Does my ATAR really matter? - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Parent Lounge Update

Does my ATAR really matter?

14 Sep 2021

For many High School students, the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) represents their final score after 13 years of School. Whatever the outcome, a student's ATAR represents one pathway to university study.

Waiting for the final ATAR score can be nerve wrecking. Here is what you need to know as you help your child navigate these times.

ATAR is just a number

It's important to offer some perspective and help your child remember that their ATAR is just a number that represents two years of their life. Essentially the ATAR score compares their position relative to other students, which is used by tertiary institutions to assist with selection into higher education courses. Certain competitive courses like law and medicine have higher ATARs. Although a high ATAR opens up more opportunities, it's advisable to encourage your child to enrol in a degree they love rather than attaining qualifications in an area they have no desire to use in the workforce.

ATAR isn’t the only entry option to USC

There are other ways to get into a degree at USC.

The Early Offer Guarantee enables Year 12 students to be offered an early and guaranteed place at USC prior to the release of year 12 results. Offers are made to students in November based on the approval of their School Principal.

Also, if your child doesn’t meet the entry requirements of their chosen program, they can enrol in USC’s Tertiary Preparation Pathway (TPP), a free program which upon successful completion will allow them to gain direct entry into most USC degree programs.

If your child has completed a Certificate III or Certificate IV, or at least one semester of a Diploma or Advanced Diploma, they can use this VET qualification to gain a selection rank and apply to USC.

Your child’s first preference is not their only preference

It’s OK for your child to change their mind about their QTAC preferences. They can choose up to six program preferences as part of their QTAC application, and can change their preference up to three times free of charge.

Generally, preferences 1 and 2 are your child’s ideal programs – the ones they would really like to study. Preferences 3 and 4 are their realistic programs – a way to the career they want or to a second-choice career. And preferences 5 and 6 are their foot in the door programs – the ones they are prepared to do if they miss out on all the others.

There is also a limited window to change preferences after an offer has been made. For more information visit the QTAC key dates page.

Their first degree may not be the degree they finish with

One of the most common questions we hear from new students – and their parents – is ‘What happens if I choose the wrong degree?”

Deciding on a future career is a big step in a young person’s life, and many students worry they’ll get to uni and realise they’ve made a mistake. So what do you do if this happens to your child? First, don’t panic. A lot of new students feel this way, and it doesn’t mean their university experience is doomed to fail.

If your child is considering changing degrees, it’s best for them to make a free appointment with USC’s Career Development team to chat about career interests and which programs are best suited. Student Central also has a dedicated program advice team, who can help students decide whether to change programs.

Your child may even be able to get credit towards their new degree from subjects already completed.

For more information about the ATAR, visit

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