Year 12 and Beyond: Transferring Degrees: Myth or Mountain?

Oh the HSC, what a terrible time. Two years of subject choices, parent-teacher nights, seminars, open days, exams, assessments. And what about the rhetoric behind it all? If my teachers were to be believed, Year 12 was in its purest form a high-stakes test of endurance resulting in a ranking which would make or break the university careers of every student in NSW- all 20,000 of us.

But hold on a minute, what if someone had a bad day during English? Or what if I was late to an exam because I’d just got my P plates and hadn’t yet learned how to read the morning traffic? What if Johnny from next door turned 18 the night before Modern History and was too hung-over to write? Yes, in a year where many, if not most students were well and truly over high school could it really be that our performance in Year 12 would make or break our chances of making it in ‘the real world?’

Surely something must be in students’ favor. After all Australia boasts dozens of universities, with a number of our largest regularly ranked in the top-40 worldwide. And while uni isn’t free anymore the Government is happy to subsidise three-quarters of the bill, then let us pay for it on credit with zero interest and no fixed term. Our economy was the biggest to stave off recession since 2007 and youth employment is far lower just about anywhere else so, theoretically we should be able to get jobs to pay for rent, textbooks and beer. If all the signs say it’s a great time to be a student, why all the fuss during high school?

As it turns out, there is more to university than your final Year 12 mark, and when it comes to getting in to a degree-of-choice there is in fact some room to breath. Often overlooked amid the fuss of the HSC is that each year almost half of all undergraduate applicants aren’t schooleavers. In NSW, for example roughly 40% of annual UAC applicants have already begun some form of tertiary study, or simply taken time off since high school.

Many of the thousands of students who miss out on their first-choice take a path of transferring degrees partway through their studies. Typically, universities accept a balance of both Year 12 and tertiary results so there is a very real possibility of students being able to improve their entrance rank over time. For many, transferring into a more competitive degree is an appealing option- but it’s certainly no walk in the park.

I know this from firsthand experience as when I did my Year 12 exams, my final mark fell several marks short of my first-choice degree. After consulting a careers counselor as to what marks I would require for a successful transfer into a Commerce/Liberal Studies degree, I eventually enrolled into a Bachelor of Arts with the intention of attaining the goal of a year-end ‘distinction’ average.

And what a contest it proved to be. No sooner had I left the pressure-cooker of Year 12 would I find myself again sweating over results- each time crudely recalculating my chances of reaching the goal. The saving grace of the pursuit was that I loved university and in-between hitting the books was having a blast living out of home, working part-time and running riot on the weekends.

At the end of the year I nervously calculated my grade-point average to be agonizingly close. In fact, I estimated my results to be less than 0.5 percent above the required mark. Would it be enough? Would my gamble of trying to transfer into a more competitive degree come off? As it turned out yes- I was offered a spot- but it came right down to the wire. To put it into perspective, the degree I had been shooting for had an entry rank of five points above what I received.

Transferring degrees was a hard slog and it certainly could have gone either way, but the enduring image of my studies to date is undoubtedly that the high-school entrance rank needn’t make or break a university career.

Facts and figures:


  • 1 in 10 Australian students change Universities during their undergraduate degree
  • ATARs, VTAs, etc., never change, but Universities will often consider this together with Undergraduate results
  • Consult your course advisor for a realistic estimate of what to aim for