Can I use my ATAR score to go abroad? Here’s what you need to know

Australian students can use ATAR score to apply to foreign universities
The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is accepted for undergraduate admissions into universities outside of Australia. Source: Martin Bureau/AFP

I’m a Year 12 Australian student who wants to study abroad, but I’m worried that an ATAR score will not be accepted for applications to an international university. What should I do?

Dear Student,

Here’s the good news — the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is accepted internationally in many universities. Even top-ranked universities like Oxford and Cambridge recognise your ATAR score for admissions, so you have nothing to be worried about on that front. The real challenge lies in getting the right ATAR number and subject grades to boost the odds of you getting into the university of your choice.

It’s easy for me to say keep working hard to maintain good results, but securing a coveted spot in university is all about strategy. With the right amount of thought and planning, you’ll have more options available to further your education.

But first, let’s clear some common misconceptions about the ATAR. It’s often referred to as a “score”, but the ATAR is actually a ranking system where high school leavers are numbered anywhere between zero to 99.95 to indicate their rank within their age group. That means if your ATAR number is 80, it tells you that you’ve made it to the top 20% of your group in that year.

Since you’re already in the final stretch of high school, you’re probably aware that how your rank is calculated depends on where you are, as each state or territory has a different way of calculating scores. You’ll typically need a minimum of four subjects to be eligible for an ATAR, and your course combinations in Year 12 will affect the calculation. To ensure that you’re ranked fairly against other students with different subject combinations, your ATAR score will be scaled: an algorithm is used to estimate your marks if everyone who studied all courses and have a similar mark distribution.

Australian students can use ATAR scores to apply to foreign universities

The University of Cambridge is among the world’s top universities that accept an ATAR rank for admissions into its undergraduate programme. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

Now that you know how the ATAR score works, your job is to figure out how much you really need to get into your dream university. There’s no better way than to email the admissions office for advice.

As for the numbers, consider this: the average ATAR score that students achieve is usually around 70.00. A high-ranking university in Australia like the University of Sydney requires a score of anywhere between 80.00 to 99.95 for guaranteed entry, depending on your programme. A coveted admission into the University of Cambridge requires a rank of 98.50 to 99.50 overall, on top of similar performance on the subjects in your secondary school certificate. The University of Edinburgh, another esteemed research university in the UK, requires an ATAR score of at least 92 for its social sciences and humanities programme.

Admissions into a US university can be somewhat complicated, as the assessment of your eligibility is a lot more holistic. American universities prize more than just your academic achievements. You’ll have to show evidence that you’re a well-rounded student outside of the classroom to demonstrate aspects of your character, such as your maturity, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

You might be required to present past transcripts to show that you can consistently maintain good grades, in addition to writing personal essays and sitting for admissions tests such as the SAT, especially if you’re aiming for a high-ranking university. Since the US uses the Grade Point Average (GPA) system on a 4.0 scale, it’s easier to convert your subject scores into a GPA, so the admissions office will have a clearer picture of where you stand.

All of this might seem confusing, but don’t worry! It’s completely normal to feel worried about applying to universities. You’re already ahead of so many others for asking the right questions. Finally, do check out the application deadlines. If your final ATAR score or transcripts aren’t ready by then, you can always request projected results from your high school. Remember, scores don’t always determine your university success, so don’t be disheartened if you get a lower ATAR score than expected — there are always other options to explore.