Careers Corner - Alternative Pathways to University


With Year 12 students finishing their HSC exams this week, many are now focusing their attention to what comes next as they plan to embark on tertiary education. I can still remember stressing about my own exam results when I was 18, worried that I would fall short of the high entry requirements needed to allow me entry into my university of choice.

In the past, entry to university was fairly clear-cut; if you didn’t make the grade, you didn’t get in. Fortunately for our students today, many options are open for those who don’t manage to secure the grades they needed to transition directly into their first choice course.

Most institutions offer alternative entry to applicants who do not meet the usual admission requirements. Although the pathways discussed in this week’s Careers Corner relate to primarily to Australian institutions, similar pathways are found around the world.


Foundation Courses

In Australia, Foundation Courses are offered for both international and domestic students and tend to have a special focus on English and preparation for tertiary studies. Completing a Foundation Year does not mean a student will automatically be accepted into university, but will depend on how they perform. Some Foundation courses are run by Universities which use them as a stepping-stone to entry, while others are run by separate schools as feeders to a number of different institutions. At AISM, we recommend Foundation Courses to students who complete Year 12, but fail to achieve the ATAR they require. We also only recommend such courses for students who have a very clear idea of what they want to study - as these courses only equip students for a narrow field of study. Some families are tempted to enroll their children in Foundation Courses before finishing Year 12, but this can be fraught with problems as students have not had long enough to experience a wider variety of subjects and determine where their skills and interests lie. Careers and Pathways planning is all about finding a direction that suits a student’s interests, abilities and passion. Students need time to find out what these are. A good example of a foundation course provider is UTS:INSEARCH that prepares students for courses at University of Technology Sydney (

Vocational Courses (such as TAFE)

Countries around the world offer various vocational tertiary education courses for students who wish more practical training in a specific area. In Australia, these technical options are known as TAFE courses. TAFE colleges award Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) qualifications accredited in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector that align to Certificate and Diploma qualifications. In many instances TAFE study is used as partial credit towards bachelor's degree-level university programs, so students can use their TAFE qualification to secure a degree course. An example of a popular TAFE course is the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care, developing various skills including child development and creative experience. Students are required to take 240 hours of work experience during the course, and graduates often then enroll in a Bachelors of Education. For more information see

Changing university courses

Students who have only just missed out on gaining a place on their preferred course might consider changing their course for one that they do have the grades for. This can be done online, or by contacting the university directly depending the country you are applying to. If a particular university is a high priority, it might even be a good idea to apply for a couple of courses at that institution from the start. Depending on the degree and the university in question, it might even be possible to switch back the first choice degree over the course of the degree. Please visit for an example of changing university courses at the Unveristy of Sydeny.