If you’re heading into the senior year of high school, you’ve likely had the acronym ‘ATAR’ dangled over your head a few times and you might be wondering, “What is the average ATAR?” This seemingly be all and end all number can sound scary at first, but it doesn’t have to.
We are going to answer all things ATAR — what is it, how you get one, what you use it for and more.
What are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
What is an ATAR?
Let’s start with the basics. What actually is an ATAR? The acronym stands for ‘Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank’, which is the standard way most universities decide who they will offer a place to in their courses.
Your ATAR is essentially a rank of how well you did in comparison to your state cohort in your final year of school. You can achieve between 0 and 99.95 as your ATAR.
Although a lot of people affectionately refer to an ATAR below 30 as a ‘mystery mark’. On your ATAR results, you won’t receive an actual number. It will instead state you achieved an ATAR of ‘30 or less’.
How it works:
- You sit the exams of your state (eg. HSC in NSW, VCE in Victoria) and your state education authority (e.g. NESA in NSW) produces marks for each of your subjects, based on your exam and class marks
- The education authority for your state then passes your marks on to the admissions centre for your state, like the University Admissions Centre (UAC) in NSW, Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) in Victoria or Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) in Queensland who examine your marks against the other people in your year and generate your ATAR
- You then receive your ATAR, which you use to apply for university degrees of your choice
- Universities see your ATAR as an indication of how competitive you are for a degree, and offer places accordingly
You can find out more about how ATARs are calculated here! This is from a NSW perspective, but is helpful for all states.
There’s a few things to note here. First, your ATAR isn’t an indication of how smart you are or how well you’ve done in each subject. It’s simply a metric to see how you did in exams in comparison to your cohort.
For example, if your ATAR is 75, you got a higher overall mark than 75% of your cohort, or you’re in the top 25% of your year group!
Different subjects can also affect your ATAR, which you may have heard. Something like Physics is generally considered by the admissions centre to be ‘harder’ than something like Visual Arts, so it may be easier to get a higher ATAR if you’re taking the subjects viewed as more challenging.
Scaling can also differ depending on the school you attend. You can understand more about it in this report.
Don’t let this deter you, though! You will do your best work and have the most fun in senior high if you pick subjects that suit your skills and talents.
Finally, the ATAR cut off for a university degree isn’t actually an indication of how hard or academic that degree is. Instead, the cut off is based on demand for the course and supply of graduate jobs.
Physiotherapy, for example, is very popular so it has a really high ATAR. Something like media may have a lower ATAR, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good degree!
Which states use the ATAR?
Now that we’ve put the rumours to bed, let’s examine more closely at what an ATAR looks like in your state.
As of 2020, all Australian public universities use ATARs, and all states issue ATARS to students at the conclusion of Year 12.
Fun fact: Queensland was the most recent state to swap over to the ATAR system!
The ATARs of students in the Northern Territory is actually calculated by SATAC, the South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre, as a deal between the state and territory.
In most states, you will automatically get an ATAR at the end of Year 12 unless you pick non-ATAR subjects or opt out.
The subject requirements to achieve an ATAR differ between states, but generally you need to do at least one English subject and 4-5 additional subjects.
You usually have to make sure you have a variety of subjects across different disciplines. In NSW for example, you can’t just do English and 4 sciences.
- Complete 16 units of study
- Complete 3 units of English, including 2 units of Unit 3 and 4 sequences
- Complete at least 3 additional Unit 3 and 4 sequences
You can find out more about the requirements for an ATAR in Victoria here.
- Complete at least 10 units of subjects
- Complete at least 2 units of English
- Your best 10 units, including at least 2 units of English, are used to calculate your ATAR
You can learn more about how the ATAR is calculated in NSW here.
- Complete ‘general’ subjects such as English, Maths and Science-based classes and ‘applied’ subjects like Health and Physical Educations and Social Sciences
- Your ATAR is calculated from your five best general subjects, or your four best general subjects and one applied subject. You can also use a VET subject towards your ATAR.
You can understand more about the Queensland system here.
What is the average ATAR?
Once you actually know about how the ATAR works, it can be hard not to start jumping to conclusions about what you will achieve, or comparing yourself to others. There’s often a goal in schools for students to get a particularly high ATAR, but whatever you get, it’s not a failure!
The average ATAR shifts a little each year, but according to UAC, the average ATAR tends to sit around 70.
At first glance, this doesn’t quite make sense. Given the ATAR is a rank, surely the average should be 50 each year?
