“Don’t tell my boss,” Kiara Osborne laughs, as she sits in the library at uni, “but we were just Googling courses online, and that’s when we stumbled upon the Western Sydney University website and saw The College.

“When it said that I didn’t need an ATAR, I just thought, ‘Wow, yep – that’s it’.”

It’s a memory she can look back on fondly now that she’s in her second year of uni. But as someone who never finished secondary school and didn’t get an ATAR, Kiara never dreamed she’d be able to study for a university degree.

“Growing up with not a lot of support, I didn’t have that family group that could say, ‘Look, just keep going – go to year 12’,” she remembers. “Getting mixed up in certain crowds as well, it’s hard to have Year 12 and your ATAR as the end goal, so I thought, ‘I’m going to leave, this isn’t for me – I need to go into the workforce’.

Because of the fact that I didn’t finish school, I just thought, ‘No, uni isn’t a possibility’

“But after being in the workforce for about three years with the same employer, I just thought, ‘there’s gotta be more than this’.”

It was only through the encouragement of a co-worker that Kiara began to even consider that she might be able to find a way to go to uni without an ATAR.

“I was at work and a colleague and I were having a discussion on how I was progressing, and she says, ‘Your brain – it just needs to go to university’. But because of the fact that I didn’t finish school, I just thought, ‘No, uni isn’t a possibility’.”

No ATAR? No worries

It’s something that a lot of people believe: that having a low ATAR score – or no ATAR at all – means that they’ll never have the opportunity to go to uni.  But with the encouragement of her workmates, Kiara found the confidence that she’d be able to succeed at study – and the place that would allow her to start right away.

“I understand my ability now,” she explains. “I realised after I’d gone through the workforce and matured as a person that I needed to get back into study. I thought, ‘Yep, I’m going to go to uni’ – and I found The College.”

As the official pathway provider to Western Sydney University, The College offers Higher Education Diplomas that don’t require an ATAR to enrol in, and allow students to jump straight into the second year of a bachelor degree after either 12 or 16 months of study – with choices from Science, IT and Engineering, to Business, Design and Nursing.

wsu western sydney university the college library kingswood

With no ATAR, Kiara never imagined she’d have the opportunity to study in the WSU library

Better yet, the courses include Commonwealth supported places, and all eligible students can apply for interest-free HECS-HELP loans, so money wasn’t a hurdle stopping Kiara from starting right away – there wasn’t even an application fee.

Even with the support from her workmates, though, the idea of studying at university was still a scary one, something she feels is common for anyone taking a different path to uni.

“I think the main worry was that I had finished school so early in my life,”she explains, “so I was really scared that I wasn’t going to understand uni. I’d put it on such a high pedestal, and I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to understand any of this, and I’m so far behind’.

I had finished school so early in my life, so I was really scared that I wasn’t going to understand uni

“Considering that people go to Year 12 and then they advance to uni, the fact that I never got there in the first place just made me feel like I was starting behind, and I that I’d really have to make a big effort to catch up.

“It was daunting for the fact that I didn’t feel smart enough,” Kiara admits, “and I think that’s a common thing with a lot of people, but I think that’s why The College is so good: they just understand that the ATAR doesn’t define you, and they cater their support to that.”

The support to succeed

When she started her Arts diploma at The College, all her fears disappeared, as she found the support she needed to start her tertiary study off on the right foot.

“The staff at The College are really awesome,” she beams, “because they generally take that extra time out of their day to ensure that, if you’re struggling, they’ll give you some assistance and they’ll try to answer your questions as best they can.

“I generally have a few tutors that are really close to me because they can see that I’m trying really hard, and when I don’t understand something, that’s their job.

“They’re really passionate about their jobs, and that’s why The College is great – because of that higher level of support, engagement, and care.”

kiara wsu western sydney university the college

After not completing high school or receiving an ATAR, Kiara is now eying off a transfer into a Law degree

According to Kiara, The College places a greater emphasis on giving new students the one-on-one support they need, and forming good study habits from day one.

“They asked us, ‘How was your first week at The College? What did you expect going into it?’ Reflecting on the experiences, it made me realise that we were addressing the issues that I had in the first week head on, and they gave me solutions, so it was really helpful.

“With the friendly interaction with the teachers, giving you that ‘it’s going to be okay’ attitude, you understand that if you take it as it comes, it’s a lot easier. And I found that when you’re listening and engaging, it’s really easy.”

They just understand that the ATAR doesn’t define you, and they cater their support to that

It wasn’t just her teachers that gave Kiara what she needed from uni, either – she also found a great friendship group to compare notes with, and share the experience of being on campus.

“Right from the orientation, I started building a good social group,” she says. “I have a group of five friends, and they’re really awesome. We kind of stick it out together, and where one of us lacks in one area, we kind of pick it up in the other. It’s really important in order to understand the content, so I was really lucky for that – I was just blessed from the start.

“Coming onto campus is really awesome, because you get to have that interaction with your friends, and have that interaction with the teachers. It’s just a real genuine, tangible experience – you’ll get the most out of it face to face. I think just being there and being amongst it is really special.”

You can choose your own path

Despite worrying about not being able to keep up at uni, Kiara’s not behind at all. In fact, she now has her eyes set on another goal she never would have imagined even a year ago.

“I originally wanted to do just an Arts degree and then major in Psychology,” she tells us, “but at the moment I’ve managed to keep a pretty high grade point average, so I thought ‘why not go down a different path?’

More students like Kiara tell their stories of success at The College

“I’ve had discussion with my first year coordinator, and now once I get into my second year next year, I’m hoping to transfer into Law.”

For Kiara, her first year at The College has been a life-changer, and she encourages other people like herself to take that opportunity too

Once I get into my second year next year, I’m hoping to transfer into Law

“The College is just perfect for anyone looking to advance to tertiary studies, being from a low socioeconomic background, or someone who just wasn’t able to give their ATAR a good crack – I’d definitely recommend doing it.”

If you’re looking to find your own pathway to uni, just remember: the ATAR is just a number, and doesn’t decide your career for you – that’s completely up to you.

Start right now

If you didn’t qualify for an ATAR, didn’t finish school, or don’t have any other equivalent study qualification, you can enrol in a 16-month Extended Diploma. Or, with an ATAR of 55 or above, you can finish an Integrated Diploma/Bachelor in just 12 months.

Whichever course you complete, you’ll then receive guaranteed entry into the corresponding bachelor degree at Western Sydney University – jumping straight into your second year.

You can apply directly to Western Sydney University right now, with no application fee, and a combination of Commonwealth supported places and interest-free HECS-HELP loans letting eligible students study now and pay later.

Better yet, you don’t need to wait until next year to take the first steps towards your career. Term 3 2018 enrolments are open from now until Monday October 1, and classes start on October 29, meaning you’ll have already finished your first term by the end of January.

“I know it’s very daunting,” Kiara says, “but in life you generally have to push past that in order to achieve what you want, so you’ve got to try and get rid of the safety blanket and kind of just go in headfirst.”