How to Get Into Your Dream Degree if your ATAR isn't up to Scratch

ATAR results have been released and for some of you, you don’t need to wait for first round university offers to know that you haven’t gotten in to your dream degree. It’s a bummer but don’t lose hope. There are plenty of ways to study what you love! Read on for some advice and inspiration.

Missing out on your first preference for university can be devastating.

This is the degree you have planned your life with and failing to gain entry can lead to huge anxieties about your future, who you are and who you will become. It’s heartbreaking and you feel a whole whirlwind of emotions, grief, anger, sadness and maybe guilt as well. All of these are normal, but don’t despair there’s always another way!

In 2010, Calvin Tan graduated with an ATAR of 82.50, something he had worked hard to accomplish. Sadly his first preference required an 85.00 and he was unlucky not to creep in.

“When I didn't get an offer I was pretty disappointed. Almost seemed as if all the hard work in VCE was a bit of a waste,” said Calvin.

Three years and some hard work later, Calvin will be graduating with his dream degree of Exercise & Sports Science at Deakin University.

How did he do this?

He completed a Diploma of Health Science in 2011 and transferred into Deakin the following year.

Calvin is one of many students who managed to find a way into his dream degree after missing out the traditional way.

If you’re in the same position Calvin was back in 2010 then read our guide for advice on how to get into your dream degree.

Evaluate yourself and consult others

RMIT Education expert, Mr Angel Calderon, explains that the first step for anyone who has missed out on their first preference is not to panic and take a few days to evaluate your future.

“My first advice for anyone is that they do not despair at all,” said Mr Calderon.

“The preference system is such that even if someone misses out on their first preference, their second and third preferences really shouldn’t be that different and won’t really change anything about their career future.

“I would say take the best offer you get, you may really enjoy it and find it better suited to yourself. If you are still keen for the first preference, you can work your way into it via all the pathways from your best offer.”

He recommends that anyone in this position should seek advice from their family, friends, careers advisor and the university you are applying for. You also want to check with the university that any pathways you are considering are viable both now and in the future.

This is also the time to think about gap years and taking a break if you’re already a bit burnt out.

Keep applying

This is probably the most obvious pathway. If you’ve just missed out on your degree by a few ATAR points you can just keep trying. Second round offers, third round offers, midyear intake, they all could happen.

Just remember to accept your first round offer or risk ending up with no degree at all for the next semester or year.

Accepting an offer doesn’t stop you from being further considered in the following rounds, unless that offer was your first preference and in that case you wouldn’t be reading this article.

It’s also worthy to see if you qualify for any Educational Access Schemes (EAS) which could help get you over the line. These are helpful for those who’ve had a disrupted study period.

Transferring while at university

This involves doing a degree that had lower requirements in the same area of study and preferably at the same university. Then after working hard and getting good grades, you attempt the transfer into the original degree that you wanted.

Hopefully you’ll also get some study credit, meaning you don’t have to start from scratch again.

Another way to try get into your degree is to see if you can take a few single subjects from your dream degree. Excel in them, show you can get the grades and then apply for your degree.

TAFE and Diplomas

Some people are going to look down on anything other than university and that’s a shame.

It’s a great pathway and shows you are committed to your studies and career path, even the Government agrees.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) believes these pathways are viable and sometimes easier than other methods.

“The vocational training system can be used as an excellent pathway to a degree. Some courses are even delivered in partnership with universities to make the transition easier,” a spokesperson told What Degree? Which Univeristy?.

A TAFE qualification in the same area of study is probably the most well known method used by students.

Other institutions such as MIBT in Melbourne offer Diplomas giving straight forward pathways for respective degrees at university. This was the pathway Calvin took.

These methods can sometimes also give you up to a year of study credit which is a great bonus!

Go online

Online study is a possibility, especially for those who might be trying to balance work commitments while trying to study or for those who would struggle to get to university for whatever circumstance.

The main operator here is Open Universities and they boast a range of courses from top unis across Australia. 

The big bonus here is that there some of the courses have less or even none of the prerequisite requirements that usually come with a degree, pretty handy!

Work hard

This one here is the most important point. No matter how many pathways you take, if you don’t work hard you’re not going to succeed. To get into these degrees you need to show you are committed and that you can also work to the standard they expect.

There are going to be requirements, like minimum GPA or certain marks in certain subjects and you have to meet these if you want to move on.

Perhaps when you get sick of studying away all those long hours, think of Calvin’s journey and how rewarding getting into his first preference was.

“I was literally jumping up and down I was that happy. I think the best feeling about it was that I worked hard to get it and that even though I had a setback, I worked hard to get it rather than throw in the towel.”

Remember to keep things in perspective though, even if you don’t make it into your first degree it’s not the end of the world and you will find ways to do the thing that you love.

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