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University entry pathways

We all know that you can get into uni by applying on the basis of your Higher School Certificate (HSC) performance and Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score. But did you know that this is not the only way to get from school to uni. There are other 'entry pathways' that can help get you into a uni course.

An 'entry pathway' means a process you use to gain a place in a uni course.

Some processes are designed to help you 'boost' your ATAR score to improve your chances of getting into uni. Other processes are based on winning entry on criteria other than your HSC. It's important that you learn about these lesser-known pathways into uni, so that you can use the process or processes most likely to give you the best advantage.

Once you have become more informed about the pathways available, it's time to consider which one(s) would give you the best chance of gaining entry to uni. Choosing the best uni pathway for you is an important and perhaps complicated decision. It's essential that you get advice from relevant experts about which admissions process is most likely to give you the best chance of gaining entry into the course(s) you wish to study. Here are some suggestions about how to go about making this decision:

  • Talk to more than one expert to get an opinion about which process best suits you. This will help to check the accuracy of information given to you and to hear different perspectives on the issue.
  • Think about the advantages and drawbacks of each potentially suitable process. For example compare the costs, time and personal details that may need to be disclosed for the purpose of your application.
  • Consider whether you could use more than one pathway to improve your chances. For example, undertake a TAFE Tertiary Certificate Preparation and use an alternative entry scheme that targets students making the transition from TAFE to uni.
  • Before you make any final decisions about making an application, it's important that you check and double check that the process you choose will allow you to enter the course(s) that you wish to study.

Finding out about entry pathways to uni takes research and an early start. Below we have provided some basic information that explains the types of processes that are available and some strategies for searching the facts about uni pathways. You will need to do further searching to find out what each uni offers and how to use these other processes.

Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score (ATAR)

What is a Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score and how is it used to get me into university?

Admission to university based on a student's Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score is the most common pathway for school leavers. Here are some basic details about the ATAR and the admissions process based on ATAR scores.

What is the ATAR?
  • ATAR gives a numerical measure to the overall academic performance of a Higher School Certificate (HSC) student compared to other HSC students across Australia.
How is the ATAR used to gain admission to university?
  • Most university course places are offered to applicants based on those with the highest ATAR. Some courses also consider additional criteria including interview, personal statement, audition and/or portfolio.
  • There are alternative entry pathways that use considerations additional to or other than the ATAR. See 'Getting into a uni course' in this resource for further information.
How is an application based on my ATAR made?
  • Students must elect to receive their ATAR score when they apply through their school for their HSC.
  • Students must then make an application for their preferred university course(s) (up to nine preferences are allowed) through UAC.
  • See the UAC Guide or UAC website for instructions on how to make your application via UAC. Teachers and careers advisers at school can also help you with your application.

Educational Access Schemes (EAS)

What is the Educational Access Scheme and how can it help get me into university?

Educational Access Schemes (EAS) are one of the alternative entry pathways to university where a student is considered based on criteria additional to their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score. Individual universities design these schemes and programs to allow students who have experienced educational disadvantage a fair opportunity to enter university. Here are some basic details about the EAS. This information is based on the 'Education Access Schemes Admissions' booklet and 'UAC Guide' by the Universities Admissions Centre (NSW & ACT) (UAC).

What is the Educational Access Scheme?

EAS recognises that some students experience difficulties beyond their control while studying for their Higher School Certificate and that this impacts on their ATAR score. Therefore the university allows the student to enter their preferred course with a ATAR score below the usual ATAR cut-off (minimum ATAR score otherwise required to enter the course).

How are the EAS used to gain admission to university?
  • There are two methods used by universities to award successful EAS applicants a course place:
  • The 'allocation method' whereby a university sets aside a number of course places for EAS applicants. The university allocates course places to eligible EAS applicants who have a ATAR score generally within 5-10 points of the ATAR cut-off. Those eligible applicants with the ATAR score closest to the ATAR cut-off will be allocated first.
  • The 'bonus points method' involves the university awarding an eligible applicant bonus points to their ATAR score, usually 5-10 points. The applicant must then meet the usual ATAR cut-off (including their ATAR score and awarded bonus points) and compete with all other course applicants for a place.
  • Some courses are excluded from the EAS schemes and programs.
  • The university determines whether the applicant meets the educational disadvantage criteria for their schemes or programs.
  • Disability and/or a medical condition which has affected a student's study is generally considered an educational disadvantage. Most universities include disability as criteria for their EAS but not all. It is essential to find out from the universities about the eligibility criteria for their specific EAS schemes and programs.
  • Other types of educational disadvantage that may be considered include financial hardship, family responsibilities, living in a remote area, a disrupted schooling, non-English speaking background and experiencing physical or verbal abuse at home or otherwise.
  • If your type of disadvantage is not included in the eligibility criteria for a university's EAS, check whether the university allows students to apply for 'special consideration' and the process involved to do so.
How is an EAS application made?
  • You may make an EAS application either through UAC or directly to the university.
  • An EAS application will involve describing in detail your educational disadvantage and supplying verifying documentation to support your claims.
  • EAS applications through UAC close end of September. University closing dates vary but can be as early as August. This is earlier than the usual application for university closing dates. See UAC and university websites for late closing dates.
Further information
  • For further information about UAC's EAS application process see UAC's website and 'Education Access Schemes Booklet' (can be downloaded or a hard copy ordered from the website). We recommend that you read the booklet before you make contact with individual universities; this will help you to know what additional information you need from the university and to target your questions.
  • The 'UAC Guide' also includes brief details outlining the EAS process and broad information from individual universities about their EAS schemes and programs.
  • For information about each university's own EAS programs see the university website or contact university staff. The EAS Booklet includes phone, email and website details for relevant university contacts.
  • You can also speak to your school's careers adviser to get advice about EAS and how they may apply to you. School careers advisers can also provide you with a copy of UAC's EAS Booklet.

