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How I used Alternative Pathways to get into University (with No ATAR)

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

It’s funny... Having just completed my Bachelor of Applied Finance and knowing all that I know now, I often forget that not too long ago I was in your shoes.

Worrying about potentially not receiving any offers for university.

Stress, disappointment and embarrassment are emotions a lot people go through when they think they won’t be able to get into uni. 

and I went through all of those emotions myself. 

But I shouldn’t have!

Only a few weeks after the first offers were released, I found a pathway that not only had me finish my degree in the same amount of time as my peers but it also did not cost me extra in tuition fees and did not require that I change institutions! 

Today, I will show YOU how to do the same!

In this article, I will:

  • Explain My Story (How I Technically Had No ATAR). 

  • Explain the Exact Pathway I Used and Why I Used it.

  • Show You the Steps You Can Take to Get Into Your Dream-Degree (Regardless of Your High School Results!).

My Story (How I Technically Had No ATAR)

Growing-up in QLD, it was during my final year of High School that I decided I wanted to move to Sydney for uni.

Not long after making the decision to move, I found out that NSW and QLD had different ways of ranking students for admission to university. 

In NSW, they had the Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking (ATAR).

But in QLD, we got to choose. The options were, the Overall Position (OP) and the QTAC Ranking...

And worst of all, both the OP and QTAC Ranking were different from the ATAR!

Talk about confusing! 

Considering my plan was different to most of my peers’ and involved moving states, I decided to get some advice on which one I should choose.

I was advised the QTAC Ranking would look better to NSW universities. 

So, I went with that.

Now, fast forward to mid-December. 

High School was finished and like most other NSW uni applicants, I had submitted my UAC application and was waiting for the offer release date. *Que nerves*

But when that day came, I got not a single offer. 

Naturally, at this point, I began to worry.

I had all of these grand plans to move interstate and study but it seemed this would now be out of reach!

But something wasn’t right...

I’d looked into the entry requirements for the degrees I was applying for and although they used a different system, with my marks I thought surely, I would have been eligible for at least one of them.

So, I decided to give UAC a call to have them take a look at my application. 

What they told me over the phone that day made my stomach drop...

“We regret to inform you that the reason you have not received any offers is because we were unable to assess your High School Ranking. For QLD applicants, we only accept the OP and we cannot assess the QTAC Ranking.“

I had been given incorrect advice which meant I was not able to be assessed like the majority of students.

And at this point, I truly believed my dream to move to Sydney and study was over.

But that is when I discovered Alternative Pathways.

The Exact Pathway I Used and Why I Used it.

Whether you just fall short of the entry requirements or you don’t have an ATAR at all (like me), Alternative Pathways can be used by anyone to gain entry into their dream degree.

Basically, a pathway is a way of proving you are ready to study a degree without having to meet the Selection Rank.

yourcompass infographic: What is a Selection Rank?

There are pathways for any type of student: 

  • Didn’t finish school? There’s a pathway.

  • Think you are too old for tertiary education? There’s a pathway.

  • Didn’t get the right mark? You guessed it... There’s a pathway! 

Now, depending on the degree you want to study and the university you would like to attend, these pathways may vary.  

Some of the considerations you should take into account when comparing pathways are: 

  • What are the entry requirements?

  • What do I need to do as part of this pathway?

  • Will this pathway add time to my degree?

  • Will it cost me extra in tuition fees? And if so, how much extra?

Below, I am going to explain the EXACT pathway I took and how it answered the questions above.

This way, you will have an idea of the types of pathways available to you!

and who knows, maybe my pathway will be the perfect one for you too.

Macquarie University Campus

My Pathway was: The Diploma of Commerce offered by Macquarie University*. 

*(This pathway and information provided is accurate and currently available at the time of writing, April 2020)

So, what made this pathway right for me? Let’s break it down...

What were the entry requirements?

On the surface, it appeared as though the Diploma of Commerce would also be out of reach for me. 

This was because the entry requirements for the Diploma mentioned a Selection Rank (ATAR + Adjustment Factors) of 60 which I didn’t have.

However, under closer examination, the Selection Rank of 60 was just 1 of 2 ways to gain entry into this program. 

The other way to gain entry was if I received an average mark of 60 in my Year 12 subjects!

Bingo! Although I didn’t have an ATAR, I did have an average mark above 60 in my Year 12 subjects which meant I was eligible. 

What did I need to do as part of this Pathway?

As I have mentioned before, pathways do vary and can work in many different ways.

