I bet you hear this question a lot.
‘But if you homeschool, how will they get into uni?’
Well, there are enough answers here for you to trap someone in a corner and bore them to tears with the MANY options we have to move from homeschool to university in Australia.
In fact, only 26% of students who started university in 2016 used an ATAR. The other 74% used alternative entry pathways, like those below.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret….
Most of them are BETTER than completing school.
Honestly, the alternative entry pathways are generally:
- Easier (because getting a high ATAR isn’t easy)
- Faster (it will definitely take less than two years)
- More useful (what employment does an ATAR get you? Nothing!)
Remember, universities are businesses. They want bums in seats. And there are so many homeschoolers now that many universities are catering for their entry needs – like Swinburne.
Not to mention mature aged students, international students, and all the rest who don’t have an ATAR. Universities WANT to give them all pathways to entry, it’s good business sense.
By the time you finish reading this you won’t be worried about university entry AT ALL, and you’ll know your child can access any tertiary education they need.
But first up….
Does your child need to go to university?
This should be your first question, because in many cases a degree isn’t required.
Let’s face it – a degree is at least three years of hard work and HECS fees can be massive.
Starting working life with a huge debt isn’t always necessary (or desirable).
I’ve found that when investigating pathways like fashion, farming, and writing, that there are many other equally valid ways to gain experience.
Internships, certificates, online courses, other alternative courses/classes, and plain hard work and practice are all options. Make sure you investigate thoroughly rather than assuming that university is the best or only pathway.
General University Entry Criteria
Before getting into the specifics, it’s important to know that every university has its own entry criteria, and each degree has its own requirements. You have to meet all the requirements for your desired university and degree before you can enrol. These can include:
- Age. Many universities will only enrol students above a certain age, commonly 15 or 16. Some degrees, such as nursing, have a minimum age of 17 to ensure students are mature enough to deal with common but confronting situations, like nudity or death. Medicine prefers post-graduate entry for the same reason.
- Pre-requisites, such as a maths or science subject to ensure foundational knowledge
Some universities have strict, comprehensive criteria, while others are much more relaxed. You’ll find entry requirements vary wildly between universities and degrees, but this gives you much more chance of finding a pathway that suits you.
Won’t the university just tell me their homeschool pathways?
It’s a great idea to call your desired university to ask about entry pathways. Just be aware that the person you speak to might not know them all.
One person I spoke to at a Queensland university was knowledgeable about their certificate to ATAR conversion. Another had never heard of it.
And, sadly, because universities are businesses they may give you a pathway that is more complicated than it has to be.
My eldest daughter found that many universities tried to push her into their tertiary preparation diploma (adding a year and up to $20,000 in fees without gaining credit toward the degree) or into their diploma of nursing (adding a 6-12 months total study and around $12,000 extra in fees).
However, five universities were happy to offer her direct entry to the nursing degree. Guess which option she took? Yep, she entered a Bachelor of Nursing at 17.
So take everything with a grain of salt, be prepared to research thoroughly, ask a lot of questions, and ask to speak to someone else if needed. And always remember that your child is a potential customer – and a rather lucrative one.
OK, let’s get into the specific homeschool to university entry options!
Homeschool to University Pathways in Australia
Certificate/Diploma to University
In 2017 I presented a homeschool to university workshop. I said TAFE to university was an OK option, but unnecessarily long and expensive.
I’ve changed my mind. I now think that gaining a certificate first is one of the BEST ways to get into uni.
Access to certificate courses has exploded, more have moved online, and government funding exists for many, so they’re easily accessible and can be very cheap, or even free.
The work is generally more structured and easier than university work, providing a gentler transition for kids who have never done any formal education.
And they provide a qualification – choose one in demand and you’ll have a decent job to get you through university or a gap year.
How does certificate to university work?
You get a certificate III, IV, or even a diploma. This provides you with a formal, recognised education history.
Some institutions convert a certificate to an ATAR, while others give specific qualifications direct entry in a related degree.
Let’s look at both options.
Converting a certificate to an ATAR
Many universities, especially in Queensland, have a simple conversion system, where a certificate of a certain level equals a specific ATAR. For example, QUT provide this table in their admissions guide.
