Why a Low ATAR Won't Affect your Career Prospects

May 20, 2015

It's the dreaded 4 letters that dictate the life for stressed high school students across Australia. Every year, students are haunted by the same fears and worries about the outcome of the ir HSC results.

The reality is - Those initially disappointed tend to realise how little their ATAR meant in the big picture of their careers. Students who didn't get the ATAR they wanted often have no regrets about their career prospects. 

With institutions becoming more accepting of alternative pathways, more appreciative of personal qualities, achievements and experience, there's ultimately nothing stopping students pursue the career they desire.

That infamous stressful number you receive from Year 12?
It's becoming less relevant year after year.

Every year, students are haunted by the same fears about the outcome of the HSC.

  • 'What if I don't get the required course ATAR?'
  • 'Will my parents respect me if I don't perform?'
  • 'Does a low ATAR mean I'm destined to fail?'
  • 'What other options will I have?'


1. Universities are considering more than your ATAR alone

Dr Daniel Edwards from the Australian Council for Educational Research recently stated that almost 50% students each year get university admittance without solely relying on ATAR results.

'...ATAR may not be the best tool for evaluating whether a student will succeed in their degree.' states Professor S Bruce Dowton, Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie. The university is introducing initiatives to evaluate students on values and traits that complement academic ability such as leadership rather than 'singularly judging students by their ATAR '.

Australian universities are becoming increasingly aware that the ATAR system is becoming a game that students can manipulate for a 'high score'. Two growing trends include easily reaped bonus points and intentionally avoiding subjects with poor weighting. Other concerns lie with students from private schools that tutor for the sole purpose of a high ATAR, rather than driving the students ambition and natural passion. 

While pre-qualification measures such as the STAT test for mature age students have been around for years,  young post-graduates now have similar opportunities to have their aptitude and potential assessed.

There are essential career skills that an exam-based academic performance system (ATAR) can't evaluate properly. There's only so much a textbook and exam can teach about creativity, communication, critical thinking and leadership qualities.

Universities are increasingly introducing alternative evaluation for student performance and capability, including:

  • Interviews - Some career paths hold greater weight for the personality of the candidate to assess their potential.
  • Portfolios - Particularly for design related career pathways.
  • Letters - Whether a statement of intent or a personal essay on why the student feels they are the right candidate for the course - Personally written texts are becoming increasingly common.
  • Tests - Such as GAMSAT for med students to accurately evaluate their mastery of necessary science concepts.
  • Career/Industry Experience - Particularly for design, business, management, marketing and advertising courses. College courses often have work placements to get valuable industry experience. Non-course internships and industry experience may also be considered.
  • HSC Unit Performance - Need a 91.55 ATAR for Economics but only achieved 86? If you're passionate for social sciences and achieved stellar results for your Economics unit in HSC - You may legible to bonus points based on the performance of your relevant subject.
  • Volunteer Work - While not a factor with strong weight for evaluation, universities are beginning to recognise past volunteer and community work as a benefit for admission.
  • Special Credit: Your cultural background, disability or financial circumstances could mean you're legible to qualify for Special Entry Access Schemes such as UTS' inpUTS program. Edges like this can help you cross the barrier between admittance and rejection.


2. There's always alternative career pathways for low ATARs

Fell short of the mark for your desired course in your desired uni? There's no doubt it can be disappointing or frustrating. Alternative pathways shouldn't be seen as a necessary sacrifice just to get into your course - They offer genuine university equivalent education and experience that will keep you on track.

College & TAFE courses offer courses for uni credit, known as a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). RPL is the key to slotting straight into the second of third year syllabus of your desired uni course. A common misconception is that you need to complete a pathway course just for the opportunity to enter your desired course from scratch. By the time you've completed your credit units for RPL and have made it to your uni - Students realise that all the ATAR stress wasn't necessary.

3. Words of wisdom from university post-graduates on ATAR

Don't take our word it - Students and post graduates from around Australia have chimed in with their 2 cents on forums across the web:

  • On concern about employers judging your HSC results: "15 odd years down the track, employers are still looking at my uni marks but nobody asks about my HSC!" - by magelee
  • On the importance of uni: "Lots of my friends who didn't even go to uni have incredibly successful businesses." - by mumofsky
  • On rejection not being the end of the world: "I went to uni with a guy who failed his entrance interview for medicine. He was devastated. But he picked himself up, finished his science degree, worked for a year in a hospital and applied again. It was just one year out of his life and everything worked out." - by handsup
  • On uni not being for everyone: "University isn't the be-all and end-all. My brother struggled through two years at uni after acing his HSC (95+). He ended up getting kicked out and worked for two years as a bike courier. He's now a first officer, flying A380s for Etithad and lives in Dubai. I'd say he's been pretty successful without university." - tarrie cat

HSC Students are led to believe that their ATAR will define the rest of their life. It's not true. 2015 offers more opportunity than ever for students who haven't made the marks.

University Pathways: Want to find out more about your university pathway opportunities? Learn more about your potential university pathways with BCA National to find out how many credit points you can earn towards admission.

Career Pathways: Not sure which university you're interested in, but set on your career choice? To learn more about your career pathway opportunities, learn more about your potential career pathways with BCA National.