If you’re finishing school your biggest concern is usually whether you’re going to get into the course you want. But rest assured that it’s not all about high ATARs — there are many alternative selection methods available that will enable you to get into higher education courses if you don’t meet the standard entry requirements.
In this section we cover:
- Standard selection methods for school leavers
- Alternative selection methods for school leavers
Standard selection methods for school leavers
If you’re leaving school and looking to enter a tertiary course, you will find that the most typical entry requirement is the ‘cut-off’ score. As you are looking at potential courses, you will see that most courses have their own cut-off scores listed. This is the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) — or Overall Position (OP) if you completed Year 12 in Queensland — that you need to score in order to enter the course.
Institutions determine their cut-off scores for each course using a range of criteria, including the number of places that are available in the course and the course’s academic difficulty. It is important to choose a course based on your interests, not based on its cut-off under the assumption that a high ATAR means a course is of a higher quality.
Students whose ranking is equal to or higher than the cut-off will be eligible for entry into the course, but those whose ranking falls just below the cut-off may still be admitted based on additional selection criteria. While the cut-off is usually assumed to dictate the courses that you are able to enter, you may find that there are alternative entry and bonus schemes that can assist you to meet the required course cut-off (see below).
Bonus point schemes (or ‘middle band’ in Victoria) award students additional points for completing specific subjects that are relevant to the degree for which they are applying (such as literature for a communications course). Some institutions also award bonus points to individual students to counter disadvantage that they have suffered, such as attending a secondary school with low tertiary participation or living in a rural or regional area.
One thing to remember is that cut-offs for the same course vary widely between institutions, so be sure to shop around!
In addition to cut-offs, the second most common selection method faced by school leavers would have to be prerequisite subjects. These are subjects that students need to complete as part of their senior secondary certificate in order to be eligible to enter the course. These can range from a basic prerequisite in English (which is a requirement for most courses), right up to physics, biology, chemistry and advanced mathematics for health or science courses. Some institutions may also set a particular study score that needs to be achieved in these subjects in order to qualify for entry.
Typically a prerequisite subject is set because it is deemed ‘assumed knowledge’ that is necessary in order to complete a particular course, but there are ways around it if you didn’t complete the required prerequisite subjects at school. Many institutions offer ‘bridging’ courses that enable you to catch up on the assumed knowledge.
Other selection methods
Interviews are often used in very competitive courses (such as medicine) to determine whether you are a suitable applicant for the course and whether you are sufficiently passionate about the field. Although they can be tough, they also give you another chance to prove yourself.
Supplementary information forms
A supplementary information form asks students to detail their reasons for choosing a course and any prior experience they have in the field. The responses can be used to shortlist applicants for an interview or to gauge the applicant’s enthusiasm and aptitude for the field.
Portfolio or audition
You will really only need to present a portfolio or attend an audition if you are trying to get into a course in the creative arts field. For visual arts or design courses, students often attend an interview and then hand in a portfolio that includes samples of their work. Those applying for music and drama courses usually attend an audition to allow the course organisers to assess their talent and potential.
Entrance tests only apply to a few university courses that require students to demonstrate general knowledge or aptitude. The prime example is the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT), which assesses the skills and aptitude of prospective medical, dentistry and health science students.
Some courses may require you to have additional certification for industry such as a Working with Children Check, first aid certificate or police check, as well as providing evidence of immunisations in some cases. These may be required prior to gaining entry into the course or before commencing any industry placement components.
Alternative selection methods for school leavers
Most higher education institutions have special schemes for school leavers who might otherwise find it hard to enter their course due to disadvantage or special circumstances.
The options available for students from these groups include:
Special consideration provides applicants with an opportunity to prove that their individual circumstances have affected their academic results. The institution takes these circumstances into consideration in the admissions process and ensures the student is placed on an equal footing with other applicants, possibly enabling the student to enter a course despite not meeting the required cut-off. School leavers are generally able to apply for special consideration through their tertiary institution or Tertiary Admissions Centre when applying for a course.
Access programs provide students from certain equity groups with alternative pathways to higher education. These may include specialised foundation programs that have alternative entry requirements (such as an aptitude test), which encourage students to participate in higher education and provide students with additional support throughout their studies, such as study skills support and student mentors.
Bonus point schemes
Some institutions award bonus points to individual students who meet certain equity criteria, such as attending a secondary school with low tertiary participation or living in a rural or regional area, in order to boost their ATAR and place them on an even footing with other applicants.
If you don’t meet your course’s academic entry requirements, completing a foundation studies program or an introductory diploma (the diploma of tertiary studies, for example) is a great option. These are specialised one-year courses that are designed to prepare students for tertiary studies. Most universities offer foundation courses either on campus or through a college located on a separate campus. They are usually offered in a range of areas that lead into selected degrees — from arts and business to nursing and environmental studies — even leading straight into the second year of the degree in some cases. There may be on-campus, distance, part-time and full-time options available. Contact your preferred higher education provider for more information about the foundation courses they offer.
VET to higher education pathways
Another alternative option to enter a degree is to work your way up the qualifications ladder with a VET course. Those who don’t meet the entry requirements for their degree can complete a certificate, diploma or advanced diploma program (which have lower entry requirements) at a TAFE institute or private provider and transfer into a degree qualification in a related area, often with credit. Contact individual providers for details about their credit arrangement details. See Pathways into your course for more information.
Some institutions recognise that the academic results achieved at school may not be the best indicator of how a student will perform at university. These institutions may provide aptitude tests as an alternative entry option for students from certain equity groups, or provide the test as an additional selection method for all prospective applicants to provide them with an opportunity to enhance their application. The two most common tests that are available to higher education applicants include the Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) and uniTEST. Check with your institution to see whether these are available.
Single subject study
While more common for those who are considering returning to study, subject study enables you to enrol in a single higher education subject if you don’t meet the course entry requirements or simply want to try out a subject before committing to the entire course. Single subject study allows you to find out whether higher education study is for you, prepare yourself for the academic requirements of higher education and enhance your opportunities to enter an undergraduate degree. Institutions may place some restrictions on the subjects available through single-subject enrolment, so it’s best to check with those you are considering before making any plans.