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Atar results: when can students expect their university admission rank and what does it mean?

<span>Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

Students around Australia are anxiously waiting for the release of their Atar after completing this year’s high school exams.

It’s an event that marks the end of 13 years of schooling, and the start of a new chapter. But how important are end of year results? And how much do they really define the future? Here are the key things to know about the week ahead.

What is an Atar?

An Atar – Australian Tertiary Admission Rank – is an important measure taken into account by universities to determine entry to courses, but not the only one.

It calculates a number between zero and 99.95 that ranks students in relation to their year group. So an Atar above 80% means a student is in the top 20% of their cohort.

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Universities use Atars as a nationally recognised measure for student comparison, and set the lowest rank that will receive an offer for each course.

But most institutions also offer pathway options via adjustment factors, which increase the student’s selection rank for particular courses.

Adjustment factors are available for a range of measures, including school and regional background, applications for educational access schemes (EAS), performance in relevant courses and for elite athletes and performers. They are applied by institutions automatically if students are eligible.

For example, a student may have received an Atar of 83 plus an adjustment of four points. Their selection rank would be 87, meaning they would receive a place for a course with a lowest selection rank of 86 – even though their Atar alone wasn’t high enough.

When do results come out?

Gone are the days when students would have to wait by the mailbox to find out how their exams had gone. Results are staggered across the nation, but all students now access their final scores online – through email, a website portal or an app.

In Victoria, exam results will become available at 7am on Monday, followed by Tasmania on Wednesday, New South Wales and the ACT on Thursday and Queensland on Friday.

Students in Western Australia, South Australia and the NT have to wait until Monday 18 December for their results.

The results will provide students with their study scores for each subject, which are scaled up or down based on the performance of students in each course. Those scores are then generated into an aggregate, which is the overall Atar ranking.

The way in which this occurs differs by state and territory.

What happens next?

First-round university offers begin in December, with further rounds to continue until March.

Students can still change their preferences after receiving their Atar for second-round offers. If they don’t receive the offers they wanted in subsequent rounds, windows to change preferences continue until the admission process is finalised.

Dates are different in each state and territory, so it’s best to check the websites of admission centres for deadlines.

How has the admissions process changed?

Since reforms were introduced by the Coalition that made some degrees – including arts and humanities – more expensive, selection ranks have shifted. Universities have been incentivised to enrol more students in arts degrees to subsidise the costs of Stem courses, which are generally more expensive to run.

Ten universities – including the University of NSW, the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland – have lowered their minimum entry Atar requirements for arts degrees since the changes were introduced in 2021.

UNSW’s lowest rank to receive an offer to a Bachelor of Arts in semester one of 2023 was a 65.15 Atar, or 72.30 with adjustments. For 2020 year 12 applicants, the minimum selection rank was 80, according to December round two admissions.

Similarly, UWA has dropped its minimum Atar admission rank from 80 to 75.

With an increasing focus on equity, universities are offering more places – and scholarships – to students based on metrics such as being first in the family to attend, or diverse backgrounds.

How important is an Atar, anyway?

Final exams can be seen as a defining moment in a teenager’s life. But experts say students don’t need to pin their career trajectory on a single number. Instead, they should view their Atar as one of many possible pathways, rather than the only one.

Kylie Murphy, a senior lecturer in education at La Trobe University, says it is common for students to have mixed feelings on finishing year 12.

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“It’s a significant milestone for students – and their parents,” she says. “Life will be very different from now on, often with less certainty than you had, going to school every day … be gentle with yourself as you make the transition.”

Murphy says the meaning and purpose of Atar is “very limited” beyond a rank universities use to determine who to allocate limited places to.

“There are different reasons why people’s Atar might be lower than needed for a university course,” she says.

“There might have been adverse events … or the subjects you studied might not have been in the areas where you have the most motivation or talent. What you do after school might better allow you to showcase your strengths.”

The Atar is becoming increasingly less definitive, with more emphasis on early offers, mature age enrolments and bridging pathways – including from Tafe to the tertiary sector. A Centre for Independent Studies paper released this year found the share of school leavers being admitted to universities on a non-Atar basis had grown from 15% in 2016 to at least 25%.

The caveat was that non-Atar based admissions were almost twice as likely to drop out of university in the first year.

Murphy says university does not have to come straight after finishing school, even if it is relevant to a desired career.

“Sometimes it’s better to do other things – work, Tafe, degree pathway courses, volunteering – and start a university degree later,” she says.

“It’s wise to develop a contingency plan. Contact universities about possible pathways to the course you ultimately want to do. Research your options and write down various possible next steps.

“This will help to reassure you that, whatever your Atar is when published, it’ll be OK.”