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Teenage boy clutches head in stress as he looks at computer screen

What if my teen doesn’t get the ATAR they want/need?

Study tips
Published 28 Oct, 2021  ·  4-minute read

As Year 12 exams come to a close, you may find yourself worrying over questions like “what is a bad ATAR score?”.

It’s important to remember that an ATAR is just a number and doesn’t reflect your teen’s worth or value in the world. It does, however, affect how they get to university.

If your child receives an ATAR lower than they were anticipating, they may need to reconsider their program options through QTAC and/or investigate different pathways to their desired program.

Your teen may be feeling disappointed and panicked. Feeling like your dreams are slipping away from you is, understandably, stressful. But there's more than one way to access university.

This article will outline how to get to university with a low ATAR, so you can transform your teen’s exam result anxiety into one of the year’s most impressive low ATAR success stories.

Finding answers to their questions

So your teen has confronted you with the question “I have a low ATAR, what do I do next?”, and you’re not sure how to answer. Your first point of call should be consulting the experts and gaining a little insider knowledge from people who have been in exactly the same situation.

Attend an ATAR advice event

Most universities will hold ATAR advice events soon after results are released, which usually takes place in December.

UQ's 2022 ATAR Advice online event will be held on Sunday 18 December.

Register now

An ATAR advice event will give you and your child the opportunity to speak with university representatives about the best pathway to university for your teenager’s individual needs. The speakers at these events often answer questions such as “I didn’t get the ATAR I wanted – what do I do now?” and share low ATAR success stories to hearten your teen and offer reassurance that their dreams are still achievable.

Teenager and parent attending ATAR advice event

Kyra and Tracey from the UQ admissions team encourage anyone feeling stressed or unsure about their ATAR score to attend the ATAR advice event.

“The ATAR advice event will connect you to the right pathway to access UQ programs and help you with this plan.”

Your teen may also get the chance to talk to a current student who had to find a different pathway into their preferred program because of a low ATAR score. This kind of opportunity is invaluable for putting your child’s mind at ease and helping them to achieve their goals, despite disappointing exam results.

Can't make it to UQ's 2022 ATAR advice event and need to speak to someone about what option is best for your teen? Contact admissions@uq.edu.au

How to get into university with a low ATAR

What happens if you get a low ATAR depends on how proactive you are about the situation. If your teen doesn’t get the ATAR they needed to get into their preferred program at university, the first thing to remember is to stay calm and offer reassurance. There are multiple pathways to university, so your teen shouldn’t give up on their hopes and dreams just yet.

Kyra and Tracey have shared the two most common ways for high school leavers to pursue their desired program even though they received a lower than expected ATAR.

Bridging programs

Your teen may be able to undertake a bridging program to improve their selection rank (this is the ATAR score plus any adjustments awarded by the university) to access their desired university program. Bridging programs are particularly helpful for teenagers interested in university programs with a focus on science and maths. However, the maximum selection rank you can gain from bridging programs varies. If your teen’s desired program has a high entry score threshold, the tertiary studies pathway may be more suitable for them.

Find out more about UQ’s bridging programs.

Two female students finding different pathways to university

Tertiary studies pathway

A tertiary studies pathway involves:

  1. enrolling in a program that will accept your child’s ATAR score
  2. completing a year of study, and then
  3. applying for the desired program the following year.

This way, your child’s selection rank will be based on their grade point average (GPA) over the 12 months of undergraduate study, rather than on their ATAR score.

While your child may not be studying their preferred program while undertaking a tertiary studies pathway, they are usually able to select courses relevant to their desired area of study. They may be able to gain credit for these courses and transfer them to their desired program once enrolled.

Find out more about UQ’s tertiary studies pathway.

When we asked Kyra and Tracey what their number one piece of advice would be for parents of teenagers who didn’t receive the ATAR they hoped for, they were quick to offer reassurance.

“Don’t stress! There are more pathways to university than you think. Your teen might have to be flexible and change their initial plans, but they can still get to where they want to be.”

Is your teen excited by their upcoming schoolies celebrations, but you can’t stop worrying about everything that could go wrong? Find some tips on how to keep your cool by reading our article How to help your teen stay safe at schoolies.

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