Alternative Pathways to Higher Education

If you are considering university studies but think that you won’t qualify for entry, there are a range of support programs and different pathways available to you.

University entry has historically been achievable by successful completion of year 12 and gaining a TER score at the minimum level or above for a particular course.

While this pathway continues to be an effective one for many, it is not the only way to access further education at university.

If you have:

·       not studied the pre-requisite subjects for your chosen course;

·       not achieved an adequate TER score for entry;

·       left education early and are seeking a return to studies;

·       not studied for a long time (e.g. due to family duties) and wish to re-enter studies;

new alternative entry points have recently been developed and are available to assist a broader field of applicants to access university level education.  Most universities within Australia are developing and offering a range of “alternative entry pathways”.

Let’s explore these further…


Enabling Courses

Enabling courses can be used to develop entry level skills for university studies.  These courses can provide foundational skills for successfully university careers.

Enabling courses are often offered over one semester and are administered in smaller, highly supported groups which assist students to acclimatise to the university environment and develop skills in academic studying and writing.  Successful completion will often guarantee entry to the course of choice and gain credit for one unit.


Enabling Outreach Courses

Some larger universities are now offering outreach services, similar to the enabling courses above, but with more assisted learning and smaller groups.  These courses are for those wishing to enter tertiary education but needing a highly supported entry point.  The universities may also work with Community organisations and Job Search Agencies to deliver the courses in a more accessible location for students.


Bridging Courses

Similar to Enabling Courses, bridging courses offer students an opportunity to further develop skills in prerequisite areas (e.g. science) prior to gaining entry to their chosen course of study.


Special Tertiary Admissions Test

For those considered “mature age” (in many states this is where a prospective student is over 19 years of age in the year of application) there are further options.  You can sit a Special Tertiary Admissions Test, which is usually sat on one day and includes a general intelligence element and an essay.  The results from these tests provide a score which can be used in lieu of a TER in applying for a university course.

Local colleges often offer preparation courses to assist students to understand the test format and reduce anxiety in sitting the STAT test.


Vocational Education Training & TAFE Pathways

Many universities and TAFE’s have an agreed pathway arrangement where a student can commence a course at Cert III, IV and then continue to Diploma level and transition into a specified university level course on completion.

For many learners, this is a preferable process, as it offers short term goals, an opportunity to re-enter study for a shorter period and gain confidence, while building skills and providing clear progress points along the way.  There are instances where a university will give credit for work (usually at Diploma/Advanced Diploma) level and advanced standing into the course of choice, thus reducing the overall time in study.


Credit for Recognised Learning (CRL)

Credit for Recognition Learning (previously RPL or Recognition of Prior Learning) is another approach for those with previous study or work experience (paid or voluntary) where they can demonstrate certain skills in an area.  Each institution has their own preferred method of applying CRL and should be contacted directly.


Portfolio Entry

Portfolio Entry allows prospective students (both school leavers and mature entry candidates) to use a combination of WACE courses, Vocational Education course results, training, endorsed programs along with an introductory letter, resume and letters of support to apply for a place.


Vocational Education Training (VET) in Schools

Some students within the high school system will choose not to work towards university entry via an ATAR program.  While there may be an ambition to gain entry, some student’s learning styles are better supported in the VET system and using the VET Vocational Education Training programs offered through schools may provide assistance in gaining entry to the field of study sought.

For example, a student may choose a VET course in Cert III Health Services, post Year 11-12 this can be followed by a Cert IV in Preparation for Nursing, then a Diploma of Nursing.  This can then create a pathway to university and there may be an ability to apply credits the Nursing course.


Ready to start learning?

If you are interested in any of the above options, it is important to talk to someone who can help you:

Contact your local TAFE, Registered Training Organisation or University directly, ask your school Career Adviser, or contact me to discuss your needs in identifying your best pathway to success.

Note:  This blog has been previously published on and has been edited for publication here.