Some pathways involve sitting an aptitude test to prove you are ready for your degree. While others involve studying an enabling course which prepares you to go into the 1st year of your degree. 

But the Diploma of Commerce was different to the above examples. 

The Diploma of Commerce was actually equivalent to the 1st year of my dream degree: The Bachelor of Applied Finance! 

In other words, from day 1, I was studying Bachelor’s level subjects. The same subjects my peers, who were enrolled into the Bachelor of Applied Finance, were studying.

yourcompass infographic: Course structure comparison, MQU Diploma Pathway vs Bachelor 1st year

The only difference was how the content is delivered. 

For the Diploma, subjects are delivered over intensive terms rather than the longer sessions commonly used by the University.

Having the subjects delivered in this way helped me dramatically and I subsequently performed really well because of it!

Because of this unique delivery of the subjects, I found it much easier to engage with the content and developed a deeper understanding of each topic. 

Did it lengthen My Degree?

It is a common misunderstanding that all Alternative Pathways will lengthen your time studying. 

A misunderstanding I had myself.

And although an additional 6 –12 months of study would only be a small price to pay for entry into your dream-degree.

The Diploma of Commerce actually didn’t add any time to my degree!

As I described above, the Diploma was equivalent to the 1st year of my Bachelor of Applied Finance.

Which meant, I started the Diploma of Commerce in February of my 1st year at uni and then started the 2nd year of the Bachelor of Applied Finance in February of the following year.

Did it cost me extra in tuition fees?

As Australian citizens, it is easy to take HECS-help and FEE-help loans for granted and label university fees as a ‘future me’ problem.

But at the end of the day, even if we aren’t paying the fees right now, we still have to pay them off eventually.

So, it’s best to do a little research now to save you tens of thousands of dollars later! 

What did I pay?

For the Diploma of Commerce, I was paying the exact same tuition as a student enrolled into the Bachelor of Applied Finance! 

And because I am an Australian Citizen, I was able to defer all of my tuition fees onto a HECS-help loan. Which meant I didn’t have to pay any tuition fees up-front. 

To give you an idea of the exact numbers,

The estimated annual fee for the Diploma of Commerce is $11,155*. 

The estimated annual fee for the Bachelor of Applied Finance is $11,155*.

Therefore, for the whole degree, it looked like this: 

1st year of study in the Diploma of Commerce: $11,155

2nd year of study in the Bachelor of Applied Finance: $11,155

3rd year of study in the Bachelor of Applied Finance: $11,155.

That’s an estimated $33,465 in total for a 3-year qualification, including a pathway program.

To give you an idea of how important this is,

I have seen pathways which charge over $30,000 for the first year alone! 

The Steps You Can Take to Get into Your Dream-Degree.

1. Speak to an expert.

The first step is primarily about getting a basic idea of the Alternative Pathways available to you.

This can be a little tricky to do on your own. So speaking to someone with all of the information can make it a LOT easier. 

For high school students, you may want to organise to meet with your career's adviser. 

For anyone who doesn’t have access to a career’s adviser or for those who would just like a second opinion, the team and I at yourcompass would be more than happy to go through the options available to you. 

And for those of you with lots of time on your hands, you may want to try going directly to each institution and getting the information from them. 

2. Give as much information about your situation as possible!

This step is included to ensure both the adviser and yourself consider the whole picture. 

Deciding to pursue higher education is a big decision and therefore requires adequate consideration.

Not only will describing your situation help the adviser understand your needs but it will also help you to think about the different variables that are included in tertiary study.

The more information you give the more relevant the advice will likely be. 

3. The Yourcompass Pathways Checklist.

Arguably the most important step of the three. This checklist will also help in making steps 1 and 2 more effective. 

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is my academic history? Did I get an ATAR? Have I completed any other qualifications (Certificate, Diploma, Bachelor, etc..)?

  • Am I ready to jump straight into my dream-degree? or do I need an enabling course beforehand? Would I like some extra study to improve my academic skills?

  • Where do I stand financially? Could I pay for tuition fees up-front if I needed to or do I require a HELP-loan?

  • What is my availability like? Can I study full-time or do I need something part-time to allow myself time to work while studying?

  • Do I have a rough idea of the area of study I would like to go into? Do I have a potential career in mind?

In using this checklist, you will have a better idea of the types of variables that need to be considered in your own life and at the same time, you will know what types of information you should be looking for in order to compare your options.

At the end of the day, if you don’t take anything else from this article, just know that no matter where you are now there is a way to get where you would like to go.


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