The ATAR: “the way, the truth and the life” into University! NOT!

Yes, the traditional way of getting into uni is via your ATAR. You study hard, neglect some of your social interactions and hope that your ATAR is higher than that stupid cut-off.

However, this isn’t the only way into university. Likewise, it isn’t a true indicator of what degree you could be eventually studying and the career path that you pursue.

If you do fall short of the cut-off there are some alternative pathways you can take to end up with your desired degree. Choosing the best uni path is an important task and can get quite complicated. Don’t hesitate to talk to your school career counsellor (they are technically still your school counsellor until end of term 4, besides you’ll be going back to your school for the exams) or ring up and talk to a university advisor about what the uni offers as alternative pathways.

Some of the alternate ways into your degree: 

Just Keep Trying: 
Just because you are under your cut off, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep applying. Wait for a second or third round offer. If that doesn’t end up working out then there’s mid year applications as well. You could spend some time travelling the world…..OR…. earn some cash and THEN travel the world …. OR….do something you love…. like learn the guitar and THEN travel the world. Damn it, at least go to New Zealand.

Study Online: 
Another option is to study a degree or another qualification online. You can study with a university (google ‘Open Universities’), TAFE or another type of education provider. The first thing that we need to wrap around our heads is that “TAFE” isn’t a place for people with ‘no brains.’ It’s endorsed by the government to provide training and education to those who aren’t in university and etc. Sometimes… these people may have suffered from distressing family situations, academic disadvantages, mental illnesses and etc…. and their only pathway is through TAFE, so it’s quite disrespectful to think of it as a place for ‘drop outs.’ I know quite a few people who completed a TAFE training course….who are doing quite well for themselves and really, really enjoying their lives and their jobs.

Go The Back Road (Transfers):
A good way to get into the degree that you want to study is to enrol in another course and then apply for a transfer. Go for a course in a similar stream, with a lower entry mark and if you study hard enough then the university will deal with you ‘internally,’ ignoring the whole ‘external ATAR shenanigans’ and consider you for your preferred course.

Going back to the “online study” option (see above): don’t rule TAFE and online universities out. A diploma can be counted towards certain credits at universities and many private colleges also have agreements with universities so you can transfer once you’ve started your course there. For example, the Australian Institute of Music and most music faculties in NSW universities.

Furthermore, most transfer mark requirements require a ‘distinction’ average…. and maybe not even that. That’s a 75% average, possibly 70%. Think about 70 something as a mark compared to the 90s that your tutoring centre expects for weekly homework. It requires effort, but it’s definitely an option!

Try out the STATs:
I met someone the other day who is doing a Bachelor of Veterinary Science Degree at the University of Sydney, who got in with the STATs rather than an ATAR. I don’t know much about the STAT but I think it’s a general exam that tests your ability in literacy and numeracy. The exam is managed by UAC…. so yes, you do have to deal with those guys again, but that’s always an option.

Back to School: 
You could always re-do the HSC! No? Okay…. fine!
Well, the good news is that you can go through some of the units that you didn’t do too well in at TAFE, so you don’t necessarily have to jump back into school uniform and end up dealing with those annoying year 11s.

The RPL stands for “Recognition of Prior Learning.” Basically, universities actually love it if you’ve had previous working experience. By ‘working experience’ they mean full time. Universities do take employment experiences and life experiences seriously and take it as consideration. If you enrol as a mature age student in a few years time, the possibility of acceptance rises. All you need is a letter from your employer to prove that you’ve actually worked full time for more than a year.


What do you want to study in uni? “Urghhhhh….commerce!”

That’s exactly what thought 3 years ago.

I had the marks for it, my friends were probably going to do it…. why shouldn’t I do it?

Choosing a degree to do in University is going to be a tough decision! For the current year 12s: with your recent UAC applications, how many of you guys actually applied for 6-8 choices that you genuinely want to study?

Later on, when your ATAR results are released, how many of you guys will just change your courses, in accordance to that number that you’ll receive via some form of media?

We don’t claim to be gurus and don’t exactly have an authoritative say in things, but here’s just 5 suggestions when applying for courses 🙂

Randall S. Hansen, the guy who wrote the book below (yes, I did go into a bookshop and read a few pages of a book (a total of 15 pages) before I wrote this) estimates that over 50 percent of university first-year students arrive with insecurity and are unsure of their degree choice.

Bottom line is: deciding on your degree is going to be tough, but the decision only influences the first few classes you take.

It’s important to sit back and think about what you really like to do and what you want to do. Often…… these answers actually fit well with your current strengths and talents.

