Earlier last year the Sydney Morning Herald published an article revealing that universities are admitting large numbers of students who didn’t actually achieve the required ATAR for their chosen courses. It was a bit of a scandal. The NSW Education Minister argued that these students didn’t deserve to get into university.

“I’m annoyed that universities are taking students with such low marks,” he said. “For universities… to be taking in students with such low ATARs is not a good look.”

A spokesperson from UNSW argued that the students were validly admitted through alternative entry schemes. The options for alternative entry to university include undertaking a preparation course, completing a STAT test or applying for special consideration because of extenuating circumstances. In 2014, special entry or “non ATAR” admissions made up about 30 per cent of those who were accepted into university.


One reason students are admitted to university, despite lacking the required ATAR for their chosen course, is that the ATAR doesn’t necessarily measure whether someone will succeed at uni.  Students who score a sub-standard ATAR often still go on to do well at university. And students who score well in high school don’t always succeed at uni.

This is why Templestowe College has decided that from next year, they will give students the option to scrap the ATAR completely. Instead, students from that school will be able to apply for any undergraduate degree at Swinburne University based on their leadership, interpersonal skills and “grit.”

Andrew Smith, Vice President of Engagement at Swinburne University, said, “There are many students who have talent and show commitment, but to whom the ATAR system is not suited. This gives them an opportunity to come through university using a different pathway.”

The end of ATAR?

Many people have argued that the ATAR isn’t a sufficient measure of students’ potential and that the ranking system can cause a lot of stress and depression among students. Peter Hutton, the principal at Templestowe College said that the system, which ranks students from highest to lowest, ultimately creates winners and losers. This perceived sense of failure can be really damaging for young people.

Hutton said, “We can’t afford to have a system where half the kids come out knowing their ATAR score is less than 50. While that doesn’t define them as a failure in our mind, we, as a society, consider them a failure.”

What does this mean for you? 

Well, if you’re a student who didn’t score the ATAR you were looking for, it’s good news, because there’s a good chance you can still go to university, if that’s what you want to do. You can check out the alternative entry options here.

More broadly though, it calls into question the whole education system. There seems to be a lot of pressure on students to score a good ATAR and go to university. When we asked those of you in Year 12, 55% of you believe your school cares more about the ATAR than you as students. Isn’t that kind of messed up?

But the ATAR doesn’t work for everyone and not everyone wants to study at university anyway. There are a whole array of other options, such as trades and traineeships, working in industries that don’t require a degree or doing an internship. Ultimately, the choice is yours.