Didn’t get the ATAR you wanted? Here's what to do next.

When ATARs come out its a mix of excitement and stress. Sometimes it’s better than you expect and sometimes it is worse. As with most things in life, it is difficult to predict. So what happens when your ATAR isn't what you wanted? Here are our expert top tips for figuring out a plan B.

4 months ago   •   5 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by the blowup / Unsplash

The ATAR: a number we work towards for six years of secondary schooling, a number that dictates our options and future success.

But is it true?

In reality, the ATAR is a score that represents our academic achievement based on school-based assessments and exams, which, in themselves, are only snapshots of our knowledge. It’s a score that fails to represent the full scope of our ability, effort, knowledge and understanding. It does not define who you are and does not define your future.

And so, it’s understandable to be disappointed about your ATAR - many of us are, and I was once too - but it’s important to remember that your ATAR will soon be a long-forgotten memory. A small hurdle you faced in your vast path to success.

So, now that you have your ATAR, what next?

Step 1: Address the negative feelings

Disappointment is normal. After years of tests, homework, assignments, exams and all the effort that comes along with it, disappointment is so understandable. However, disappointment can be horrible to experience - so how can you overcome it?

1) Allow yourself to be disappointed

First, validate your feelings - it’s perfectly reasonable and okay to feel this way after things don’t turn out as expected. And then, sit with the feeling - the quicker you accept the negative emotions, the quicker you can move on from them.

2) Take some space

Sometimes, surrounding yourself with your school peers can be uncomfortable when you’re feeling unhappy with your score. Taking a couple of days to yourself can give you time to process your feelings without the pressure of discussing them with others. Use your alone time to relax, look after yourself, and tend to your negative feelings.

3) Be gracious to yourself

A common mistake among high-achieving students is to attribute their ‘failures’ to themselves; to their ability, their intelligence, their skills and their effort. If your ATAR isn’t what you hoped for, it’s not because of a shortcoming within you. There are many external factors possibly contributing to your ATAR, and recognising those is a step towards relieving the burden of disappointment from yourself.

4) Put it into perspective

You might be disappointed in your ATAR, but that doesn’t mean you need to be disappointed in your effort, and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to be disappointed in your future! Your ATAR is only one of the pathways towards your goals. A lower-than-expected ATAR does not determine your career, let alone your future.

It’s also important to acknowledge other feelings that might arise along with disappointment:


When others around us see our hard work and effort, they can develop high expectations of us too. If we didn’t achieve the ATAR they expected, we might feel embarrassed or ashamed. Admittedly, I experienced this myself; but what I learned is:

  • In most cases, people don’t care as much as we think they do. We might worry that others will judge or pity us, but people important to us will often be more concerned with uplifting and supporting us.
  • Often, you are your own biggest critic! Once you accept your disappointment, managing feelings of shame or embarrassment becomes much easier.


Sometimes, our supporters can also place high expectations on us - our family, our friends, even our teachers. Not meeting their expectations can make us feel like we’ve failed them, eliciting feelings of guilt or shame - this can be tricky and complicated to navigate. But above all else, it’s important to know that as long as you do your best, that is always good enough.


You might be shocked when you receive your ATAR - in this state, it’s common to freak out and feel completely helpless. But the world is not going to end because your ATAR was lower than expected - you still have options, and you can still pursue the course and career you strive for.

Step 2: Explore your options

For the best outcome, it is important to explore all your options realistically and with an open mind.

Consider some of your options:

Your first preference

In some cases, a lower ATAR doesn’t necessarily mean you need to rule out your first preference. Many courses have multiple rounds of offers - you may receive a second or third-round offer.

An undergraduate degree into your first preference

Many courses can be done as a postgraduate degree. You can begin with a different degree, and maintain your grades to enter into the postgraduate variation of your preferred course.

For example, instead of studying undergraduate Medicine, you can study Biomedicine, Science, or a variety of other courses and then apply for Medicine.


  • After a few years of study, you have the opportunity to do the degree you originally chose!
  • After finishing your undergraduate degree, you can pursue a number of postgraduate degrees, not just the degree you originally considered!
  • You will enter your postgraduate degree with more knowledge, maturity and experience - this can only prepare you further for your career!


You will likely need to maintain high marks, and sometimes, even acquire additional experience, as some postgraduate courses are competitive.

Transferring into your first preference

You may be able to begin a different course, and transfer into your desired course after a semester or two at uni!


  • After a semester or a few, you will have the opportunity to begin the degree you originally chose!
  • You might find you enjoy the degree you started, and stick with a course you might not have considered otherwise!


You will need to ensure your marks are maintained to a high enough standard to transfer.

A different course

When one door closes, another opens - maybe, this experience will open your mind to a course that is ultimately more suited to your preferences, your skills, your lifestyle, and the future you imagine for yourself.

To explore your course options, you can find helpful resources below:

  • Your school careers counsellor
  • Websites dedicated to exploring and comparing course options, like Course Seeker or Course Finder
  • University websites, which provide information about their unique campus life, courses, accommodation, fees, extracurriculars, etc.

Step 3: Maximise your chances

To give your best shot at getting into your course, ensure you’ve checked the following boxes:

  • Familiarise yourself with your course requirements, and ensure you meet them.
  • Pre-requisites
  • Additional tests or experience
  • Folios, forms or submissions
  • Record and meet deadlines for your application, plus all of the above.
  • Keep your options open - apply for courses that enable multiple pathways into your first preference.

Your ATAR may be lower than you hoped for, but that doesn’t need to apply to your course, your career, or your future. By considering your options with an open mind, and continuing to do your best, you can achieve whatever you desire.

All the best!

Written by KIS Academics Tutor for UCAT & VCE Psychology, English and Literature, Kiaara Taia. Kiaara is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine at Monash University. She has received excellent reviews from her past and current KIS Academics students. You can view Kiaara’s tutor profile here to request her as a tutor.

Want more personalized study guidance to help drastically improve your marks? A private tutor can make the biggest difference!

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