An Australian Tertiary Admission Rank of 99 sounds impressive, but if you want to be the next Brian Schmidt - the Australian National University astrophysicist who won the 2011 Nobel prize in physics - you may need a little more.
Hawker College graduate Joss Kirk scored 99.7 but could only breathe a sigh of relief on Thursday when a formal offer of a place at the Australian National University arrived in the mail. His course - a new Bachelor of Philosophy - is one of a suite of high-end degrees being offered by the ANU this year which combines a science degree with specialised research - fast-tracking students to a PhD. The cut-off was 99 but students then had to submit a written argument as to why they should have a place. Joss Kirk also became one of 930 students from the ACT and across the nation who received an early acceptance of a place at the ANU on Thursday in a bid by the institution to fend off competition for the best and brightest undergraduates.
With universities across the country getting more desperate to lock in students to secure their commonwealth funding in the new deregulated system which began last year, the University of Western Sydney announced last month it would give undergraduates an iPad if they enrolled.
ANU's acting vice-chancellor Erik Lithander said it wasn't ANU's style to get into gimmicks, but it could offer students who placed ANU as their first preference an early assurance of a place.
More than 500 ACT school-leavers received an early ANU offer compared with just 140 this time last year, while another 436 offers were extended to students interstate - up from 299 last year.
Students still had to meet ANU's ATAR cut-offs, which have remained the same as last year according to Professor Lithander.
At the University of Canberra, 700 offers were made to local Year 12 students in the early December UAC round through the Principal's Recommendation Scheme - on par with last year.
Earlier this month, UC made over 200 offers to non-year 12 students who listed UC as their first preference and it had also processed around 1,600 direct offers to undergraduate applicants and a further 500 to domestic postgraduate students.
This is up on this time last year - when 1,250 direct offers to undergraduates and 470 to postgraduates were made - but UC was not expecting to take in a significantly larger student load this year. Exact intakes will not be able to be counted until the February census.
Professor Lithander said the ANU's policy change to lock students in early on was an acceptance of the competitive nature of university enrolments, but also "a show of faith in students".
''We made a conscious decision to change the way we use University Admission Centre rounds … These students are highly motivated, talented and they made clear to us we were their first preference.
''We want to say 'that's fantastic, here's your offer'.''
Further places will be offered in the Main Round on January 16, the Late Round on January 30 and the Final Round on February 6.
Professor Lithander said for students relocating to ANU from interstate early acceptances also meant they had a few extra weeks to prepare for the move to Canberra.
But for local boy Joss Kirk, it's just a huge relief to know he got into the course he wanted.
The PhB course caters for his desire to engage in problem solving through research - preferably in the field of climate change.
He may have been dux of his school, but he knew competition to get into the course would be intense.
''It's a pretty competitive and prestigious course, and even though I got above the cut-off to get in, I had to write an application letter which somehow differentiated me from the other applicants."
"I'm just relieved it's over," he said.
Students have all day Friday to change their preferences through UAC, and could still apply directly to universities.