Frequently asked questions

FAQs about COVID-19

We know you’re worried about how your plans to go to uni in 2021 will be affected by COVID-19.

We want to reassure you that UAC will work with universities, NESA (and other state boards of studies and the IBO), schools and other stakeholders to ensure that no student is disadvantaged in relation to university entry.

These are very difficult times, but we are all committed to looking after you and giving you the support you need.

No, there will be no change to the way in which ATARs are calculated in NSW, or any other state or territory, this year.

The ATAR places students in rank order according to their overall achievement in Year 12. If we simply gave every student extra ‘points’, it wouldn’t change that order.

In NSW, the ATAR calculation is based on the raw HSC marks provided by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). From year to year, the median ATAR remains pretty much the same (around 70.00), and a similar number of students (around 46) receive an ATAR of 99.95. It will be the same in 2020.

NESA, and other state education authorities, however, are making some changes to the assessments on which the ATAR calculations are based. These changes take into account the disruptions experienced by Year 12 students. For example:

  • NESA has introduced more flexibility into the structure of school-based HSC assessments.
  • The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has introduced a ‘Consideration of Educational Disadvantage’ process to calculate VCE scores.

NESA has also introduced a new category of illness and misadventure that it will consider during the marking of the HSC: learning from home. This category is available for the small number of students who had no access to teaching and learning for six weeks or more between Monday 9 March and Friday 22 May 2020.

COVID-19 illness and misadventure: NESA processes

FAQs about the ATAR

It's true that the situation for students has varied from state to state. That's why the changes to VCE assessment made by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, for example, are different to the changes made to HSC assessment by the NSW Education Standards Authority.

The calculation of ATARs based on these assessments, however, remains the same: students are ranked according to their overall achievement compared to other students in their state. An ATAR of 80.00 in Victoria will remain equivalent to an ATAR of 80.00 in NSW.

The International Baccalaureate is also making some adjustments to the way it assesses students. In addition, Victorian IB students who apply to UAC's participating institutions will automatically have the disadvantages caused by extensive COVID-19 restrictions factored into their selection rank.

How to apply to interstate universities

While universities always offer a number of different pathways into their courses, this year they have made some adjustments to take account of the extraordinary circumstances Year 12 students are facing.

Early offers: As in other years, most institutions are giving Year 12 students the option to be assessed using criteria other than (or in addition to) their ATAR. In some cases, you might get an offer before you get your ATAR.

For example, through the Schools Recommendation Schemes, institutions use one or more of the following assessment criteria:

  • your Year 11 studies
  • your school’s rating of your abilities in different areas of study
  • your school’s rating of your aptitudes
  • your Educational Access Schemes (EAS) application (if applicable)
  • institution-specific documents (if applicable).

Applications are processed by UAC and close 20 September 2020.

Many institutions also have other early offer schemes that you can apply for directly.

How to apply for Schools Recommendation Schemes

Additional early offer schemes for Year 12 students

Educational Access Schemes (EAS): Institutions use these to take into account the educational disadvantages many applicants experience. There are a range of disadvantages that will be relevant to students whose families have been under significant stress during the pandemic. If you think any of them might apply to you, make sure you complete an EAS application and claim all the disadvantages that have affected your studies.

This year, we’ve added new categories to help applicants who’ve been affected by a natural disaster, such as a bushfire, and those whose parents/guardians have been receiving JobSeeker or JobKeeper for at least three months.

How to apply for EAS

COVID-19 adjustment points: Some unis will automatically increase your selection rank for their courses by, say, five points. You don't need to take any action to receive this adjustment, but remember that it only applies to your preferences for courses at that particular university. Your ATAR will not be increased. To keep track of what universities are doing in this regard, check their websites.

Pathway courses: This year, some unis are offering an even larger range of preparatory courses to help you move into your degree. Get in touch with them directly to ask about your options.

In any year, the selection rank you will need to get into a course depends on three factors:

  • the number of places available in the course
  • the number of applicants for the course
  • the quality of those applicants.

These three factors mean that lowest selection ranks change from year to year and are impossible to predict before applicants are selected for a particular course in a particular year. The lowest selection rank for any course can increase, decrease or remain the same. The same will be true this year.

ATARs and selection ranks

Giving everyone an offer to uni sounds good in theory but it's logistically and financially impossible for universities and the government to do this. From a student point of view, not everyone is suited to or ready for uni.

Ultimately, there is a competitive element to getting into uni, particularly for high-demand courses like Medicine. Even when the competition for a course isn't strong, you're still required to meet the university's minimum entry standard. The university needs to be confident that you will cope with the demands of tertiary study and have a good chance of succeeding.

It's important to remember that there are many pathways into university. If you can't start your dream course in 2021, consider enrolling in a non-degree course, such as foundation studies, a preparatory course, or a certificate, diploma or associate degree course.

Once you've completed it, the university may guarantee you entry into a particular degree course. You may also be given subject credits towards your degree. Otherwise, you can use your non-degree studies to apply and compete for admission to other degree courses.

This year, some unis are offering an even larger range of prep courses to help you move into your degree. Contact the individual institutions to get the most up-to-date information.

Pathways to uni