4 mins read

Your ATAR: How Important is it Really?

18 August 2022   |   by Explore Careers

In those final years of school, it’s easy to feel like your entire life is hinging on one thing: your ATAR.

You might be consumed by thoughts about what will happen if you don’t get the score you ‘need’. This probably isn’t helped by teachers, parents and friends also talking about it all the time!

But ask any working adult about their ATAR, and you’ll probably get the same answer: they can’t even remember theirs!

ATAR does play a role at this point in your life, but it is just one part of a much larger puzzle for what your future holds and how you’ll go after the things you want.

We’re here to drop some truth bombs about how important your ATAR really is – and what else you can focus on in the years ahead.

What is ATAR?

ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank and is a number that falls between 0.00 and 99.95. It indicates your position relative to all other students the same age as you in your state (not just students within your school).

It’s a rank and not a score or a mark. So, if your ATAR is 80.00, it means you’re 20% from the top for your age group. The average ATAR for 16-20-year-olds is around 70.00.

Keep in mind that some students leave school early, move into apprenticeships or opt not to gain an ATAR – which means the average score tends to be higher as the academically-driven students stay on to achieve it.

What is ATAR For?

Universities use the ATAR to help them make decisions around admissions to their courses. The ATAR score helps students and course administrators feel confident that they’ll be academically able to meet the demands of higher study.

ATAR is only one part of getting into a chosen course of study. Many universities use other criteria when selecting students, which usually depend on the requirements and demand for a specific course. Additional selection criteria might include:

  • A personal statement.
  • An entry essay.
  • An interview or assessment.
  • Relevant experience (typically for postgraduate and further studies beyond an undergraduate degree).

How Important is it Really?

The short answer? Not very.

Unless you are 100% certain university is the pathway for you, and you’re 100% certain of the course you want, then your ATAR doesn’t offer much.

Even if you do decide to go to university, ATAR is just the key that unlocks the door into your course – it takes a lot more to be successful as a student studying at a higher level.

The good thing about having ATAR is knowing that you’ll be somewhat prepared for the study requirements university demands from you, but it’s all down to you to make sure you put in the work to stay on top of things.

3 ATAR Myths

There are a lot of ideas out there about ATAR, and what it means, so we thought it’d be handy to debunk a few of the more prevalent myths out there to help give a more balanced perspective:

1. If you don’t get ATAR, you can’t go to university.

Nope. That is not true at all.

Some universities can be strict on the ATAR required to get into a particular course, but they’ll also consider many other things (see above!). ATAR is just one part of the submission process.

And even if you don’t get into a particular course now, there’s no reason you won’t be able to return to study down the line. Many universities take experience and skills developed in the workplace into account if you don’t have an ATAR and are applying to study when you’re older.

2. You need to study hard to get a good ATAR.

Yes and no.

Keeping up to date on your course content and setting aside regular time to revise and refresh yourself on your studies is essential, but locking yourself away 24/7 just to study is crazy! And can be detrimental to your efforts in the long run as you’ll quickly burn out.

Remember to find a good balance between studying, revising and having a social life and hobbies so you feel energised and motivated.

 3. The higher the ATAR requirement for a course is, the better it must be.

Nope again.

Nothing supports this, and the ATAR set for admission into specific courses is usually based on demand, meaning that the higher demand there is for a course, the higher the ATAR will be.

When looking at courses and entry requirements, focus on the things you are passionate about, which will keep you interested, engaged and motivated to keep learning about them throughout your studies.

What’s the point in getting a high ATAR to get into a course you are not interested in?

What Else Should You Focus On?

The university pathway isn’t for everyone, and if it is for you and getting an ATAR is part of your journey, that’s great!

If you don’t think university is for you, then thinking and learning about what you’d like to do next can involve a whole world of opportunities:

  • You could explore traineeships and apprenticeships to get a taste of work and studying, to see where you might like to steer your career.
  • Or you could focus on internships and work experience to help boost your resume, ready to learn more about a specific industry and land your dream job!
  • Alternatively, you might want a break before continuing with your future career. A gap year is a great way to see the world, gain skills, and take some time to reflect on what you want to do next.

There are no wrong or right answers when it comes to your career journey. And it’s never too late to change direction and try something new.

ATAR might feel like the world right now, but we promise it’s just a tiny part of everything you’ll experience and achieve in life.


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