Universities have long known something that the general public isn’t aware of – that in the majority of cases, the ATAR isn’t a reliable indicator of academic ability, or a student’s ability to succeed at university.

In 2011, a report was quietly commissioned by Australia’s most elite universities (also known as the Group of Eight) to determine which selection criteria were most reliable in predicting whether a student is capable, and sufficiently motivated to complete a university degree. This report showed that:

  • Even though the ATAR is a good predictor of university success for values greater than 90, almost 10% of 90+ ATAR students
    don’t complete their degree.
  • At the lower levels (ATAR < 60), degree completion rates fall as the ATAR decreases in value. More than 40% of students with ATARs below 60 don’t complete their tertiary studies.
  • ATARs between 60 and 90 can’t be used to reliably predict whether a student will complete their degree.
  • There are more reliable predictors of university success that can be used instead of, or in addition to, the ATAR.
  • Students with certain attributes are more likely to complete their tertiary studies.
  • Students with lower ATARs often match, or even exceed, the performance of their more-highly ranked peers. Talented students who didn’t perform well in Year 12 are therefore being overlooked for many tertiary studies.

These findings have resulted in sweeping changes in the way universities select students, with most courses now using multiple selection criteria, including interviews, auditions, portfolios, aptitude tests, awards, achievements, personal statements and letters of recommendation.

A Great ATAR is No Longer Enough

Even though many universities stopped using the ATAR as the main criterion in determining university entry, they continued to publish high ATAR cut-offs, while selecting students using other criteria.

Following a Fairfax Media investigation that revealed that up to 60% of students were being admitted into university with ATARs below the advertised minimum requirements, the federal government directed its Higher Education Standards panel to review, and, where necessary, overhaul university entry standards and selection policies. During this process, the following information came to light:

  • Most offers for university places aren’t being made on the basis of the published ATAR.
  • Each year, about two-thirds of the available university places are offered to students who don’t have an ATAR.
  • Almost 50% of new university students are of mature age, international students, vocationally qualified or have been accepted through alternative entry schemes.
  • Direct entry, where students are recruited before ATAR results are released, is rapidly growing in popularity, further decreasing the number of places available for first round offers to recent VCE graduates.

So What Does it Take to Get into the Course of Your Dreams?

The funding universities receive from the federal government depends on the number of students enrolled into their courses in a given year. When a student drops out of university part-way into a degree, the lost funding can only be replaced if a student studying a similar course at a different university transfers into the vacated degree. As the chances of this happening are quite low, universities lose large amounts of money when students drop out, compromising their ability to cover operating expenses and to invest in new opportunities. Tertiary education providers therefore select the applicants who are most likely to complete their degree, and will therefore be looking for evidence that you’ve satisfied the criteria below.

Have you been successful in previous academic studies?

What they’re concerned about:

  • Will you be able to cope with the volume of work and the difficulty of the course?
  • Will you be able to cope with the academic challenges of working on your own initiative, and taking full responsibility for your own learning structure?
  • Is there a possibility you could drop out when your studies get too difficult or boring?

What you need to show the selection panel:

  • You have the intellectual ability to successfully complete the degree in question.
  • You’re prepared to work hard and you’re determined to succeed.
  • You understand the level of commitment that will be required.
  • You undertook independent study in Year 11 & 12 to ensure that you achieved your academic goals. Examples include lectures and weekly tuition classes.

In terms of aptitude and preparedness, how suitable are you for tertiary study?

What they’re concerned about:

  • Can you think critically and analyse information?
  • Can you organise ideas and articulate a position orally and in written form?
  • Do you have the skills in place to work and learn independently?
  • Do you have realistic expectations regarding the subjects and topics you’ll be studying?
  • Do you have the motivation to achieve long-term goals?
  • Will you be able to successfully transition from an educational system that is teacher-directed to one that requires greater personal responsibility and a high level of confidence and discipline?

What you need to show the selection panel:

  • You’re comfortable attending large-scale lectures and navigating your way through the campus.
  • You don’t need the intensive support and guidance which most high school students have become used to.
  • You’ve developed effective study strategies and examination skills.
  • You’ve given due consideration to your suitability in the industry relating to the course you’ve applied for.
  • You’ve researched the course you’re applying for and are aware of the subjects and topics you’ll be studying.
  • You have the confidence to use critical and creative thinking skills in a purposeful manner.
  • You’re able to develop new and unique solutions to problems.
  • You can clearly and effectively communicate complex ideas and information.

Do you have the personal attributes that are important for university success?

