Alternative Pathways into University

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Pathway courses into university.

Where there's a will, there's a way. The most common pathway into university is to complete HSC and achieve a high ATAR score. But alternatives exist.

  • You may be able to get credit for TAFE (VET) qualifications or relevant experience.
  • Purpose-built pathway programs let you prove you have what it takes to succeed at university.

We've reviewed the admission procedures and pathway programs of leading Australian online universities. We're pleased to say the unis do a good job of providing access for future students.

Whether you didn't finish high school, got ordinary grades, or finished a long time ago, many alternative pathways into university are available.

1. TAFE (VET) to Uni

You can gain entry to university with a Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification. You normally need an accredited certificate IV, diploma or advanced diploma, which are available through TAFE, colleges and some universities.

VET qualifications can be used to gain entry into many types of courses, including Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business. Your diploma or advanced diploma should normally be in a subject relevant to the degree.

VET is a good pathway to university because you gain a qualification after your first year of study. It also helps you to be sure you’ve chosen the right subject and career path before committing to a degree.

Articulation agreements / dual award programs

Doing a VET course before university usually increases overall study time. However, you may be able to get partial or even full credit for the units completed. The best way to ensure this is to enrol in a VET course that is linked to university programs.

VET providers may have articulation agreements with universities (also called dual award programs). Under these arrangements, students completing VET courses automatically gain entry into university. They also get credit (advanced standing) for previous study. Articulation arrangements are most commonly in place for business studies.

2. Online Pathway Programs

Australian universities provide online pathway programs. They allow future students to gain entry into degree courses. The programs are similar to the TAFE to Uni option. You do a course that provides a qualification and entry into uni, with credit potentially available for completed units.

Foundation diplomas

A foundation diploma gets you started on university study without needing a high ATAR. However, you may need to do well on academic diagnostic tests to gain entry into the courses.

USQ has several foundation diplomas, covering different disciplines. The diplomas are 1-year online courses for which you can receive up to a year of credit towards a degree.

Tertiary preparation programs

Tertiary preparation programs are free or low-cost courses in which you can develop and demonstrate academic ability. Online universities test you to see if you would make a good online student.

USQ's prep program is free to Australians and permanent residents of Australia. You do from 3-8 units.

UNE has a similar pathways program. The Pathways Enabling Course is also online and free. Students complete 4 units, including 2 academic prep units and 2 which can be used as credit towards a degree.

3. Recognition of Prior Learning

You can gain entry into degree courses by asking the university for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Prior learning consists of formal and informal education as well as relevant experience. RPL is a common pathway for mature-age students.

  • Formal education includes study towards university degrees and accredited diplomas and certificates.
  • Informal education is structured education towards a qualification that is not officially recognised in Australia.
  • Experience-based learning is gained through work and non-work activities and experiences.

Future students need to produce appropriate evidence of prior learning. Universities aim to ensure they only admit candidates with solid prospects of graduating. Generally, the relevant academic department assesses applications.

Note that universities also offer Credit for Prior Learning (CPL). Receiving credit reduces the number of units you must do to earn a degree.