High-achieving exam students celebrate being awarded university scholarships. Photo: Justin McManusOn Friday, the ATAR, that opaque, abstract four-digit number will once again pop up on screens around NSW, as 55,000 students find out if they are likely to have scored the minimum marks required to gain entry to university.
But this year is also different.
Following a Fairfax Media investigation that showed some students were getting into university with ATARs as low as 30 and up to 60 per cent of students were being admitted without scoring the advertised required marks, the federal government directed its Higher Education Standards panel to look at reforming university entry standards.
Historically, universities have only published the one cut-off mark, but as Fairfax Media revealed, this had little to do with the reality of their admissions.
It meant many students could have missed out on courses they thought they had little chance of getting into by simply not applying, while others felt hard done by through students being allowed in that scored much lower marks than they did.
It also has significant implications for Australia’s spiralling public student debt, expected to blow out to $13.5 billion in unpaid student loans over the next four years, and the support services universities should be providing to ensure students who may struggle academically don’t drop out of university.
In November, the panel, chaired by Peter Shergold, the former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, called for universities to be required to publish more information about how students are admitted into courses.
Instead of a single ATAR cut-off for each course, the panel recommended universities publish the lowest ATAR to receive an offer, the maximum number of bonus points available, the percentage of students admitted with bonus points, and the ATAR required to be in the top 25 per cent, bottom 25 per cent and the middle of the student intake.
The recommendations, if they are approved by federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, are not due to formally come into effect until 2018, but some universities such as UNSW and the University of Sydney have already instituted them for 2017.
Here are four things to keep in mind as ATARs are delivered to students from 9am on Friday and as graduating high school students look to shift their preferences in the lead-up to the main round of university offers in January. What is an ATAR?
According to the Universities Admissions Centre the ATAR is a rank that measures a student’s overall academic achievement in the HSC in relation to that of other students. Because the ATAR is a rank, it allows the UAC to compare students who have completed different combinations of HSC courses. Universities need to rank students because often there are more applicants for courses than there are places available. The maximum ATAR a student can receive is 99.95. Transparency
For the first time universities in the Go8, which includes the University of Sydney, UNSW and Melbourne will reveal minimum, median and top ATAR marks for all students accepted into a course.
This year the UAC has advised students to look at the 2016 cut-off in the UAC Guide 2016-17 as a general indication of whether a student will have the required ATAR to get in, but don’t take it as a hard and fast rule.
Individual universities such as UNSW and the University of Sydney have already published their minimum, median, and maximum ATARs for each course on their websites.
UTS and the University of Western Sydney are yet to do the same, with students only given one option for their ATAR cut-off.
“Don’t be put off by a course that had a cut-off last year that is higher than your ATAR,” the UAC said in a statement.
“Remember that cut-offs include bonus points, and cut-offs change from year to year. Put your ‘wish list’ courses at the top of your list and work your way down. Your list of preferences should include courses with a range of different cut-offs.”
For the first time, some universities will also reveal how many students and the proportion of the total course that entered via an ATAR alone, while also showing how many students get into courses via a combination of ATAR and bonus points. Bonus points
Bonus points are awarded by universities on top of an ATAR are accrued through a variety of factors including: specific subject choices, personal or educational disadvantage, extra standardised tests, or auditions and portfolios.
The minimum ATAR will be the lowest rank (including any bonus points) required for entry into a particular course.
This year the Go8 universities will reveal the number of students and proportion of the total admitted cohort entering via each bonus point pathway. Preferences
After students receive their ATAR on Friday they will be able to change preferences until midnight on Friday January 6 for the main round of offers.
Finally, whether it be commerce or veterinary science, always choose a course that you actually want to do.
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