You’re comfortable at doing certain things, and naturally enjoy doing them. 🙂 However, if what you ‘like to do and want to do’….. don’t align with your gifts and talents, then tread carefully, you might be drawn towards the course due to other factors that have nothing to do with yourself.

There is so much more than just the standard degrees that we always hear about (e.g, med, law, commerce, engineering, etc). Talk to older friends in university, talk to faculty members (just call up the university), do some research on what having the degree would look like 5/10/20 years down the track. This is the tough stage and the research stage.

Attend your first classes, sit there for a few weeks, give the damn thing a try. If you end up hating it, you can always change degrees!

But like the sub-heading says, don’t change too much, or else university will just drag out for a loooong time!

Let university be a time where you enjoy yourself. Don’t think about the job, the money and the prestige that comes out of a degree. Whether you study business, education, nursing or chemical engineering, coursework is going to get heavy, but hopefully your time at uni will be fun.

Academic Arrogance. Let’s try avoid that.

Earlier today, I was sitting in a formal meeting…. and a friend of mine, who’s very dear to me, mentioned something that I was never aware of!

Being from an Asian background church… virtually everyone here has a tertiary degree. It doesn’t mean that we are all very bright….it doesn’t mean that we are all ‘stereotypical asians who HAVE to go to uni,’ it just seemingly becomes the damn norm. 

There’s no implicit messages that say: “go to uni, or else.” However, somewhere down the line, it became the normal thing to do….. “you just have to go to uni!”

Little did I know that people were feeling excluded. I realised that in some way, we who go to university can become academically arrogant. We can forget about those who didn’t go to university.

Our parents take huge pride in us! They are happy telling everyone about our great report results! “You should really hear my daughter sing, she’s fantastic” they say. And although most parents know the world doesn’t revolve around us children…..for asian parents whose kids get good marks, the children are put into an environment where there is the hidden danger of making the children believe that they have to keep performing, keep showing off their talents, and that everyone else is doing the same.

My mum used to say: “I don’t see how you CAN’T do well in the HSC. It’s sooooo easy…. back in China, blah blah blah.” (Thankful, she doesn’t think this now!)

But what about the others? When I realised that my friend didn’t go university and that he felt excluded because of it, I realised that we have naturally pushed them away…. forgotten them. People are all naturally arrogant, and it’s going to be hard to realise that “everyone else is not doing the bloody same.”

So, let me plead you year 12’s. If you do awesome in the HSC, then sick! That’s awesome! Your ATAR reveals that either you are extremely bright, or you’ve worked really hard, or a combination of the two…. and that’s great!

But i’ve always thought of university as a gift. As we learn and take away from these tertiary institutions, remember, we are in the top 6.7% percent of the world, no matter WHAT degree you study….. and it’s up to us to give back to this world and to the less fortunate!

ATAR plus! Additional application requirements? Yay or Nay?

I like to believe that this is a standard fact!

Every one of us has that sibling, cousin or family friend that seems to be perfect! He or she studies some ridiculous degree and seemingly everything goes well for them. Inevitably, our parents make them our ‘competition’ and comparisons between you and them are never-ending.

For me, it’s my cousin-in-law!

A top-notch lawyer, partner at a massive law firm and graduated from Columbia University. Yes, one of those ‘super smart’ universities that make people go “woah!”

I must say…. that I do look up to him. However, it’s not necessarily for the reasons that I mentioned above.

Ever since his become a part of my family and as I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve come to realise that his a great companion for my cousin, a man that looks after his family and quite frankly, his just a great guy!

Recently, I told my cousin-in-law that acceptance into top Australian universities was determined only by our university entrance exam marks (the ATAR) and he looked at me with bewilderment.


That made me think. There are so many dangers of simplifying teenagers into 4 digits, separated by a decimal point.

In the States, a great SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) could only get you so far; you also needed participation in community services and show some aptitude for an extracurricular activity.

In the past, I thought that this was pretty stupid, because people will just fake their personal statements! Either that…. or they become someone they don’t want to be in order to create the desired ‘wonder kid’ image that ivy league universities accept.

However, my cousin told me something that changed the way I thought. He said that these universities didn’t care as much about marks because they were always going to attract those kids with the high marks.

He said that these Ivy League schools cared about people who would give back to the community. These Ivy League schools are essentially thinking: “if we give you this education, what will you give back to society?”

Quite literally, my cousin said: “think about it this way, there’s going to be smart people with great marks everywhere and all these top universities are going to attract these students…. It’s not about making the smart people smarter and fueling their egos and placing them into great jobs! For these universities, it’s about Nobel Laureates, it’s about educating people who want to make a change for the better of society.”

