You yourself: not you, your ATAR

Monday 14 December 2015

Students walking down a busy and sunny John Street, Hawthorn during O Week.

In summary

Jeffrey Smart, Swinburne's Vice-President (International and Students), says Year 12's should exercise their right of choice and demand that universities consider the whole person, not just the ATAR.

Hello VCE people. I hope you slept last night.

Thirty years ago - well 30 years plus one month - my HSC results arrived. ln the mail: in a rusty letter box in Mair Street, Ballarat, on January 13 1986.

The HSC class of 1985 in Ballarat - and the rest of country Victoria - received their slim, sealed notification from the Victorian Universities Admissions Centre (VUAC) one day after the privileged kids in the big smoke.

Nothing like the online or SMS release of 2015 VCE results from VTAC. Nothing like the Matric results my mother received, printed in the newspapers in the 1960s.

Different delivery modes, same stage of life.

Back then I visited the letter box every ten minutes starting at 6am. 6am: nothing. 6.20am: nothing. 6.50am: same dried leaves on the rusty bottom of the box. 9am: OMG I failed so badly they didn’t even bother sending the notification. 11am: my life is over, I’m gonna be a hobo.

1pm: a simple, laser printed and sealed slip of paper.

In those days university offers wouldn’t come for another couple of weeks, just as first round offers from VTAC will arrive just over a month from now.

But the process of considering students for a place at university in 2016 is completely different.

Universities and TAFE colleges will make offers to applicants through the VTAC rounds - so called Round 0 offers, primarily for non-school leavers, are already out - with first round offers due 18 January. Just a few anxious weeks of waiting, everyone: buck up!

This week our universities will hold change of preference events, designed to give students and their friends and families an opportunity to see what their ATAR could buy. Whether you achieved an ATAR beyond your wildest dreams, about what you imagined, or not quite what you imagined, this is a great week in which to see what our universities might be able to do for you.

Your ATAR might buy you a scholarship, a guaranteed overseas study opportunity, a double degree, or an alternate pathway to the course you have your heart set on.

Throughout January and February there will be more VTAC offer rounds: you can change your preference now, and consider other options later.

But in 2015 there are more avenues to the course of your dreams than simply through VTAC. Universities today admit around 40% of new students through application channels other than the tertiary admissions centres. Most of us offer a multitude of pathways to get you to the course you really want.

What’s really changed is that some of us are no longer solely interested in your ATAR and your first, second or third preference, but in you; your own unique self. Your dreams. Your strengths. Your hopes and aspirations.

If you achieved a stratospheric ATAR you’re likely to be invited to special ‘high achievers’ events - Swinburne's is this Thursday - to meet senior academics who are generally interested in hearing what floats your boat, and in matching your interests to a tailored course of study.

If you and your ATAR don’t kind of gel at first sight, you should attend a change of preference expo to work out what it can buy you. You should also get in touch with a university admissions office. Thirty years ago (actually maybe only a decade ago) applicants were not people, they were an ATAR and a list of preferences to be impersonally ranked, re-ranked, winnowed and reduced.

In 2015, many universities see applicants just as they really are: young (and not so young) people with a fire in their belly, a future to grasp, and choices. Some of the more enlightened university admissions offices want to hear from you.  We want to know what you dream of becoming, what additional experiences you are after. Maybe a semester in China, or a professional placement. A scholarship to help you with the move from country to city, or a grant to help you overcome hardship.

And if your ATAR - crude little measure that it is - doesn’t give you an automatic ticket to first year, we have pathways. Maybe a TAFE program to give you real, practical workplace skills. Or a pathway program like Swinburne’s UniLink - and relations like it at most of the Victorian universities - designed like first year with additional teaching and transition support that will guarantee you a place in second year of a degree, provided you pass it.

Some universities today want to deal with you as you, not as who we expect you to be. Completing VCE and contemplating what’s next is torture enough. If you’re part of the class of 2016 exercise your right of choice: demand that we consider the whole you, not just the ATAR you achieved. Good luck.

Written by Jeffrey Smart, Vice-President (International and Students), Swinburne Univeristy of Technology.