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High school survey results - PART 3 - pathway decisions and support

Wednesday 10th, August 2022

ATAR Notes

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PART 1: ATAR importance + uni perceptions PART 2: ATAR aims + high school subjects

Back in mid-2020, we surveyed more than 1,000 high school students across Australia, focusing on a wide range of issues centred on the high school experience, university expectations, and decision-making factors. You can find our first two articles analysing the results here and here. After a bit of a break, we’re back for part three in our results analysis series.

Of our respondents, ~58% of students were based in Victoria, ~27% in New South Wales, and ~14% in Queensland – but we also had respondents from Western Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory. 99.84% of respondents were in the Year 10-12 student body.

HIGH SCHOOL SURVEY KEY TAKEAWAYS: PART 3

PATHWAY DECISIONS AND SUPPORT

In this third article, we will focus on four main high school survey questions, namely:

  • Do you plan to apply for at least one course through an administrative body such as VTAC, UAC, or QTAC?

  • Do you know what your first preference will be?

  • From what you know, do you think the course application process is overwhelming?

  • Do you feel well supported in terms of the course application process?

Do you plan to apply for at least one course through an administrative body such as VTAC, UAC, or QTAC?

Come the end of Year 12, eligible students have the opportunity to apply for tertiary courses through administrative bodies such as VTAC (Victoria), UAC (New South Wales), and QTAC (Queensland). According to VTAC, for instance:

“The Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) is a hub for tertiary course applications in Victoria. VTAC receives, processes and forwards course applications to universities, TAFEs and independent tertiary colleges in Victoria (and a few outside Victoria). VTAC does not decide who gets into a course. All decisions about which applicants are offered a place are made by institutions. VTAC also processes special consideration claims through the SEAS application and some scholarship applications. VTAC’s other role is calculating the ATAR for Year 12 students.”

Whether to make an application for tertiary courses through such a body is just one decision high school students face. As such, we asked our audience if – at time of completing the survey – they planned to make an application. There were only two options: “Yes” and “No”.

QUESTION: Do you plan to apply for at least one course through an administrative body such as VTAC, UAC, or QTAC?

Across the states states, the majority of respondents (77%) indicated that they did plan to apply for at least one course through such a body. Although at least 70% said yes across each of the three states, there was one major difference: more students in Victoria (27.4%) said they did not plan to apply than students in either New South Wales (16.9%) or Queensland (15.7%).

There are several possible reasons for this, one of which being that Year 12 students made up a smaller proportion of respondents in Victoria (58.7%) than in the other two states (NSW: 72.5%, QLD: 68.6%). Given the Victorian audience was, on average, younger, it may have been the case that that audience had simply not thought as much about pathway decisions and, therefore, was more likely to select “No”.

Given we explicitly listed VTAC, UAC, and QTAC as example institutions, this question may have been confusing for students from other states; they may not have been familiar with any of these examples. Regardless, the overall results demonstrate a strong leaning from the surveyed students toward applying for at least one tertiary course on conclusion of their high school studies.

Do you know what your first preference will be?

If students do decide to apply for tertiary courses, they then need to decide how to order their list of preferences. Doing so provides institutions like VTAC, UAC, and QTAC an indication of the student’s desires, and impacts eventual course offers.

We asked the 77% of students who answered “Yes” to the previous question if they knew what their first preference would be. The options were again simply “Yes” and “No”.

QUESTION: Do you know what your first preference will be?

Overall, more than two-thirds of respondents (69.2%) indicated they knew what their first preference would be. This is perhaps surprising given the results were taken mid year (June-July) – although, of course, that’s not to say a number of respondents didn’t change their mind between completing the survey and submitting their preferences.

Of the three states, students in New South Wales seemed to be the most sure (74.9% responding “Yes”), and students in Victoria seemed to be the least sure (66.3% responding “Yes”). The Victorian figure may again be impacted by the greater proportion of younger students. Interestingly, the Queensland figure may also be impacted by the introduction of the new ATAR system; as the 2020 cohort was the first in Queensland to receive ATARs (as opposed to the previous OP system), the student body may have been less certain about ATAR requirements and, therefore, course applications and preferences.

Speaking of (un)certainty:

From what you know, do you think the course application process is overwhelming? Do you feel well supported in terms of the application process?

On the back of the questions above, we also wanted to know what students thought of the application process, and if they felt supported. These questions were again only asked to those who indicated they planned to apply for at least one tertiary course.

QUESTION: From what you know, do you think the course application process is overwhelming?

QUESTION: Do you feel well supported in terms of the course application process?

The results from these two questions suggest that almost three quarters (74%) of respondents found the course application process overwhelming, but a much smaller proportion (54.7%) felt well supported through the process. The gap was particularly noticeable in Queensland, where only 43.4% of respondents felt well supported – perhaps again due to the new ATAR system and uncertainty surrounding it.

When asked “Are there any resources/information/events that would make the application process easier? If so, what?”, qualitative responses included things like (note that responses below are unedited):

  • “Outlines of what documentation is needed at what stages and when it is required by.”

  • “Webinars with students studying at the unis from different situations i.e country kids moving to the city”

  • “Just a timeline at this point would be helpful. With everything going on this year I don’t really know how the process is going to go and when any deadlines are.”

  • “Virtual open days, more course information, uni accomodation information”

  • “an event where we can experience an actual class/lecture (spending a whole day like a university student)”

Keep an eye out for the next analysis article, featuring things like preferred university pathways!


Analysis presented in this article is based on the results of an opt-in student survey, promoted to Year 10-12 high school students across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia. Responses were collected between June 2020 and July 2020. Analysis is ongoing and is subject to change.

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