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The HSC doesn’t define you – what to do if you weren’t happy with your ATAR

Firstly, I want to start by congratulating everyone on their results – regardless of the mark that you received, getting through your HSC and achieving a result is an amazing achievement that can’t be overlooked. It takes a lot of effort to get through the stress that is heaped on students in Year 12, and to come out the other end having completed your exams is something to be proud of!

For those students who got the marks that you were aiming for and are getting into the courses that you’ve dreamt of – well done! The HSC can often be one of the hardest steps to achieving your life goals, and managing to overcome that with the marks that you desired is a great step towards reaching the heights that you’re capable of.

Having said that, the work doesn’t stop here – although Year 12 is a significant step in your life, it’s not the last step. University, work, and life in general all pose their own challenges, and all require a unique approach in order for you to actually achieve success.

I did pretty well in my HSC – I got an ATAR of 98.55 and managed to land a spot studying Medicine at UNSW. However, despite my success in school and in Year 12, university was a completely different ball game. In my first year at uni, I struggled (a lot!), and failed half of my subjects that year, while barely scraping a pass in the rest of my subjects. Uni required a completely different approach to the one I had taken in school.

The point is, although I managed to attain a good mark in Year 12, that didn’t mean that I was set for life after that. There were far more important things I needed to focus on, such as my attitude and work ethic. While I was struggling to pass my subjects in uni, I had classmates performing way better than me, who had dropped out of school in Year 10 and gone through TAFE before getting into Medicine and absolutely acing it! They hadn’t even sat the HSC, but that didn’t stop them from setting their goals high and working hard to achieve them.

Although your marks can sometimes be a good representation of the hard work that you put in during Year 12, the reality is that there are far more important outcomes from your 13 years of school. We need to stop focusing so much on one individual number, and instead look at the bigger picture – are our kids coming out the other end as good people? Do they have respect, empathy and understanding? Are we guiding them to set their own life goals, away from other people’s expectations? And do they have the attitude and work ethic to actually strive towards those goals? These qualities are all far more important than the HSC mark that they achieved.

So, if you didn’t achieve the ATAR you were aiming for… what now?

1. Breathe.

It’s an ugly feeling falling short of your goals. I’ve been there before – you feel like a failure and start to doubt your abilities.

Relax. Breathe. Take a couple of weeks off. Spend time doing things that you enjoy doing. Trust me, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll have countless opportunities to regroup and sort out your next steps – but first, take some “me time” and lift your spirits a bit.

2. Figure out your goals.

Most students finishing Year 12 still don’t know what they want to do with their lives. I’ve seen so many people start working towards one career path, before changing their minds later down the track. It’s important to know what your goals actually are, so that you can set some steps to work towards them. If you don’t really know where you want to end up, it becomes hard to figure out the pathway you should take, and even harder to motivate yourself to work hard.

My standard advice to students graduating school is – if you’re not sure what career path you want to go down – take a gap year. In the long scheme, one year is not that big of a deal. A gap year gives you the chance to take a step back, experience the world around you, get a bit of work experience, and make a more informed decision regarding your big life decisions when the time comes.

3. Identify the best pathway to achieve your goal.

Is your ATAR 5-10 marks below the ATAR cut off? If so, there are still a number of ways that you can get into your desired course.

Your first option is to look at entering a similar course at the university you want to attend. If you do this, you can transfer within your first or second year!

For example, let’s say you want to study a Bachelor of Commerce and you missed out. If this is the case, you could get into a Bachelor of Business and do similar subjects so they can transfer across when you want to change to your desired course.

Now of course to do that, you need to do well at university. You’re going to need to typically get at least a credit average in your results. However, it’s still a very effective way of getting your foot in the door and that’s what matters!

Now, it could be that your ATAR is too low to get into a similar course, but you still really want to go to University.

The second thing you can do is look at Pathway Providers.

For example, UTS Insearch enables you to study what’s called a foundation course. This foundation course basically allows you to complete your first year with extra support and guidance, before you actually jump into a degree in your second year of university.

That’s right, it’s like you’ve missed no time at all.

Find the pathways programs to some prominent universities here:

University of Sydney

University of New South Wales

University of Technology

University of Western Sydney

Macquarie University

This is a great alternative pathway to get you into your dream course and will save you a lot of time! Every university has a Pathway Provider. If you do your research, there’s still a strong possibility that you can get into your desired course even with a low ATAR!

Need more help getting into university?

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