a set of what we call ‘open access’  or ‘open enrolment subjects’ through us. These subjects are open to anyone to study, no matter what their academic history.

Once you successfully pass these subjects, you can use them to secure your place in a full qualification, depending on the course you wish to pursue. Better yet, HECS-HELP funding is available if you’re eligible, meaning you won’t need to pay up-front and can start studying towards your goals right away.

Check out open enrolment subjects from leading Australian universities available through Open Universities Australia.

Or, enrol in an undergraduate certificate

If you have a clear career path in mind, you may choose to take up an undergraduate certificate and transition into a degree from there.

Compared to open enrolment subjects, this allows you to finish with a solid qualification before pursuing further bachelor-level studies.

Designed to help those with lower-than-expected ATARs get into university, the undergraduate certificate is a new, introductory university qualification comprising of just 4 subjects. Complete these successfully, and you’re guaranteed entry into the related bachelor degree.

Once again, as long as you’re eligible for funding you won't have to pay upfront. HECS-HELP funding is available.

Take a look at upcoming undergraduate certificates delivered by leading universities through Open Universities Australia. 

Who can I speak to about getting into uni? 

Our friendly student advisors are experts in getting students without entry requirements working towards their chosen career path.

Whether you’re in Year 11 or 12 this year and are forward planning, finished in years gone by or are mature aged and never received an ATAR —our student advisors are ready to chat. You can even book a consultation to have them call you at a date and time that suits you best. 

At the end of the day, it truly doesn’t matter which path you take to get into your degree. Rest assured knowing that you could always activate Plan B (C, D or E!). 


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