ATAR too low? – Pathways to success

What do you do when your ATAR is too low for Uni? The options available to you before the ATAR assessment process is completed and after are different. See Tertiary Application Portals and Access Schemes to see information about alternative access schemes.

If you are in a situation where your ATAR does not get you into your preferred course, there are still several options open to you. Remember it is not where you start but where you finish that is important.

Universities and training institutes across Australia have several pathway options into their tertiary level courses. I can tell you what to expect and what to start looking for.

Recent Graduate

Continue secondary study – specific skills upgrade course (fees apply to most)

Universities offer up-skilling courses to students to give them the opportunity to improve. These are not high-school courses as such but courses that seek specifically to prepare you for tertiary study.

Universities will have different names for these courses. At the University of Canberra, they call it UC Connect, at Murdock University, they have OnTrack and FlexiTrack etc.

Not all universities have these pathway options, so do your research. If your goal is to attend a University that does not have pathways options and that is out of your ATAR range, then aim to move sideways: start at one university and with a proven track record and improved scores, apply to your preferred uni.

Continue Secondary study – Diploma Courses (fees apply)

If you are a recent graduate, you can look for Diploma courses that will then give you direct entry into the second year of the University course you would like to take. Diploma courses cover the tertiary course curriculum but are classed as secondary study. The classes are smaller and you get support at a similar level to in a secondary school. Such pathway options can be suitable even for students (or parents of -…) who are concerned about how they will handle the transition from a secondary to a tertiary learning environment.

Some universities will offer a large range of courses through the pathway of a Diploma Course, while others have none or limited availability. You may have to hunt around a bit to find the Uni with the Diploma Course for your preferred tertiary option.

Sideways entry

Another option for recent graduates with an ATAR is to do a year in a less preferred course to improve your score and then seek sideways entry into the course you prefer. You may want to do Nursing, a very popular and hard to get into course, but can then decide to go ahead with a science or physical education course to improve your standing and then possibly qualify the following year.

Find an education consultant, at uni or your secondary school, to give you more information about your particular preferences and what alternatives are feasible in your situation.

Remember, you can go back to your university entry portal to change your preferences if you are not likely to get into your preferred course.

Sit the STAT test

The STAT (Special Tertiary Admissions Test) is administered by ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research). It is a national test and can ensure entry into some university courses.

Step one here will be to check whether the course you are considering can be accessed through the STAT test. This will be in the course guide for your university.

You can find out more here: ACER

Portfolio entry

Arts courses may consider portfolio entry. After all, they want you to be good at what you propose to do in their course, so you can show them your aptitude for the course in a portfolio. Check with them exactly how they want it presented.

If your ATAR is too low for Uni – try this:

Provisional enrolment: a university may allow provisional enrolment. You then have to prove your academic credentials and if you do well, you will gain full enrolment.

Special circumstances: you should put this in your application portal application the year before you start uni and before ATARs are out, however, if you are lucky, they will consider information submitted to the application office.

Some universities have particular application options for students fitting certain categories of disadvantage that they accept after ATARs have been issued. For other Unis, there is no stated policy but they can take disadvantage into consideration. Don’t be afraid to state your case. Think socio-economic factors, health issues for yourself or a family member that has affected your studies, other family circumstances, language skills e.g. did you complete secondary studies while still learning higher-level academic English?

Not a recent graduate but would like to go to Uni?


Many universities will have refresher courses to prepare the mature student for University. Fees apply and you would have to get a tertiary ranking that enables entry to your course.

Mature Entry


You can sit the STAT test referred to above. It is a national university entry test that measures your suitability for academic study. You will have to check if it will give entry to your particular course. See the course guide for your uni.

Personal Statement

Why would you be any good at your proposed course? What are your circumstances? Check if they have a format for this or if you just set out your own letter.

Portfolio Entry

Arts courses will usually accept or even require a portfolio and you may be granted entry on the strength of your portfolio quite apart from any ATAR ranking. Check your uni for how to put together and present the portfolio.

University is not the only option right out of Uni. Have a look at some Gap Year suggestions here: Gap Year Options

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