See the PLA version above? Other factors can increase the equivalent ATAR. If you live in a rural or remote area, are the first in your family to complete tertiary education, or you’re Indigenous, it may increase your equivalent ATAR.
Or how about something a little tricker….like entry to a Bachelor of Civil Engineering (Honours) at Deakin?
Easy – they’ll consider a related Certificate IV, any diploma, or a related half-completed diploma. Meet one of those and the maths pre-requisite and you’re in!
Direct pathway – certificate to degree
This is ridiculously easy. Many certificates give guaranteed entry into a related degree, so you know when you enrol in the certificate that you’ve got a place at university. TAFEs and independent providers partner with universities to offer this option, and many universities are now offering certificates with clear pathways.
And the majority give you credit in the degree. So a diploma + degree will usually take the same length of time as the degree.
It’s nearly exactly the same as the degree – but much easier to enter.
TAFENSW has set pathways for multiple degrees
Tips for the certificate to university option
- The certificate MUST be Australian Qualifications Framework standard. A certificate that is not AQF registered isn’t recognised. Be wary of dodgy institutions that appear to be nationally accredited, but aren’t.
- A certificate I or II is essentially useless. It doesn’t provide entry to university or employment. Start with at least a certificate III – you should be able to get direct entry into a certificate III. Argue with anyone who tries to push you into a lower certificate.
- TAFE isn’t the only option – and it’s usually the least flexible. Review independent providers before making the final decision. They vary widely in quality and cost, but many are eligible for government subsidies.
Some certificates have entry requirements of their own. You may need to complete a certificate III before entering a higher level. There may be a minimum age. Or they may want academic evidence, which can be as simple as a homemade academic transcript.
If one institution is being difficult (TAFE is notoriously frustrating sometimes), simply try another. There are plenty out there.
Gabrielle completed a certificate III in Medical Administration online with an independent provider at 16. She applied to study nursing and was offered a place at five universities.
Liam was accepted into a triple Diploma of Communication/Marketing/Business at QLD TAFE at 16 after being interviewed by the head of department. On completion he was offered a position into the second year of a Bachelor of Business (first year was credited by the diploma) but chose to run his business instead.
Immi completed a Certificate III in Massage at 16, and continued on to a Certificate IV at 19 and a Diploma at 21. She completed some business courses and worked during this time, and is currently 23 and studying a Bachelor of Physiotherapy.
Georgia accessed a free school-based apprenticeship while homeschooling and completed a Certificate III in Sport and Recreation. This, along with a Senior Instructor Certificate in Martial Arts and two personal references gained her entry into a Sunshine Coast University Social Media Undergraduate Certificate, which leads directly into a Bachelor of Social Media and Digital Marketing.
Hannah completed a Certificate III in Visual Arts, which gained her entry to a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Flinders University.
Georgia completed a Certificate III in Sports and Recreation at 15-16. From ages 16-18 she learned Adobe Creative Cloud and completed Linkedin learning modules, plus junior and senior Martial Arts Instructor courses. With these, and work experience, she enrolled in Social Media and Business courses with USC with plans to transfer to a Bachelor of Digital Marketing.
Lydia completed a certificate IV then diploma in Liberal Arts and after a gap year of full-time work is studying a Bachelor of Counselling with Christian Heritage College.
Isaac completed a diploma in Performing Arts with Vision College, and after a gap year of full-time work is now studying a Bachelor of Psychology at SCU.
Benjamin completed a Certificate III in Animal Science and a Certificate III in Captive Animals. He then completed the first year of a Bachelor of Criminology with Open Universities before deciding to become an electrician. He completed an apprenticeship and a Certificate III in Electrotechnology and ran his own business. He then completed a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and is now an electrical engineer.
Elise completed a Certificate III in Make-Up Services and a Certificate III in Beauty Therapy, then a Certificate IV in Event Management. She then completed a Diploma in Ministry and used this to gain access to a Masters in Ancient History/Theology. She currently works as a university/college lecturer in Theology/Ancient History at age 23.
Jade completed a Certificate III and Certificate IV in Personal Training to gain access to a Bachelor of Health Science. After completing a Master of Teaching he is now a physical education teacher at age 21.
Open Universities for Homeschoolers
OK, let’s come up with the magical unicorn of universities for homeschoolers…….
