Dealing with Disappointment: how to work with a sub-optimal ATAR

It’s normal to feel anxious about receiving your ATAR results this week. What if you don’t get the mark you were after? Will you be disappointed?

With all the importance put on the final result by the education system, it is absolutely normal if you feel disappointed. You have just completed a tough year of zillions of assessments, even more exams, and many late nights, putting a heck of a lot effort all year round into achieving your end goal. You’ve put down your preferences for degrees at different universities, and now it’s crunch time.

So what should you do if you think you might not have received the mark you need to get into your first preference degree?

On Radio National’s Life Matters program, host Richard Aedy interviewed Professor Marcia Devlin, a psychologist interested in education at Deakin University. Richard asked Professor Devlin what options lie ahead for school leavers who might be disappointed.

Gaining Perspective

Professor Devlin’s first piece of advice was valuable. Put your score into perspective. Friends who have also just received their marks might not be able to offer the best advice – they too, are busy weighing up their options for next year. Family and friends outside of the HSC bubble, however, can be a great support system. They might be able to see more clearly that this mark is not the make-or-break moment of your life.

Changing your Preferences

Once you’ve gained some perspective, you may want to consider whether your first preference is really where your passion lies. If it isn’t, this could be a great chance to reconsider what you really want to be studying at university. Hey, it could be the degree you put down as your sixth preference. Now is the time to decide.

If you are set on pursuing your first preference for a degree, though, you have a couple of great options. Professor Devlin suggests that you look at doing the same degree, but consider doing it at another university. True, not many friends might be going to that university, it might not have the prestige another university might have,  or it might be a little further than away than your first choice, but once you’re studying a degree you’re passionate about, you’ll find that none of it matters. By studying something you love, your university experience will be unparalleled.

Transferring Degrees

If you’re raring to get into uni, there are a range of opportunities available for you to begin studying, with an eye to transferring degrees at the end of the year. You could be well on the way to starting out on your uni experience, by studying hard and gaining marks of a high enough standard that you could apply through UAC to transfer degrees in 2013. Each university has different rules when it comes to transferring degrees, but it is a great way to jump into uni and begin learning with the rest of your mates. Check out each university’s policy for more information on degree transference.


TAFE is a fantastic resource for students who might not get the first preference, but are dead set on transferring into that degree. Transferring degrees while studying at university may not always be a possibility, but there are many pathways available at TAFE, which can see you study an articulation course. This means that you could be studying a certificate in Nursing at TAFE for a year, and may be able to transfer into the second year of a university Nursing degree from thereon. For more info, look here, or at your relevant state’s TAFE website.

Gap Year

A gap year is a great way, Professor Devlin says, to “take a year off to grow up a bit, get some experience working, saving money, to travel and to widen your horizons, as well as to really think about whether the degree you’ve chosen is the right one for you.”

Some people’s idea of taking a gap year is that it is simply “wasting a high ATAR.” Yet, taking a few months to consider where your interests really lie and having some time to yourself after a full-on year, is a more sensible idea than wasting a year in a degree you dislike.

Investigate mid-year enrolments are your university. You may only need six months to decide what the right path for you is.

Take a listen to the whole interview with Professor Marcia Devlin here.