ATAR is a rank. It measures you against the other students in your year from your state, and gives you a number (ATAR score) that is easily comparable.
They need this rank because there are more applicants than uni places, particularly in the popular courses.
The ATAR required to get into a course is not a reflection of the intelligence or achievement level needed to complete the course or do the job. It’s just the easiest way for universities to decide who gets what spots in bulk.
Say a course has 100 places, but there are 200 applicants.
The students with the top 100 Selection Ranks (which is ATAR plus any bonus points applicable to the course) will get the spots.
The lowest Selection Rank which gets in will become the cut-off for the course.
Students with bonus points may get in even if their ATAR is below the cut-off, because their bonus points bump them up and give them a Selection Rank which is above the cut-off.
Student 98 – 78 (ATAR of 78)
Student 99 – 78 (ATAR of 76 plus 2 bonus points)
Student 100 – 77 (ATAR of 77)
Student 101 – 76 (ATAR of 76)
Student 102 – 76 (ATAR of 75 plus 1 bonus point)
The cut-off for this course would be 77.
Student 99 got in because their Selection Rank (ATAR + Bonus Points) was 78. Student 101 did not miss out because they were incapable of completing the course; they missed out because their Selection Rank was lower than 100 other applicants.
That cut-off has nothing to do with student competence
If the general quality of applicants goes down, the next year may have a lower cut-off. Vice versa, if in the following year the course becomes even more popular it may have a much higher cut-off.
The quality of graduates depends on a huge range of factors, including teaching quality, opportunities to complete internships or work experience throughout your course, student engagement, support services, and more.
Students from courses which had lower cut-offs may become more sought after than students from courses with high cut-offs.
Cut-off scores are a reflection of:
- Course popularity (number of applications)
- How many places are available on the course
- Academic performance of the applicants
If you miss out on the course you’d like to do because your selection rank (ATAR + adjustment factors / bonus points) is lower than the cut-off. Don’t be disheartened, there are still other ways that you could study the course you’d like to.
- Study the same course at another university with a lower cut-off
- Apply for a different course at the same university and transfer internally on to your preferred course
- Study an alternative tertiary qualification and apply for the same course next year (your qualification could even count towards your degree)
Your best bet is to call the University directly and see what advice they can offer.