If you’re thinking about returning to study a higher education degree as a ‘non-school leaver’ or ‘mature age student’ and haven’t seen a classroom in years, the thought of meeting higher education entry requirements may seem daunting. You may even have concerns that you won’t be eligible for entry at all.
It may be that you finished school a number of years ago, went straight into the workforce and would now like to go back to get a degree. Perhaps you completed a degree many years ago but would like to go back and complete another one in a completely different area. Or perhaps you never finished school and would like to open up new career possibilities.
No matter what your situation or how long it has been since you last completed study, rest assured that higher education is not restricted to school leavers. There are many provisions in place to ensure that non-school leavers (those who are entering tertiary study from a background other than Year 12) and mature age students (those who are entering study and are aged 21 or over) have the same opportunities to enter higher education. Non-school leavers are usually selected using much broader criteria than school leavers, taking into account their results in prior secondary or tertiary study as well as relevant work and life experience. Other alternative selection methods such as interviews and aptitude tests are also common, and bridging or foundation courses may be available to provide some additional preparation.
In this section we cover:
- Standard selection methods for non-school leavers
- Alternative selection methods for non-school leavers
Standard selection methods for non-school leavers
If you completed Year 12 recently but chose to take some time off before entering university study, you may be able to apply using your Year 12 results (following the same standard academic entry requirements as school leavers) or elect to have them considered. You will need to check your institution’s policies to see whether you are eligible, as this will depend on the length of time passed since completing Year 12. See School leaver entry requirements for more information. If you have already completed or partially completed another tertiary qualification, you may also be eligible to use this study as the basis for application and possibly be granted credit towards your new course of study.
Some courses will require you to have completed certain subjects before beginning study to ensure that you have the ‘assumed knowledge’ required to complete the course. This is most common in courses that involve a high level of maths or science content. You may already meet these prerequisites through prior work experience in the industry. Some institutions provide mature age students with tests to see whether they have the required level of assumed knowledge before beginning the course. If you do not have the level of assumed knowledge required, you may be able to complete a ‘bridging’ course to get up to speed with the key course content.
Supplementary information forms and biographical essays
Supplementary information forms and biographical essays play a big part in mature age entry to higher education. They give you the chance to inform the institution about your personal history, work experience, life experience, academic history and ambitions. You should explain why you have chosen the course, express your passion for the field and detail any relevant experience. The institution will consider the information you provide as an indicator of your academic potential and enthusiasm. You may be able to complete a supplementary information form through your local Tertiary Admissions Centre’s online system, or your higher education provider may ask you to fill in their own supplementary information form or submit a biographical essay along with your application.
Many higher education providers use aptitude tests such as the Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) as an entry requirement for non-school leavers to assess their academic potential. Look out for information sessions and STAT preparatory courses at your preferred higher education provider.
Other selection methods
Interviews may be used in highly competitive courses (such as dentistry) to determine whether you are a suitable applicant for the course and display genuine enthusiasm for the field. Competition may be fierce, but you should view these as an extra opportunity to set yourself apart.
Portfolios and auditions
These are common for students applying for courses 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 give the course organisers a chance to assess their talent and potential.
Entrance tests apply to selected 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 any industry placement components.
Alternative selection methods for non-school leavers
While most non-school leavers who are considered ‘mature age’ already use alternative selection criteria (in contrast to school leavers) as part of the standard mature age student admissions procedure, most higher education providers also offer additional entry schemes for those who might not have the qualifications and experience required to enter their course.
Access programs aim to increase access to higher education for ‘non-traditional’ students and, as such, provide mature age students (as well as those from certain equity groups) with a structured pathway into higher education. These are a common option for those who did not complete Year 12. Access programs include specialised foundation programs and diploma pathways, and may provide students with additional support throughout their studies, such as study skills support and student mentors.
If you don’t have the academic results needed to get into your course, have never completed Year 12 or haven’t studied in years, foundation studies programs are a great option. These are specialised courses (usually running for one year) that are designed to prepare students for tertiary studies and provide a special access pathway. Usually completed on campus or through a foundation college located on a separate campus, foundation studies are offered in a range of areas that lead into selected degrees, 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 to provide flexibility for students with work and family commitments.
Another common way for mature age students to enter higher education is by working their way up the qualifications ladder with a VET course. Certificate and diploma programs at TAFE institutes or private providers are typically much easier to enter than higher education programs, often recognising previous work or life experience for entry. They also provide a good transition into higher education, equipping students with practical skills before they begin learning more complex theory at higher education level. Upon satisfactory completion of the VET qualification, you can apply to transfer into a related degree (often with credit). Contact individual providers for details about their credit arrangement details.
Completion of Year 12
Another option is going back and completing Year 12 at a TAFE institute or Adult and Community Education (ACE) institution. If you complete your Year 12 certificate and achieve the required cut-off score and complete the necessary prerequisites listed for your course, you will be eligible to enter higher education using the same standard entry requirements as school leavers. If you never finished school then you might find this to be a more fulfilling option (although it may take you a bit longer) and one that equips you with the knowledge and skills you need for higher education.
Single subject study
Single subject study enables you to enrol in a single higher education subject. This is a particularly good pathway for non-school leavers to enter higher education, as it allows you to try a single subject 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. This option also enables you to try different courses and see which area might be of interest. You will find that you are studying with a range of people, some who are employed and looking to expand their professional knowledge with the latest subjects, some looking to explore a new career direction, some looking to break into higher education for the first time and some simply wishing to keep their mind active or explore an area that interests them.