Alternative entry schemes

What is an alternative entry scheme?

Alternative entry schemes are processes for entering uni and can be described based on two basic categories. There are the pathways that use your ATAR score from your HSC performance to decide whether you meet the minimum entry criteria of a course. Plus there are programs that use alternative criteria not based on your ATAR score. These other entry processes take into account different qualifications and considerations.

The table below shows you the name used for the various admission processes and gives a brief explanation of each one.

Summary of University admission processes

Admission ProcessExplanation
Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score (ATAR)ATAR is the main process for HSC students to enter uni. ATAR gives a numerical measure to the overall academic performance of an HSC student compared to other HSC students across Australia. Uni course places are awarded to applicants with the highest ATAR.
Educational Access Schemes (EAS)EAS programs are designed to provide assistance to students who have faced educational disadvantage through year 11 and/or 12. Essentially EAS programs allow entry to students with a lower ATAR than the usual ATAR cut off (the minimum ATAR score accepted for entry into the course). This aim is to balance the effect of the student's educational disadvantage on their ability to reach the marks needed to get into uni. 'Educational disadvantage' means something that has affected your ability to perform to your maximum potential at school. Educational disadvantage can be, for example, having a disability, living in a remote area, money problems within the family or a death or illness in your family.
Alternative Entry SchemesAlternative entry schemes are designed for applicants not using an HSC as the basis for their application for entry into uni. Instead individual unis set special entry criteria which do not rely on HSC results. These schemes are usually targeted at specific groups to help give applicants a better chance of getting into uni.
Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT)Entry using STAT results involves sitting for a written test that assesses your uni-related academic skills. The uni uses your STAT score to decide whether you meet the entry requirement for the course you have applied for.
University preparation coursesSome unis offer courses that help students develop the academic skills and/or knowledge needed for uni such as essay writing, reading academic material, analytical skills, statistics or physics. Your results in such courses may be used by the uni to decide whether you meet the course entry criteria.
Non-award coursesThese courses run by the uni's are similar in content and assessment to units offered by the uni in its award courses (such as degrees, graduate diplomas, etc.). Satisfactory performance in a set of these non-award units can be used to apply for entry into uni. See individual uni websites for more details.
TAFE/Tertiary Preparation CertificateThis TAFE course is specifically designed to teach students skills and content needed to complete a uni course. Satisfactory performance in this course can be used to apply for uni entry into many courses at most unis. See TAFE NSW website for more details.
Other courses - TAFEThere are specific TAFE courses that can lead you into a related uni course. A uni may take into account your results from TAFE courses that are relevant to the uni course you are applying for. See TAFE NSW website for more details

Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT)

What is the Special Tertiary Admissions Test and how can I use it to get into university? 

The Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) is one of the alternative entry pathways to university where a student is considered based on criteria other than a Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score. Generally (but not always) the STAT is used where a student does not have other formal qualifications to use as the basis of their application to enter a university course. 

Here are some basic details about the STAT and how to use it as a pathway into university. This information is taken from the 'Special Tertiary Admissions Test Candidate Information Booklet' and the 'UAC Guide' by the Universities Admissions Centre (NSW & ACT). 

What is the STAT? 
  • STAT is a written test which assesses academic competencies considered important to successful university study. 
  • There are two versions of the STAT, including STAT Multiple Choice and STAT Written English. 
  • The STAT is for specific categories of university applicants. Each university that accepts STAT has its own category of applicants for which it accepts STAT results. STAT is usually, but not always, for use by non-year 12 students. 
  • You can prepare for STAT by practising sample STAT questions (received when you register to sit for STAT) or attending STAT preparation courses (see the 'UAC Guide' for further details). 
How is the STAT used to gain admission to university? 
  • Not all universities accept STAT results. Those that do have their own eligibility criteria for university course applicants who are eligible to use STAT results for the basis of their application. See the 'UAC Guide' or UAC's website for details of which universities accept STAT and for which categories of course applicants. 
  • If an applicant meets a university's eligibility criteria for use of STAT results, the university will take into account their STAT score and any other relevant information as part of the admission process to determine whether the applicant is offered a course place. 
How do I make an application based on STAT results? 
  • First check whether the university and course you wish to enter accept STAT results as a basis for admission. You must also check whether you fit eligibility criteria for applicants allowed to submit STAT results as a basis for admission application. 
  • After completing STAT you are given a STAT score and a percentile rank (similar to the ATAR Score). You apply to university using the usual application process, submitting your STAT score and any other information required. STAT is administered by the UAC. You register, sit for and receive results from STAT through the UAC. 
Further information 
  • For information about whether a university accepts STAT, which courses are included and eligibility criteria contact the university directly. The admissions office is most likely the university staff able to provide these particulars. We recommend that you find out these details before proceeding with further research about STAT. 
  • For further details about the STAT process see the 'UAC Guide' Part 1 or UAC's website. 
  • You may also contact the STAT Officer at UAC by phone 02 9752 0200, with any questions.

