How to get into University with a bad ATAR

17 December 2015
Posted in HSC
17 December 2015 The Alchemy Team

 “Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.”

– Stephen Covey

I’m gonna be real with you; sometimes life throws you curveballs. And for some of you, one of those curveballs might have arrived by SMS at 6am this morning.

Maybe the news wasn’t what you had hoped. Maybe you’d had a bad exam and it had cost you.

If you had hoped for a higher ATAR than you received, it is ok for you to feel disappointed.

When I got my ATAR ten years ago (or a ‘UAI’ as it was called then) I was pretty bummed out. The day before I had got my HSC marks and they were good. But then the UAI came and it was lower than I felt I deserved – and perhaps more importantly, lower than I needed to get in to the University course I wanted to do (even if that course was insanely high).

That feeling of disappointment is one that I know well.

But ten years on and I promise you – it is not the end of the road. Like removing a bandaid, the initial sting may hurt, but with each day it will hurt less and less.

The beautiful thing is there are many ways to get in to University that aren’t dependant on your ATAR. That 4 digit number will not determine the rest of your life. Some of my most successful friends went terribly in their HSC, and inversely some of those with the best ATARs began pursuing the ivy league careers before deciding they were happier working jobs that didn’t need a degree at all.


Note: These are all purely opinions and suggestions. You should speak with your University about the options available to you.


Ok, I should preface, that my ATAR (UAI) wasn’t bad by any means – but it was lower than I needed to get in to my first course preference. But, I waited it out and lo and behold, on UAC offer day, that very course had dropped down and become the EXACT mark I got. I’m not even kidding – it was exact – down to the nearest 0.05.

The moral of my story is that even if you feel the ATAR doesn’t fairly represent your effort, wait it out before you stress, as the University entry marks change every year (and sometimes pretty significantly) so you might still get in to that course you want.

If you do find yourself falling short of the entry requirements then you should consider alternate pathways:


There are about a billion of these colleges around, and they will give you direct access to University for a bit of extra cash (although still usually FEE-HELPED). One of my best mates missed out on his dream course at Macquarie University, so he enrolled at a private college that was on the Macquarie campus and then after finishing the first year he got spat out in to 2nd year Uni. No time lost. Great friendships gained. I think they even had the same lecturers teach him that taught the main University, so it was exactly the same. The only difference was the price. A year at a private institution will usually cost more than a year at University, but as mentioned, most of them are usually government supported so you won’t feel the pinch right away. They also usually don’t require an ATAR to get in.

I don’t want to plug any individual colleges, but they aren’t hard to find. As mentioned, they are everywhere, and provide a great pathway to getting in to the University course you want.


If you do a semester at University and maintain good enough grades they will allow you to transfer in to almost any degree you want. So you could enter in to a course with a low ATAR, nail those first 3 or 4 subjects and then transfer to the course you really want. The only disadvantage is that the subjects you do might not match up with your new course requirements, so potentially you may have to do an extra semester at the end of your course to make up on lost ground.

This is one I saw done a lot at University. There are limitations – I don’t think you can just freely transfer in to Law or Medicine, but check with your University about the options available to you.


Much like a mid-year transfer, but this one you do the course you want, only the first semester marks won’t count. You just need to prove you can get high enough marks to stay in that course, and then from there, they let you in. Similarly, it might put you a semester behind, but in the scheme of things that is not a big deal to enable you to pursue your dream career.



Do you really need University? Of course, if you are going to be a doctor or an accountant or a lawyer or a teacher – or any job that specifically requires formal education – then of course you do. But for those who don’t, have you considered the other options available to you? I’m talking in particular to those thinking of entering the business or marketing world. I reflect on my time at University and wish I had instead approached businesses that I was interested in and asked to intern there for free so that I could learn exactly what was involved. Most people will turn their nose up at unpaid internships, but hey, it is much cheaper than University and often much more productive because you are building the relationships and learning the tools of the trade that are relevant to that industry or job. Other than the class I did on DJing and Mixing, very little of what I learnt at University has helped me run an actual company. I learn from doing it – making the mistakes and learning from the experience. That is what I would do if I could do my early 20’s all over again.


Once reserved for high school dropouts, TAFE has really lifted its game in recent years and is now an excellent alternative to University, especially in anything trade or creative. Don’t reject TAFE just because your friends might joke about it – it is a great and affordable way to get ahead.


There is nothing wrong with going out and getting a job first year out of school. Depending on what you use as an indicator for success, there is no reason someone who gets a job straight away can’t find as much success as someone who goes through Uni. Imagine first year out you become a real estate agent, and that whole first year you hustle hard and make your first sale. The next year, you make ten sales. The next, it is 30. By the time your mate graduates University you could be making 50 sales a year which would earn you some great money and give you a huge head start on life. Meanwhile your friend takes a graduate position where he is earning what you earned in your first year, and it will take him a long time to match what you are earning – especially if you keep hustling.

Working different jobs can give you a great idea of what you really love. My best mate had no idea what he wanted to do after school, so worked a ton of different jobs before realising working with young people was his thing, so went to University in his mid-twenties to study education. He has never been happier!

Your ATAR will not define you. If it was a disappointment, try not to worry yourself – you still might get in to the course you want – and if not, there are plenty of ways around it.Considering a tutor for your child? We can help! We have amazing tutors ready to go that will help your child grow in confidence, love the learning experience and ultimately realise what they are capable of. Learn more here and book their first lesson online today!

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