Do the courses with the highest ATARs offer the best graduate employment outcomes?

The latest edition of The Good Universities Guide reveals that the fields of study with the highest entry requirements don’t necessarily deliver the best employment rates or the highest salaries at graduation — at least, not straight away.

Ross White of Good Education Media says that while high-achieving students gravitate toward courses with high ATAR requirements, these courses do not guarantee competitive graduate employment outcomes, such as employment or a high salary.

White says that much of what students know about salaries and employability at graduation is guided by belief, rather than facts and figures. “Students habitually choose courses with the highest entry requirement they can access with their ATAR,” he says. “In theory, the higher the ATAR, the better the course.’

In 2020–2021, it was found that courses in Social Work are aligned to some of the best graduate starting salaries ($65,400) and are relatively accessible with an average ATAR requirement of 71.* Compared to Social Work, Law students appear to have it tougher, with an ATAR cut-off of 87 and a graduate starting salary of $62,000.

While Law graduates eventually command higher earnings than Social Work graduates, Law students do it tougher at graduation — this is true for many fields with high entry requirements.

Similar patterns emerge between other fields for employment rates. For example, the average ATAR for Teaching is 70 compared to 80 for Engineering, yet students from both fields have the same employability of 87% at graduation.

While average figures provide an overall insight, The Good Universities Guide shows numerous examples of universities bucking the trend. Many universities outperform the national average for employment outcomes in specific fields of study, and many of these require a lower-than-average ATAR score.

Click here to access our full comparison of ATARs and employment outcomes. Be sure to keep an eye out for our within-field analysis, where we reveal the top-performing universities and what it takes that get into their courses.


* Salary and employment data have been sourced from pooled results of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Graduate Outcomes Survey

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