University preparation courses

What is a university preparation course and how can it help get me into university? 

University preparation courses are designed to help students who wish to enter university to learn topics and skills needed to enter university. These courses may be able to be used as an alternative pathway into university. When you have successfully completed a university preparation course you may be able to use your course results and qualification as a basis for an application into the same or a different university. Whilst doing one of these courses does not guarantee your acceptance into university it can help your university application. 

What is a university preparation course? 
  • University preparation courses are run by the universities to help prepare students for university. 
  • These courses can be known by several other terms that you may be familiar with including 'bridging course' or 'pre-university classes'. 
  • The content, duration, study modes, costs and scheduling vary between universities. 
  • The course content can cover the following: 
    • academic skills needed for university (such as research, writing skills, analysis skills), 
    • broad areas of study which underpin university courses such as English, Maths, Science and/or 
    • specific subjects that may be listed as prerequisite knowledge for particular university courses, for example statistics, physics, computer science, English literature. 
  • The tuition fees for some university preparation courses are covered by the government loan scheme HECS-HELP. This means the student can undertake a government loan to help pay for the university course fees and repay the debt through the tax system, usually after graduating. 
  • These types of courses can start at various times throughout the year and some universities may have several course intakes per year. 
How can a university preparation course help get me into university? 

A student may apply for a university course using their grades and qualification from a university preparation course. This is done through the usual admission processes through the Universities Admissions Centre (NSW & ACT) (UAC) or directly through the university. 

  • The qualification awarded at the completion of some university preparation courses can earn a student credits for the first year of a degree, or at least some first year units. 
  • Not all universities accept university preparation course results as a means of entering their courses. Also, even where a university generally accepts university preparation course results they may not do so for all courses at the university. 
  • Some universities only accept university preparation courses run by that university. 
Tips on selecting a university preparation course 
  • Given the variety of university preparation courses and conditions under which universities will accept this type of qualification as an alternative pathway into university, it is important that you select the university preparation course very carefully. 
  • If you plan to use the university preparation course to enter university, it is essential that you first check with the university you wish to enter whether they accept this type of qualification for the course you intend to apply for. 
  • Find out as much information as possible about the course content before enrolling. This will help you to know whether the course is the best type of preparation for you given your individual needs and university goals. 
  • The cost of University preparation courses varies greatly. Be sure to get details about the tuition fees, whether any other fees are required and whether the course is covered by the HECS-HELP government student loan scheme. 
  • It is also highly recommended that you get individual advice before making a decision about a university preparation course. It's important that you get opinions about which type of course (if any) is: 
    • likely to give you the best chance of entering the university course of your choice. A university course adviser and/or admissions officer may be able to answer these questions and 
    • best suited to your level of academic skills. Your teachers and/or careers adviser at school may be able to answer this question. 
Further information 
  • For further information about university preparation courses, including the university preparation course accepted by individual universities, see UAC's website. 
  • For further information about specific university preparation courses available, see specific university websites

University Bridging courses

If a course requires a prerequisite (for example a level of maths or science) in an area that you have not studied or worked with before, a bridging course will help you to 'bridge the gap' in your knowledge and gain admission to the course. If you are lacking a prerequisite, check with the institution to see what bridging courses are available. You may even be able to complete a test to check whether you can demonstrate the required knowledge.

Non-award courses

These courses run by the unis are similar in content and assessment to units offered by the uni in its award courses (such as degrees, graduate diplomas, etc.).

Satisfactory performance in a set of these non-award units can be used to apply for entry into uni.

See individual uni websites for more details.

TAFE/Tertiary Preparation Certificate

This TAFE course is specifically designed to teach students skills and content needed to complete a uni course.

Satisfactory performance in this course can be used to apply for uni entry into many courses at most unis.

See TAFE NSW Course information for more details.

Other courses - TAFE

There are specific TAFE courses that can lead you into a related uni course. A uni may take into account your results from TAFE courses that are relevant to the uni course you are applying for.

See TAFE website - TAFE to Uni for more details.

Mid year entry

Mid year entry is worth considering if you need time off after finishing school, you missed out on a place in the main round, you chose the wrong course or need flexible study options.
Mid-year intake is not available for all courses, so you should check with each institution to see which programs are eligible. Refer to your local Tertiary Admissions Centre's website or the institution's website for a full list of participating courses.