Alternate Education Pathways 

During high school, it can feel like achieving a good Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking.ATAR and going to university is the only option. But this isn’t true — there are so many choices out there for you! Figuring out what pathway you want to take as a young person can be challenging, and it can be even more challenging as a disabled young person. 

Education looks different for everyone. Some students:

  • Attend school in person
  • Attend via distance education
  • Are homeschooled
  • Learn following alternative teaching methods, such as Montessori and Steiner
  • Leave school before year 12 to pursue trades or a TAFE education.

Every student learns in a unique way, and there are many pathways to success. 

Many young people unfortunately feel a lot of pressure to make big decisions at an early age and stick with them, and to fit into certain expectations or ideals.  Some of the best experiences in life happen when you explore different opportunities, try new things, give something a go, and then realise you love it, or hate it, you’re great at it or it is not your “thing”. 

Most importantly, remember that success is defined by you – it doesn’t have to look the same for all of us.   

Four of our YDAS team members, Caitlin, Mac, Kelsey, and Mackenzie wrote about what they know and some experiences they’ve had within alternate education and employment.  


“Through my personal experience in high-school and as a Social Work student at YDAS, I have seen repeatedly schools pushing the idea that VCE is the only option to be successful. How every student learns is unique. Some students may benefit from being in a TAFE environment for year 11 and year 12. Some may prefer to go straight into a trade. Most students do not know what they want to do with their life by age 16, 17 and 18. There are so many pathways available. It can take longer depending on what you want to do, but an ATAR or a high-school diploma is not the only way to succeed. Students should be made aware of all options available, rather than pressured to think they will fail in life without completing VCE. I have a family member who left high-school early and did not know what he wanted to do for 10 years. He went back to law school and is now a top lawyer in his specialty. There are many pathways to success.” - Caitlin (she/her)  


“I graduated from high school in 2022. Like for many young people, high school wasn’t an easy time for me. I was lucky to have discovered the many different education pathways that do exist; however, I do wish I knew about them way sooner. In high school there is a massive push that you must study hard, ace all your tests, get a good ATAR so you can get into a good university and end up with a good job. This is so restrictive and the furthest from the truth. While yes, I did graduate high school with an ATAR, I just missed the score I needed by 0.05 %. I was so sad, disappointed, and felt helpless. I know now that that wasn’t the end of the world even though it felt like it at the time. I have a job here at YDAS that I adore. It didn’t require me to get a high ATAR or finish university. It helped me know that I do want to spend the rest of my life working with young people. So, I started studying youth work at TAFE and this year I'll be eligible for the mature age student pathway to university. So really if you think about it your ATAR is only relevant for a few years, it doesn’t define you at all.  

You may be aware of different further education pathways but there also different high school education options. I didn’t have your standard schooling experience. In primary school I went to Montessori which is a form of alternative education which is a different approach to learning focusing on empowering all the children to take charge of their learning in a way that works for them and at their own pace. I started high school in your standard education schooling. I didn't cope at all. It honestly looked like I was going to have to drop out, until I discovered TAFE. People are often familiar with the further education options of TAFE but that’s not all they offer. You can do your year 10 equivalent and VCE and VCAL which gives you the same result however in a different education structure.”  - Mac (He/him)  


“When considering your options, it’s important to look at your personal qualities, values, and lifestyle. For example, someone who is not a morning person could consider being a chef over a baker, as bakers often start work at 4 am! Get to know yourself and figure out what works for your life; What brings you joy, what you are good at, and what meets your needs.  

Special Consideration is often granted during VCE, TAFE, and University to students with disabilities, or students who have had their study impacted by significant life events. Your school will consider your unique circumstances and how this impacted on your studies. This may assist you in getting into a course even with an ATAR mark lower than the minimum requirement. Apply through VTAC if you are in high school, or through your university/TAFE if you are already a student there. 

If you finished secondary school then took a break from study, you can apply for university as a mature-aged student.  In this pathway, the life experience you gain from working or volunteering is considered in your application, and your results in secondary school are not as relevant. Each course has different requirements as to how much experience is needed, so check the entry requirements of your chosen course. 

Choose a path that suits you!” - Mackenzie 


“Some of the best experiences in life are when you explore different opportunities, you try new things, you give something a go and realise you love it, or hate it, you’re great at it or it is not your “thing”. The only way we are ever going to figure these things out is by just giving them a go. We should be encouraged to live our lives with the idea that things not working out or going to plan is actually an important part of our learning. Many young people unfortunately feel a lot of pressure to make big decisions at an early age and stick with them, and to fit into certain expectations or ideals.  

It's okay to try different things, explore different pathways, stop doing one thing and try something else (in fact, it's not even just okay, I think it's essential!). Get to know yourself and figure out what works for your life. What brings you joy, what you are good at, what meets your needs. Maybe you want a fulfilling career and will need to overcome hundreds of hurdles and work hard to get there. Good on you, you can do it! Maybe you want a job that just pays the bills, and you find your joy in other parts of your life outside of work, excellent! Maybe you change your mind about what you want to do, and you start at square one again 6 or 7 times, how exciting! We have our entire lives to learn and to grow – you don’t have to have it all figured out by high school – and when things don’t go to plan, it's okay to be disappointed, but there is always another way to get to where you want to be. And it's okay to not know. 

Importantly, we have to recognise that many young people with intersecting marginsalised identities experience additional challenges within the education system and in employment. If going to school, TAFE or university is something you want to do and is part of your plan– look into the different ways you can make it work for you. Consider what your rights are – as a disabled young person, you have a right to reasonable adjustments and an accessible education. This means your education provider must provide you with adjusted strategies and support which enable you to engage in schooling in a fair and equitable way.  

Maybe you decide to complete your VCE without receiving an ATAR, maybe you combine VCE subjects with Vocational education training .VET ones, maybe you choose to do VCAL, or an apprenticeship, or TAFE. Maybe you look into flexible learning centres or education re-engagement services. Maybe you go to university as a mature age student, maybe you turn a hobby into your own business, maybe you go straight into work without further study or maybe you do an internship. There are so many different options you can look into.  

As I said before, never underestimate the power of just giving things a go. Research your areas of interest and look into organisations or people doing awesome things in that space. Follow them on social media, reach out to them on LinkedIn, send them an email, sign up to their mailing lists. So many organisations provide different opportunities to help you get your foot in the door. It might be volunteering once a month or once a week, it might be joining a committee or advisory group, submitting a piece of your work for publication, taking part in a leadership program or joining a club. These are all things that you can add to your resume, that keep your name in people’s minds and that give you the chance to forge your own path.  

Most importantly, remember that success is defined by you – it doesn’t have to look the same for all of us.”