Understandably, not everyone in those American universities are going to be “super ethical, fair dinkum guys who love society,” but do you think that Australia should have extra application requirements such as interviews and personal statements? 

I do see pros and cons with both the Australian and American methods, but what do you guys think? 

Differences between Universities and your High School.

Most of the year 12’s that I know are planning to attend university. Whether these are students from my church, year 12s at my current high school or the people who currently attend the Study Lounge… every year 12 i’ve talked to is planning to study some form of tertiary education.

Many thing are going to be the same! There’s still assignments and work to be done, lunch is still better than classrooms and yes, teachers still give a damn if you talk in class.

However, many thing are going to be different. 

Most of us expect more free time, less ‘periods,’ and the chance to show off our more fashionable clothes instead of mundane uniforms… but there’s a lot more to it than just that!

Here’s some of the things that the tutors at the Study Lounge found to be the biggest difference between High School and University.

My high school was pretty small, however, I shouldn’t really complained.. we were near a metropolitan area and the school itself was very old and was built according to it’s original school cohort.
At university, the first thing you’re going to notice is its size! I’m gonna speak on behalf of UNSW kids, since I go there…. but we have a set a staircases that is longer than the longest width of my whole high school’s grounds. Similarly, I’m currently in a lecture with 250 people and one of my friends jigged the lecture because walking to it would’ve taken ‘at least 10 minutes.’ Funny thing is… UNSW is fairly average in size, possibly even small.

Not sure if this is a good thing, but subjects such as English aren’t compulsory and your decision to do PDH/PE-like subjects isn’t going to be altered by ‘low scaling.’ Your courses are going to have different majors and minors and even within these major/minors there are different strands. Once we consider “elective” courses such as “the psychology of love, sex and attraction” and “New Testament Greek,” those who like variety should be thoroughly pleased.

In high school, I had to put my hand up and ask if I could visit the toilet. I did that the other day in a tutorial and the look on my tutor’s face probably meant that she was thinking: “why did you ask me that you idiot? You’re inhumane!”
Attendance isn’t taken in most lectures. Your are required to generate new ideas and think critically about the things you’re taught. There is “homework,” but no one is going to check it, you have to learn it independently. You schedule your own classes and pick your own tutors. I think you get the point….. Essentially, you’re expected to act like an adult and make your own choices.

BTW, just looking through University policies: there are actually laws that prevent teaching staff from giving information about your results to anyone other than the student.
So yes, your parents don’t have to know how you’re doing. 

Contact time is pretty much just the amount of time that you spend attending ‘classes.’ At high school, this is around 30 hours a week. Generally, at university you are going to have much less contact time. Doesn’t mean that you spend less time studying, it just means that you don’t really hang around teachers. For degrees such as Commerce, Arts and Education, look for around 15 to 20 hours a week. However, some degrees such as engineering tend to have more, reaching 30+ hours a week (you might want to check with an engineering student).

In high schools, students originate from different ethnic backgrounds, religions and communities. Interestingly, disparities aren’t that defined. Everyone is essentially a student.
At university, as students grow in responsibility and mature, their contexts and values shine through. So religious groups are prominent on campus, and it’s up to all of us to be respectful.

If you guys want more details, check out this graph by the UNSW learning centre:

But whether University is going to be a huge change or not….. I think it goes back to the ‘student responsibility’ section…. once you’re at uni, your treated like an adult and the world is going to view you differently, so inevitably, there going to be change! 🙂

Keep Calm… the day is coming!

It’s Wednesday!

That means that you’re about 4 and a half days out from the HSC.

You know that it isn’t really ‘ideal’ – but you’re going to end up cramming anyway…..

4 days really isn’t a long time…. but try do at least two things:

1) Avoid losing sleep:
While some people may be related to Bruce Wayne and have the ability to stay productive at night, hence improving their knowledge for an exam the following day….. losing sleep has some big negatives.
First: your focus and concentration can be significantly lower the next day. I did the LSAT this year… which is like a law school application test and it consists of logical games, analytical reasoning and reading comprehension. In practice papers, I scored the highest in logical games, I loved the whole maths and equations side of things. Due to my lack of sleep the day before….. I did worst at the logical games section on the day! Luckily, I didn’t really need my LSAT mark and was really doing it to beat my personal goal! And praise God that I did!
Second: even if you gun the exam, you will most likely screw up your sleeping pattern. This will mean that you will end up feeling exhausted for many days and preparation for the next exams will be poor… you might end up cramming more, losing more sleep and it becomes a cycle, leaving you feeling even more tired.

Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, says: “if you have to stay awake before an exam, get at least 6 hours of sleep the night before.” This allows you to get SOME REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in, which helps consolidate your memory.

We all understand that getting to sleep might end up being tough in the next few weeks. Why? Think of those times where you went to bed fairly late, laid there for a while not being able to sleep because your brain is buzzing about the next morning? Well, that could happen the night before your external exams. So not only should you be aiming to get to sleep, spend some time relaxing before bed to encourage your brain to switch off and relax.

2) Start focusing on Depth: 
Yes, doing past papers like crazy is a great thing! But when it gets to crunch time with a few days out, it might not be as helpful as it seems. I learnt this from a friend of mine, who has always been very gifted with this whole studying stuff and did really well in the HSC!

If you are a few days out from the exam, doing hours and hours of past papers could be of some benefit, but many times, you may be doing questions that you’re going to nail anyway.

So flick through papers, identify the hard questions you may have problems with, do those questions…….. and repeat with many papers…. but do them at exam pace. If it’s history or something, jot down elaborate dot points for questions that seem tricky and don’t focus on writing down paragraphs.

When you’re pushed for time…. try to expose yourself with as many types of questions as possible, and not focus on nailing one or two papers. You might as well save that time and get some sleep 🙂

Four days out guys! Good luck 🙂

Simple Maths: The Equation for Happiness.

MOST of us who are currently in Uni… or sitting University entrance exams (HSC) are probably born sometime between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s. This makes us Gen-Y.

We Gen-Y kids go through high school and university seeking a career that will hopefully bring happiness into our lives. We live through the daily grind of homework and assessments hoping that at the end of all this, we will reach a place of security and happiness. But there’s one issue:

  • “how do we know if we will get there? And if we get there, will we truly be happy?”

The other day I saw this formula on a blog and wrote it down. And yes, I also took a photo of it!

It seems overly simplistic….. and really, it is!

When “reality” or your “actual” circumstances are better than the expectations that you have set, then you life is ‘better than expected.’ Hence, according to the formula, this means that you should be happy!

When your “expectations” of life become greater than your real and current life situations, then life “hasn’t turned out the way we expected it to be.” Hence, we begin to feel that life is in the negative and out of control.

Unfortunately, this formula is partly the reason why many kids suffer from anxiety and depression disorders during the HSC. 

Gen-Y backgrounds:  The Study Lounge has been running for about 5 to 6 weeks now. Looking at the current demographic of kids who come and talking to them…. a lot of them share very similar backgrounds to myself.


See, our parents, born in the 50s/60s, classified as ‘Baby Boomers,’ were raised by their parents (our grandparents) … who had just lived through one of the most devastating periods in history. Our grandparents lived through the aftermath of World Wars and the Great Depression in the 1930’s and 1940s. This meant that when our parents were born, they were raised in an era where families were obsessed with financial security (even more so if you were Chinese with the whole Mao regime)…. their parents had lived through the worst times and encouraged our mums/dads to strive towards secure, long term prosperity and comfort.

Having travelled to Australia, our parents saw a world of optimism and unbounded possibilities. Our grandparents had taught them to look past the gloom and into the future. In very much the same way, they are also sharing this to us now. Our parents advise us to “be this and be that,” to “study this and study that” because it’s what seemingly will bring happiness and security. In many ways, ‘their’ expectations become ‘our’ expectations.

When the HSC rolls around:  when this stressful period does come around, this is where the ‘happiness formula’ takes control over some people’s lives. For certain people, meeting your expectations is what drives you, and you are really really self motivated to do so and you set very high expectations …. and most of the time you can reach them. That’s actually awesome! However for some, the fear of not meeting those expectations, and the reality that the expectations are now ‘unreachable’ can be an emotional burden.

A close family member of mine was in this situation. My family had put these expectations on her and when reality wasn’t meeting the expectations, she was diagnosed with depression. Happiness, using her life figures, was now in the negatives. The most annoying thing was that she went to one of the best schools in the state, and got an amazing mark. But, people had set her ‘expectations’ for her to a stupidly high level.

What I think now: being a few years into university and growing in maturity, I would like to propose a new formula to the person who formulated the previous one, where:

“Happiness = Reality”

We need to eliminate the ‘expectation’ that others put on us. We shouldn’t worry about what others expect and what they think of us. What we make of life….. and what we accomplish is ‘reality’… it’s as real as it can be! And who we are and what we’ve done… that’s what should make us happy.

We should stay ambitious about accomplishing the things that we want to do, while learning to be content with the things that we have. Contentment: a big word that’s never used enough in Belonging Essays. This might sound cliche, but happiness comes from being content and making the best out of who you are.