While getting a good ATAR can help students get into the university course of their choosing, a disappointing result doesn't mean students need to give up on their aspirations, say experts.
Dr Katrina Barker is an expert in education psychology at Western Sydney University, and has conducted research on student engagement, retention and post-school study.
According to Dr Baker, ATAR results matter if a student has a particular course or career path they are determined to study. However, if young people don’t get the ATAR they desired, there are alternative pathways to achieve their goals.
"There are many alternative pathways into university. Some of those include taking university foundational studies, or a diploma,” Dr Baker said.
“Most universities have colleges which give their graduates guaranteed entry into a university degree and some even provide academic credit whereby students jump into second year university after 12 months of study in a diploma program.”
Another option, she says, is to start another university course as a stepping stone. Doing well in the first year of that course will open up internal transfers and the opportunity of transitioning into the course the student initially wanted.
Savvy young people may think ahead and consider which electives from their entry course might count towards transferring to the course they desire. This approach has the advantages of reducing the length of time and cost to complete the desired course.
Her advice for students stressed about their ATAR results is simple: Don’t panic.
“In some cases it may take a little bit more time to end up in the career or the university course of your initial choosing, but you can achieve this, it is a realistic goal,” she said.
Dr Baker also thought it was important for students with low ATAR scores to know that research shows that students who don't necessarily do well at school can perform really well at university.
“At university, young people have their specific interests sparked because they tend to choose courses that are innately interesting and when students value what they are learning, they persist, try harder and consequently perform well,” she said.
Dr Suzanne Macqueen, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle's School of Education, completed her PhD on non-traditional student experiences in higher education. As such, she has extensive knowledge on alternative pathways for students to achieve their goals.
“For various reasons, students don’t always get the ATAR they were hoping for, meaning they are not eligible for the program they hoped to enter at university,” Dr Macqueen said.
“Despite this, many students find ways to reach their ultimate goal.”
She pointed out that many universities offer ‘enabling’ courses, including some specifically designed for recent school leavers.
“One year in an enabling course can allow entry into a degree. If the ATAR was good enough to get into a degree, but not the preferred one, it’s possible to take up that offer, then transfer after first year, with good grades,” she said.
“By choosing courses carefully, it’s even possible to gain credit once the student has transferred, so that there are fewer courses needed to complete the final degree.”