How about we just enrol in official university subjects with no educational history or pre-requisites, from as young as 13, without jumping through unnecessary hoops?
Dream on, right?
Actually, it exists.
Open Universities Australia (OUA) offers single subjects and full degrees from many Australian universities. Most have no entry requirements. Many are available from the age of 13 (check out age requirements here), and most are fully online.
You can use the subjects you complete to gain direct entry into the associated degree, or to provide an official academic transcript for entry into a degree at another university. Many universities will accept the results of 2-4 subjects as entry to their degrees.
Higher marks generally mean you need to complete fewer subjects before transferring.
OUA also offers enabling courses if you feel like you need a bit of preparation before launching into a university subject. Many of these enabling subjects are free.
The subjects can be quite expensive, but most Australian citizens qualify for HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP.
Tom completed the Uni Ready program through OUA/Curtin University. At 16 he completed an OUA/UNE Law Studies bridging subject. He has been accepted into a Bachelor of Laws at the University of New England. He will study via OUA until he is 17, then can be directly enrolled with UNE.
Elouise started at 15. She completed 3 subjects through OUA and two subjects through Central Queensland University’s SUN program. She was then accepted into a Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science at Griffith University.
Stassi completed the first four subjects of a Bachelor of Arts (Librarianship and Corporate Information Management) via OUA to qualify for admission into the degree. All subjects were credited to the degree. She began at 16.
Harley completed 4 subjects with OUA at 16 and gained entry into a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), Majors in Chemistry and Mathematics with USQ.
May started studying through Open Universities at 12. After completing 4 units she was unable to enter her preferred science or medical degrees due to age, so entered a BA (Communications) degree and completed the diploma level at 15. She now has a guaranteed place in BA (Psychology) at Swinburne, but is stuck overseas due to COVID and unable to begin.
Bridging and Preparation Courses
Many universities offer bridging or preparation courses. They’re typically created for mature-aged students returning to study, who may not have finished school or done any academic study for years.
They include subjects designed to get you ready for university study – typically academic writing, maths, science, and study skills. And some include elective subjects from your intended degree, which you’ll get credit for you when finish and enrol in the degree.
Best of all, most offer guaranteed entry to multiple degrees upon finishing the program, and they’re free – they’re fully government-funded.
Enrolling in a bridging course
Most bridging and preparation courses have no academic entry requirements. However, remember the mature-age audience? Many have an age requirement.
The University of New England’s Pathways Enabling Course will take people from 15. Most others will only accept students who are over 17, 18, or even 21.
If your child isn’t in a rush to go to university, however, they’re a great option. If the university doesn’t list the age requirement, get in contact with them. And make sure you tell there there are thousands of homeschoolers out there eager to access their course from a young age – if they hear it from enough of us they may be tempted to drop the age.
John completed two subjects of the Tertiary Preparation Program at the University of Southern Queensland. This gave him entry to a Bachelor of Arts with a double major of International Relations and Legal Studies.
Standard Tertiary Admissions (STAT) Test
The STAT is a standardised test for people who don’t have sufficient academic history or results to gain access to a degree.
It tests skills such as critical thinking and analysis, NOT academic content.
Not all universities accept STAT results – you’ll need to contact them to ask if you need to do the STAT, or if it will help. The rules tend to be very specific and rigid, so please double-check and confirm them.
You will still need to meet subject pre-requisites, and many universities have a minimum age of 18 for STAT entrants.
Overall, the STAT seems to be more of a supplement than a standalone application method. But if added to a folder of educational evidence it may mean you meet the requirements to enter a degree, especially with more competitive institutions.
Chiara completed the STAT at 18 and gained entry into a Liberal Arts Degree at Campion College based on the results. She also completed a Certificate 3 in Business Administration and Bookkeeping by 18.
Xavier worked until 22, then completed the STAT and entered a Bachelor of Game Design and Development based on STAT results and work/life experience.
Portfolio/Audition Entry to University
Some degrees offer the option of submitting a portfolio or auditioning. This is usually for degrees that require producing creative work like architecture, design, music, fine arts, and communication, but some universities will consider the information in a portfolio for any area.
The portfolio will contain projects and examples of the work in your chosen study area, but can also contain references, details of work experience, awards, qualifications, a personal statement….whatever will be useful.
