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Why all of your UAC preferences matter

13 September 2017
7 tips to make sense of UAC preferences

Choosing your university degree is a big decision. Secure your dream course by making the most of your UAC preferences.

For many students, receiving their ATAR results will prompt a rethink on their university and subject choice. More than 25,000 students are expected to change their UAC preferences between receiving their ATAR and the closing date for change of preferences.

So how do UAC preferences actually work – and can you make them work for you?

The University of Sydney's head of undergraduate recruitment, Jit Loh, has close to 10 years’ experience advising students as they make one of the biggest decisions of their lives and prepare to take the next step to university.

He shares his top 7 tips to help prospective students make sense of UAC preferences and find the right path to university.

1. Be true to yourself

"Choose a course based on what you enjoy and are passionate about, not because you don't want to 'waste' your ATAR," Loh says.

"Your dreams and goals don't disappear if you don't reach that elusive mark. After one year of full-time study, your university results are what count – not your ATAR. Follow your passions and interests, and success and fulfilment will follow too."

2. Look at more than just the course alone

"It's not uncommon for students to become so fixated on one ATAR mark that they lose sight of the big picture of what university can offer them. Academic life at university is important, but you stand to gain so much more from the next 3-5 years than book knowledge alone," says Loh.

"Once you've added in your ideal preferences, look at where you would most like to study rather than what you'll study. If ultimately you're offered a place in a course you didn't really have your heart set on, you can still reap the benefits and engage in the wider student experience on offer until you make the change to a course you'll love."

3. Do your research

"Even if your ideal course has a competitive ATAR, it's best to keep it as your first preference as this is the course you most want to do. When choosing your remaining preferences, look for similar courses - those that will allow you to take similar subjects in your first year," he says.

"After one year of study you can then apply to transfer and look at having those subjects credited to your new degree. This isn't unusual – up to 30 percent of students at the University of Sydney transfer their degrees during their time with us.

"This is a good option if you’re applying for a competitive double degree like Arts/Law. By starting off in an Arts degree, you are taking subjects that will ‘count’ if you were to transfer after your first year of study. In this case, these would be exactly the same as those taken by a student enrolled in an Arts/Law course. Alternatively, you could choose to complete your Bachelor of Arts degree and pursue a law degree at the postgraduate level."

4. Understand how UAC preferences work

"UAC preferences are designed to benefit students so that every student has the opportunity to list their dream courses and still include options that are more realistically attainable," says Loh.

"Each UAC applicant can list up to 5 preferences across institutions, and they will be assessed by the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) based on ATAR achievement and if there are any additional admissions criteria. If you're eligible and competitive enough for the first preferences you've listed, you’ll be made an offer to that course and the rest of your preferences won’t be considered."

5. Use all your 5 preferences

"Every preference is an opportunity to gain entry to University – the more options you have, the more chances you have of securing a place. Yet on average students only list five preferences on their UAC application," says Loh.

"Start with your ideal course and include others that are similar, of interest to you, and have previous ATAR cut-offs that are more within reach based on your results.

"A lot of students feel you have 'less' of a chance because something is lower down in your list of preferences, which isn’t the case. You'll receive an offer for the first course in your list that you are eligible and competitive for, so why not start with your dream course and fill all preferences?"

6. Check and change

"While not all courses or institutions have places available in the later rounds, use your application to its full advantage and reshuffle your preferences to be considered for an additional offer in later rounds," says Loh.

"You can receive an offer in more than one round, so the later offer rounds may be a second chance to study what you want and where you want. You have nothing to lose and your previous offers are not impacted."

7. Join an Info Day before it’s too late 

"It's hard to imagine buying a car without a test drive, yet this is effectively what many students do before joining uni by not attending Info Day," says Loh.

"Brochures and websites can only give a limited view into what to really expect at university. So why not seize this chance to take a campus tour, speak to current students and staff and explore the full range of options ahead? You've worked too hard to settle for second best."

The University of Sydney’s Info Day is on Saturday 16 December 2017.