What they’re concerned about:

  • Will you be able to balance your academic workload with your personal commitments?
  • Do you have the personal characteristics that are essential for university success?

What you need to show the selection panel:

  • You’re organised, disciplined, highly motivated and committed to your studies.
  • You seek out and embrace new and challenging experiences.
  • You have the qualities that are necessary to become a respected and valued member of the campus community.
  • You’re confident and conscientious, and are willing to do what it takes to succeed.
  • You get great personal satisfaction from intellectual growth and learning new things.
  • You enjoy studying and are very interested in the course you’re applying for (students who mention academic factors
    as the reasons for choosing a course or institution are known to have a very high chance of university success).

What You Need to Do

  • Submit a personal statement to VTAC and/or directly to the University, even if such a statement isn’t officially required. Personal statements offer students the opportunity to demonstrate their motivation, highlight past achievements, showcase their writing skills, and explain why they would be a good “fit” for the course and institution. It’s worth noting that many students are admitted into tertiary courses on the basis of their personal statement and/or interview, well before first-round offers are released.
  • Even though grades don’t paint an accurate picture of a person, they are still important. Good grades in previous studies serve as evidence of hard work and determination – characteristics that are essential for university success.
  • If you believe that your marks won’t reflect your true potential, it’s important that you’re able to show that your results improved across your final year/s at school. This demonstrates evolving study-related skills, improvements in your motivation to study, and the presence of an undeveloped, or latent, talent.
  • Take advantage of any opportunity that could improve your VCE marks. Use the school holidays to get ahead in your studies and start working through past exam questions from the beginning of the year. Join a study group or invest in a private tutor, and attend as many quality lectures and weekly tuition classes as possible, such as those prepared and delivered by TSFX. This shows you have the maturity to exercise personal responsibility for your future and that you can balance your academic and personal commitments. You’ll also successfully demonstrate that you’re conscientiousness, highly disciplined and are prepared to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices so you can achieve your full academic potential.
  • To demonstrate that you’re aware of and comfortable with the significant differences in tertiary learning environments, regularly attend lectures in your VCE studies. To showcase your patience, endurance, commitment and concentration skills, steer clear of short, superficial lectures. In addition, choose credible, detailed programs that are being delivered by qualified and experienced VCE teachers, particularly official exam assessors.
  • Universities won’t consider awards or achievements that aren’t supported by documentary evidence from an independent source. To make sure you receive due credit for your aptitude, commitment, motivation and level of preparedness for university study, every time you attend a TSFX lecture or program, you’ll receive an official Certificate of Achievement to support your tertiary applications.
  • While many courses don’t require students to sit aptitude tests such as the STAT, completing such a test could work to your advantage, especially if your VCE marks don’t reflect your full academic and personal potential.
  • Most universities now provide early offers to VCE students based on principal recommendations. You should therefore cultivate strong relationships with the principal and the coordinators at your school, and ask them to write a letter of recommendation for you.

Why Isn’t this Information Freely Available?

Although the Higher Education Standards Panel has called for greater transparency, most universities refuse to disclose how they decide which students to admit into their courses. Their prime concern is that students will try to ‘game the system’ by changing their behaviour in an attempt to improve their chances of being admitted into their preferred degree.

The decision to keep student selection criteria ‘under wraps’ sadly means that most students aren’t aware of the enclosed facts, and what they can do to improve their chances of being accepted into university.

You’ve been given an excellent insight into the thoughts and processes selection officers will use to decide who to accept into their degrees. All that’s now required is for you to start building a portfolio of achievements that clearly show you have the skills and qualities to succeed at university.

Get Started on Your Portfolio Today

In Year 12, opportunities to boost your marks are few and limited. We therefore strongly recommend that you attend a quality head start program before you start the new school year. Year 11 students are reminded that the VCE is a 2 year ‘package,’ so you should approach your Unit 1 & 2 studies in the same way as those students in Year 12.

Should you attend our Summer School Head-Start program we will take you through the key topics from the Unit 1 and/or

Unit 3 course, in a relaxed, step by step manner. Even if you only understand half of what we cover, everything will make complete sense when you work through the same topics at school. Your ability to apply examinable concepts will greatly improve, increasing SAC and exam marks. In addition:

  • You’ll find school much easier, improving confidence and motivation levels.
  • You’ll get through your homework faster and won’t “get stuck” on questions as frequently.
  • You’ll have more time for friends and family.
  • You’ll learn what’s required to achieve the higher SAC marks.
  • You’ll get a thorough set of A+ notes – saving you huge amounts in study time!
  • And of course, you’ll develop a huge lead in the “VCE” race!