They essentially want you to show your experience in and commitment to your chosen area of study.
Sometimes a portfolio is mandatory. Either way, make sure you prepare early – it can take quite a while to curate.
Jai did a Certificate III in Library Studies online at 15-16. After working for a few years as a chef’s apprentice they started a Bachelor of Communications in Professional Writing at 19, with entry based on a portfolio of writing, the certificate, and an interview. Jai is now 27 and studying a Juris Doctor.
Marie entered a Bachelor of Music (Classical Piano) at Griffith University at 18. Entry is via audition and interview. Griffith has pre-requisites of Grade 6 Piano and Grade 5 Musicianship (Marie had achieved 8 and 5) and assumed Year 12 English skills.
UniLearn and other ATAR equivalents
If you feel you MUST complete a Year 12 equivalent and/or get an ATAR, there are some options.
The UniLearn Ready Program provides online subjects equivalent to Year 11/12. You can use them as university pre-requisites, or to obtain a Queensland Certificate of Education. You can submit your certified statement of achievement to a University Admissions Centre to receive an ATAR.
You can receive a maximum ATAR of 88.00, and the program costs $4125 (ouch).
These may be good options for teens who enjoy the structure of a classroom and want to build more of an academic foundation before tackling university. TAFE-based courses also provide clear pathways into vocational qualifications.
Not all provide an ATAR, so check carefully.
What about the really HARD degrees?
Alright, so all the above strategies are straightforward if you want to get into a reasonably low-competition degree.
But what about the degrees that are really competitive and require insanely high ATARs, at institutions that don’t have many flexible application options?
These include medicine, aerospace engineering, midwifery, actuarial studies, physiotherapy, and veterinary medicine.
It’s definitely still possible to enter these degrees without an ATAR. And when you consider the work and difficulty of getting an ATAR above 95 (with no guarantee you’ll achieve it), these pathways are usually quicker, easier, and less stressful.
Start an easier degree, and transfer to the more difficult degree
Essentially, get into the best degree you can, work your tail off, get a high GPA, then apply to transfer after 2-8 subjects. You can also do this with OUA subjects.
Generally, higher marks mean fewer subjects are needed to transfer.
Definitely contact the university to get guidance for this – you don’t want to complete a year of a degree only to find it doesn’t count towards your desired degree. Many are happy to work with you to come up with an accepted pathway.
But here are some ideas.
- For medicine, start a general science degree and choose subjects related to health.
- For veterinary science, do the same, but choose zoology subjects.
- For midwifery, enter nursing and follow the set subjects.
- For aerospace engineering, consider straight engineering.
- For physiotherapy, look at exercise science.
Whichever way you choose, expect to work hard and get the best marks you can – it will pay off when you’re admitted to the degree that was impossible a few months earlier.
Enter as a postgraduate
Don’t write this one off as too much work! Postgraduate degrees are usually much shorter than undergraduate degrees, so adding them together may only add a year total to your study time. And you’ll have two qualifications.
Plus, this is a great pathway if you have a young child with big plans. They can start and complete their base degree young, well before they’d be eligible to begin the more competitive degree. This allows them to study at home and make progress toward their end goal until they reach the age where they can study on campus and/or move away from home.
Ideas: A Bachelor of Medical Sonography/Graduate Diploma of Medical Sonography takes four years full-time on campus. Or you can complete a Graduate Diploma of Medical Ultrasound in 1.5 years after completing any 3-year undergraduate health degree.
A midwifery degree takes 3 years, but entry is very competitive. Nursing is a 3-year degree and incredibly easy to enter, and you can add on a Graduate Diploma of Midwifery in 12-18 months (and then work as a nurse AND a midwife – gold in rural hospitals).
Biomedical Science/Medicine – Mila studied 2 psychology subjects through OUA at 16, and completed them with high marks. She was accepted at four universities via QTAC into a Bachelor of Biomedical Science. She is currently studying Biomedical Science at Griffith University with plans to study postgraduate medicine.
Veterinary Science – Nat completed a biology unit through Open Universities at age 13 and a chemistry unit with SUN at 14. With high marks in both, she used those two units to enter a Bachelor of Veterinary Technology with Charles Sturt. She will use her high GPA in this degree and work experience in the field to transfer to Veterinary Science in 2022 (was intended for 2021, but was unable to complete a practical component due to COVID restrictions blocking travel).
