If you’re reaching for the stars when it comes to finding your dream course, don’t let anything get in the way – not even an ATAR that’s lower than you’d hoped for. There are lots of options available to help get you into the course you want – you might just have to take a different road.

Each December, VCE students across the state wait anxiously to find out if all their hard work throughout high school has paid off. It doesn’t matter whether you log in online, get a text message or wait for snail mail, waiting for your ATAR results must rank as one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in a teen’s life.

And no wonder. Your ATAR is a culmination of incredibly hard work, determination and persistence. Some people are rewarded with a great result that propels them directly into their dream course at university. But for every person that gets into their desired course, there is another that has to step back, and reassess their planned career path.

Luke Scicluna works in the student recruitment team at La Trobe University, and while he recognises the benefits of getting a great ATAR score, he doesn’t see it as the be-all and end-all.

‘There’s a lot of pressure and expectation around the ATAR. I think there is merit to it when you’ve been at school for 13 years of your life, and you want to have a good send-off, but there are so many variables around ATAR. It’s totally understandable to not achieve the number you were expecting.’

While it can be incredibly deflating to miss out on the course you had set your hopes on, it’s important to have a plan B in place, well before you get your results.

What’s your plan B?

‘If you can’t get in the first instance there are other courses you can enrol in or subjects you can take which may lead you down the road toward your dream course,’ says Luke.

‘There are plenty of examples of students who might not have been able to enrol directly in the degree they were gunning for originally, but eventually find their way in.’

Changing preferences

After the VCE results and ATARs are released, you’ll have the opportunity to review your course preferences. Be sure to consider your folio presentations, feedback from interviews and any auditions, as well as your ATAR results when making changes.

You can change your preferences as many times as you like, up until the closing date. Find out all the important dates for 2017 and 2018 from the VTAC website.

What should you do if your ATAR is just a few points off your dream course? Luke suggests keeping the course as your number one preference. But if your ATAR is way off the mark, it’s time to shuffle those preferences and choose a different pathway course on your VTAC preference form instead.

It’s critical to do your research well before you submit your preferences. First of all, you need to make sure you meet all the prerequisites. Secondly, you need to check which course pathways offer the best chance to get you into the course you ultimately want.

If you need advice, talk to the experts. Luke refers to VTAC as the ‘source of truth’, and says it’s the place to get the most up-to-date information about all courses and requirements. If you need more, go to the university directly – La Trobe offers a range of different ways to connect and ask questions.

So don’t be shy. Make sure the next step is the right one for you and get an expert second opinion.

Pathway options

Pathways are like stepping-stones into your preferred course, and there’s lots of different options. The most common pathway is via a related course at your preferred university.

For example, if you missed out on a spot in physiotherapy, you can study a related course. If your marks are good – and there is a place available – you can apply to transfer across to physiotherapy in your second year of study. There are no guarantees, but these options mean the door isn’t completely closed if you don’t get in the first time.

Another popular pathway is to enrol at an alternative campus, then transfer. You’ll find that some of La Trobe’s regional campuses have equivalent courses with slightly lowered ATAR requirements.

That’s not a reflection of the quality of the course, explains Luke. ‘It just comes down to competitiveness and how many people want to get in.’ Transfers depend on your academic performance and places available in your desired course.

Even if you achieved an ATAR  that’s too low to enrol in an undergraduate degree, you have options. VET or TAFE pathways allow you to start your study in an officially recognised diploma, obtain the credit you need, and then transfer across to the course of your choice. TAFE and VET pathways also apply if you studied VCAL instead of VCE, or you don’t satisfy a prerequisite for a particular course.

‘If you achieve a good enough mark in that diploma, you may have credit officially recognised by the time you’re ready to study at La Trobe,’ explains Luke.

With so many pathway options, making your next move after receiving your ATAR can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to seek out as much advice as you can. While career teachers are a great resource within a school, Luke suggests future students should consider getting in touch with the university admissions team.

‘If you’re really interested in studying at La Trobe, organise a one-on-one consultation, because we have that up-to-date advice about which pathway would be best for the student.’

Book a one-on-one consultation to find out how you can get into your dream course.

This article was orginally published on NEST.