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What is ATAR?

ATAR.

This is a word that's traditionally tossed around a lot at this time of year. And usually in an all-important, make-or-break context. But what does it really mean?

Unpacking the ATAR

First things first. ATAR is an acronym for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It's a percentile score that positions your academic performance on the completion of Year 12 in relation to your peers.

Or, to put it more bluntly, how well you did in the HSC compared to everyone else that same year.

Two things that are important to bear in mind here…

One: You are not your ATAR. It is not a measure of your intelligence, character, aptitude or potential.

Two: Your ATAR is a rank, not a score. In other words, it's a relative measure, not an absolute measure. Its meaning is only derived by a comparison to others, not on its own merits. If your exact same HSC performance was ranked within a different group of students in a different year, you could easily end up with a completely different ATAR.

What does it mean for you?

Now that we've demystified the 'hallowed' ATAR, it's easier to put it into its proper context.

The ATAR shouldn't be considered the be-all-and-end-all of your career dreams. Not only is this "all-or-nothing" mentality pretty misguided, but it creates unnecessary pressure, mostly for yourself.

If you did your best in the HSC and the numbers don't give you instant entry to university you have options with TAFE NSW. Many of TAFE's most popular courses have no entry requirements. Try starting with a Certificate or Diploma in your chosen career area. There are two major benefits of this "try before you buy" approach.

Firstly, it'll give you an opportunity to trial the sector with some practical training. People are often surprised to learn that the career area they had their hearts set on wasn't what it was cracked up to be. This will also give you Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for your future studies.

Secondly, and more importantly, you may discover that your TAFE course leads you to a completely different job (or career path) that you hadn't even thought of before.

Just the first step

Your HSC exams and the resulting ATAR are really just the first step on what will probably be a lifelong journey of study and achievements.

Or, as Kerrin McCormack, career counsellor for TAFE's South Western Sydney Institute, puts it; "There's more to life than getting a single result and getting into one course. There are many ways to get to the same goal."

Your ATAR is just one of them.