Engineering – James completed the SAT exam at age 10. He then completed two USC HeadStart engineering subjects at age 11, and then with a letter of support from his lecturer was offered entry into a Bachelor of Engineering at age 12. Admission was via their Exceptional Cases policy due to age.
Psychiatry – Sam completed 3 pathways units with OUA at 14, and then completed three subjects with Swinburne and Griffith with marks 80%+. This gained her entry to a Bachelor of Psychological Science with Griffith at age 16, which she is about to complete at 19. Future plans include a Masters with Monash next year, and postgraduate medicine to eventually qualify as a psychiatrist.
Remember that new options regularly become available. For example, FutureLearn offers online degrees. Many colleges in the US accept certificates from online courses from FutureLearn, EdX, and Coursera, and this is becoming an option in Australia too.
A few universities have begun offering university subjects to high schoolers. These are usually free or discounted and provide a direct pathway into acceptance into the degree.
For example, CQU’s SUN program outlines the entry requirements for homeschooled students. This is great, because when the program was first released I phoned them and there were NO options for homeschoolers.
However, there still seem to be some issues in enrolling homeschooled children. Universities are still adapting to our typically non-standard learning and educational histories. So get in contact with the universities, discuss your options, and see how you can translate your learning into a form they recognise.
I’ll do my best to update and add any new options here, but if you find a pathway I’ve missed that doesn’t mean it’s not valid – go for it. (And please let me know, thanks!)
Finally, don’t forget to use any entry boosters you can. There are specific pathways, bridging courses, and qualifications for Indigenous Australians, and many institutions will relax their criteria for rural/remote students, those with a low family income, the first in the family to go to university, circumstances that affected your education (like illness), and many others.
These circumstances also make you more eligible for scholarships – don’t forget to apply for them.
How to choose a university pathway
I guess your head is spinning now, right? It’s great there are all these options for homeschoolers to go to university, but how do you CHOOSE one?
- Choose a degree
For the average multi-passionate homeschooler, this can take a while.
Start with the end in mind. What do you want to do as a job? What are your options for getting there? Find people who are doing what you’d like to do and ask them how they got there – the answers can be surprising.
Plus, try it if you can. You wouldn’t be the first to fall in love with a career option, only to find that you don’t really like it in practice. I wanted to be a vet for years, but volunteering showed me that I really don’t like animals THAT much….
2. Create your master document
Find all the universities that offer the required degree. Add all the essential details to a single document.
If you check out the document above you can see they vary wildly. On one end of the scale, the University of South Australia has a diploma/degree pathway that anyone can access. On the other, the University of Sydney requires an ATAR of 85, a diploma, mature age of 21, or 48CP from another degree.
(Really want Sydney? Do the diploma in SA and transfer to the degree in Sydney. Easy!)
3. Choose where to apply
Out of all your options, which look accessible, from an entry perspective?
Of those, which look like decent courses? Is on-campus or external an option you prefer? Do any institutions or areas attract you more? Make a short list.
4. Plan to meet the requirements
Now you have your requirements, it’s time to work out a way to meet them. Plan out a pathway with timeline. Decide when you’d like to start your degree, and work back from there to ensure you’ll have the right combination of credit points, pre-requisites, certificates, and portfolio submissions to qualify.
Or you could try the random approach (great for more spur-of-the-moment decisions).
My daughter got a certificate III and then applied for 16 different nursing degrees, expecting that it wouldn’t get her a place at university. Instead, she was offered a place at FIVE universities. Most of them had no information about using a certificate for entry anywhere on their website. She figured if she didn’t get any offers she’d start a diploma of nursing. She was 16 so wasn’t in a rush – but she’s very glad she gave it a shot.
And that’s about it! I hope that your worries about homeschool to university pathways have disappeared and you have some clear pathway ideas ready if needed. Feel free to send any stressed-out family and friends here to get them off your back!
If you have a real-life example you’re happy to share please send it to me – I’d love to give parents and teens as many proven examples as possible.
And if you want help getting your homeschool on-track, embracing natural learning, and ditching the stress, please check out Zero to Homeschool for step-by-step guidance and help.