The ongoing uncertainty brought on by 18 months of COVID-interrupted study is driving a surge in year 12 students seeking and securing offers for university courses before they sit their HSC exams.
On Friday the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) announced students' ATARs will not be released until Thursday, January 20 next year.
Coming on the back of rescheduled trial and HSC exams and in the wake of the intermittent lockdowns and enforced home-schooling, Canobolas Rural Technology High School year 12 student Tyler Dent said the appeal of early entry to university was increasingly obvious to the class of 2021.
"The last two years have been really difficult for us. With lockdowns and lots of things involved with our classes being cancelled, our study has been massively interrupted," she said.
"So many students are stressing about exams and ATARs and offers, even more so than in previous years because of all the interruptions we've faced.
Employers have told us that soft skills are often just as important as the technical skills students learn as part of their university qualification.Charles Sturt Executive Director of Students, Shawn Walker
"Having a place in a university course locked in takes so much pressure off and gives you room to breathe and relax."
In late May Ms Dent applied for early entry to study a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. One month later - on her birthday, no less - she received an offer from the university to study the course.
Ms Dent's pathway into the higher education system is an increasingly common one for high school students. In the last three months Charles Sturt has fielded applications for its early entry program, Charles Sturt Advantage, from almost 3800 school leavers - an increase of 73 per cent on 2020's figures.
The unprecedented wave of interest in pre-ATAR routes to tertiary courses has led the university to open a third round of applications for its Advantage program.
Charles Sturt Executive Director of Students Mr Shawn Walker said at this stage around 1950 applications had been processed, leading to almost 1500 offers to school students, 1300 of which had already been accepted.
He said the program's emphasis on 'soft skills' - resilience, empathy, teamwork and other qualities - meant the door to university could be opened to those who are concerned their interrupted studies would impact on their ATAR.
"Employers have told us that soft skills are often just as important as the technical skills students learn as part of their university qualification," Mr Walker said.
"Charles Sturt Advantage recognises students' ability to show their other fantastic qualities and their commitment to making a world worth living in."
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