One of the nation’s most prestigious universities will no longer judge aspiring students solely by their ATAR score, a decision with significant implications for Australia’s top school leavers.
A student with an ATAR score of 99.95 would no longer be guaranteed a place at the Australian National University (ANU) under a long-awaited overhaul of admissions criteria announced on Wednesday.
Despite reshaping the requirements for prospective students, school leavers would still need to achieve a required ATAR score, which the university on Tuesday conceded may increase.
But year 12 students will also have to prove their “all round character” by outlining their record of extra-curricular activities, such as community service or sporting excellence, when they apply.
The changes, which recall the highly competitive American college application process, will affect students currently in year 11 who want to start university in 2020.
These students would finalise their application in March next year and, if successful, receive a provisional offer in August, months before their final year 12 exams.
Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, the ANU’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), told The New Daily required ATAR scores “may go up a little bit more” as the changes come into effect.
Asked if the changes brought ANU’s requirements closer into line with those in the United States, she said the university had “looked to models in Texas, in California, in Florida”.
“Part of the new model is that we’ll be reaching out to all schools across Australia and we’ll be inviting the top students from those schools to apply to ANU,” she said.
That meant asking schools to nominate their top students, Professor Hughes-Warrington said.
It remains to be seen whether that approach will disadvantage talented students who did not apply themselves academically before year 12.
Under the new system, a student with an ATAR of 99.95 but with no extra-curricular activities would struggle to get into a course such as law, which requires a score of 98.
“Yes they would, but I can pretty confidently say that … it’s actually really hard to find a student that doesn’t have an outside interest or hasn’t done something for their family or their school or the community,” Professor Hughes-Warrington said.
Community service, volunteering, part-time work, leadership skills, or excellence in other activities such as sport would help a student’s application.
“We know students are more than just a score,” ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said.
“We also know that sometimes life pans out a bit differently for some students.
“Some students have to work to support themselves, or care for their family, or face other challenges. These are all important life skills and we will consider these factors alongside their ATAR marks.”
Currently, year 12 students apply to state admissions centres by listing their course and university preferences, usually ordered by ATAR difficulty.
Students hoping to attend ANU will now have to apply directly to the university for a first-round offer, but could also do so through an admissions centre later in the year.
They could also apply for scholarships and accommodation directly through the initial process.
“We found that when you do make the offer at that time, student performance is as good or better than predicted because you relieve a bit of the stress,” Professor Hughes-Warrington said.
The ACT-based university, which enrols a high proportion of interstate students, has previously told the consumer watchdog it was disadvantaged by the processes used by some state admissions centres.
Professor Hughes-Warrington, who was hopeful the new model would lead to a more socio-economically diverse cohort, confirmed the number of places offered by the university would not change.
She also said the Turnbull government’s proposed cuts to university funding had no impact on the changes.