What to do if your child's ATAR is lower than expected

With exams done and dusted, parents of school leavers are eagerly awaiting their child’s final marks. For some students, the arrival of results is a cause for celebration. But for many others, it is a time to begin re-evaluating their post-school options. If your child receives a score that doesn’t quite match their expectations (or your own), our three-step checklist can help.

1. Provide reassurance

If your child is disappointed about their mark, the best thing is to reassure them that their ATAR is only a number. More than this, it is a rank of their performance against the rest of their state — it is not a percentage that indicates their overall performance. Your child may compare themselves to their friends or siblings and can feel very frustrated if their result doesn't match their expectations. They may also fear that they will not gain entry into their preferred course, or that it’s ‘now or never’ when it comes to university entry. In reality, there are many fields of study where school leavers make up less than half the overall undergraduate cohort — dentistry, languages, medicine, nursing and social work are all examples. You might even describe your own study or career pathway to your child — perhaps you took a year off before pursuing study, started out with a lower-level qualification or changed track several years into what you thought was your dream job.

2. Help them to investigate pathways

Your teenager should know that it’s okay to pursue a slightly different path to reach their end goal, such as studying in the VET sector before pursuing university study (for example, completing a diploma before a bachelor degree) or starting out in a preparation program such as foundation studies. Credit arrangements mean that your child may receive full credit for their studies, entering university without having fallen behind their friends who started their studies straight away. They may also wish to study a generalist degree before entering their specialisation as a graduate. It is very common for aspiring law and medicine students (two of the most difficult fields to enter) to undertake studies in arts and health science before completing postgraduate degrees to begin professional practice. Your child’s first step should be to speak to their school career adviser or course coordinators at the institutions they’ve applied to.

3. Assist them with the change of preference period

The arrival of ATAR scores also signals the beginning of the change of preference period. This allows your child to change the course preferences they submitted earlier in the year. They may choose to change their preferences for many reasons, usually because they received an ATAR that was higher or lower than they predicted. Adjustments due to change of mind are also very common — with coursework and exams on their mind, your child may not have had enough time to think through their options. Our advice is to ensure your child is changing their preferences because they need to, not just because they can. Changing preferences solely based on their ATAR is not advisable — for example, adding law to the mix just because they’ve performed well if they’ve dreamt of studying the performing arts. If your child received an ATAR lower than the cut-off for the previous intake, they can discuss their options at university change of preference expos. Course advisers are in the best place to help your child select new courses for their list or, if their score was only slightly lower than the previous year’s cut-off, advise them to leave their preference list intact. For details of change of preference dates, see the Tertiary Admissions Centre (TAC) website in your state or territory.

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