UAC explains that of every student who begins school achieved an ATAR, 50 would be the average. However, many students leave school to pursue a trade or work.
Generally, those who stay are a slightly smaller cohort who are more academically driven. The average ATAR is then pushed up as a result.
Achieving an average ATAR is not a bad thing at all, and there’s plenty of degrees you can get into with this mark!
Here, you can find a list of the indicative ATAR for degrees across a range of universities. Many unis have arts, science and business courses, which can be entered with an ATAR of 70 or less.
Common degrees that have an ATAR of 70 or less are:
- Bachelor of Business (with various majors)
- Bachelor of Science (with various majors)
- Bachelor of Construction Technology
- Bachelor of Design and Technology
- Bachelor of Health Science (with various majors)
- Bachelor of Information and Communications Technology
Often, the higher-ranked universities, like Sydney or Melbourne, will have inflated ATAR requirements compared to their less regarded counterparts.
For example, a Bachelor of Laws at Melbourne Uni currently has a guaranteed ATAR of 99.90, whereas the equivalent degree at UTS, a great uni in its own right, currently has a minimum ATAR of 86.05.
If you’re wanting to do a degree with a high ATAR, it could be worth looking further than just the big name unis!
What if you don’t get your desired ATAR?
There’s a lot of pressure put on the final years of school to get a good ATAR, especially if you’re a high achieving student. Although it may be disappointing if you don’t reach your goal, it’s certainly not the end of the world!
You may decide that university is not where you want to end up, and that is perfectly fine. If you do want to go to university, there’s lots of ways to get in without your ATAR, or by receiving some adjustments.
Scholarships and early entry
Prevention is better than cure, right?
A great way to avoid ATAR stress is by getting early entry to your chosen degree! Most universities, particularly smaller ones, offer some sort of scholarship or early entry scheme.
These are generally based on academic merit, leadership or behaviour. They allow you to get into a degree before ATARs are even released.
Some early entry offers are conditional, meaning you may have to meet a certain mark in some of your subjects. Most are unconditional and you can rest easy.
Chat to your careers advisor to find out what early entry schemes you might be eligible for!
One of the most common ways to get into university is through ATAR adjustments. Many universities offer bonus ATAR points to students from certain geographic areas, disadvantaged backgrounds, if you studied a particular subject or if you apply for a particular course.
You may find yourself getting around 5 extra points. Say, for example, your raw ATAR was 73, your bonus points may boost you up to 78.
There really are too many to name, so you’re better off contacting your desired university to find out what’s available and how to become eligible.
Some of the big ones are:
- Regional and rural bonus points schemes
- Completing short courses relevant to your chosen degree
- Being an elite athlete or performer
- Through academic excellence in a certain subject
- Living in a certain geographic area
- Due to financial hardship
A lot of universities offer ways to get into a course by completing a year of a similar degree or taking bridging subjects. There are two main ways this can help you get into your dream degree:
- Do a year or two of a similar course with a lower ATAR entry requirement, then transfer (e.g. you might do a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology, and then transfer to a Bachelor of Psychological Science)
- Complete a bridging course that gives you the skills needed for your dream degree (e.g. you could undertake some Physics subjects to enter a Bachelor of Science)
This section of the article could go on for pages! Universities want good students, and increasingly they recognise that an ATAR does not determine someone’s capabilities or work ethic.
Unfortunately we can’t outline every way to get into uni without one, but it’s worth speaking with your careers advisor to develop a plan that works for you. This is their job, and they will be able to assist you.
There you have it!
Now you know all about the average ATAR and what it actually means, it’s time to stop stressing! Work hard, but remember there’s far more to life than the day your final mark comes out.
Need some extra help with a scholarship or University application?
We pride ourselves on our inspirational tutors and mentors!
Whether you need to get a really great ATAR for your desired course or if you aren’t sure how to work strategically towards scholarships and early-entry, we can help!
We provide award-winning tutoring and mentoring for Years K-12 in a large variety of subjects, with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or 1 on 1 or in small classes at our state of the art campus in Hornsby!
Our tutors aim to help you build academic strength while also guiding you through your transition into University!
To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor get in touch today!
Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at [email protected] or check us out on Facebook!
Lucinda Garbutt-Young hopes to one day be writing for a big-shot newspaper… or maybe just for a friendly magazine in the arts sector. Right now, she is enjoying studying a Bachelor of Public Communication (Public Relations and Journalism) at UTS while she writes on the side. She also loves making coffees for people in her job as a barista, and loves nothing more than a sun shower.