Excited by challenge: HSC high achiever Daniel Gray will study law. Photo: Tamara Dean
In the 24 hours after 55,000 students received their HSC results last week, almost 9000 went on to change their university preferences. The University Admissions Centre expects half of all applicants to adjust their preferences before the January 4 deadline.
Some will be reassessing their options to align with disappointing results, while others will consider new opportunities afforded by having exceeded their expectations.
But students are being urged not to abandon initial ambitions in favour of more competitive degrees just because they have the marks.
Jenine Smith, of the Careers Advisers Association of NSW, said students should stick with what they want to do and disregard advice about ''wasting your ATAR'' [Australian tertiary admissions rank].
''Your ATAR is never wasted if you're going into a course that you really are interested in doing,'' Ms Smith said.
''By all means, if you're interested in law, go and do it. But if it's not your passion, I wouldn't recommend it because you are not going to succeed in that career.''
UAC director of information and services Kim Paino said the option of changing degrees should ease the pressure of deciding on a course.
''Remember that many students don't go straight into their first preference in their first year after school, and instead start in a more general degree and apply to transfer after a year of study,'' Ms Paino said.
Transferring courses within universities or between universities is common. Of all non-year 12 applications to tertiary admissions centres this year, almost 50,000 came from students who had already started but not finished a different degree, federal government statistics show.
The University of Wollongong's 2013 data shows 18 per cent of onshore undergraduate course commencements were changes in course. At the University of Newcastle last year it was 12 per cent.
HSC graduate Daniel Gray, 18, says he is not interested in becoming a practising lawyer. Yet, after receiving an ATAR of 99.80 this week, it is likely he will study law at the University of Sydney, which had a cut-off of 99.70 last year.
''I just think a law degree is really useful in terms of the business world and maybe even politics,'' Daniel said. ''And … something about the challenge kind of excites me.''
Daniel said he was turned off the law profession having observed his father working as a solicitor: ''Just the reading contracts and highlighting and endless editing and the heavy workload,'' he said.
''The way I looked at it is I may as well try and give it a shot and take the opportunity that so many others can't have. If it's not for me, I don't think I'll have any trouble transferring to another course …''
Journalist Lisa Pryor succumbed to the temptation of a law degree after receiving the highest possible rank of 100, under the former TER system, and later wrote a book The Pinstriped Prison about the pressure high-achieving students often put on themselves.
''I never had an interest in being a lawyer. I was interested in being a journalist,'' she said. ''But suddenly I got the marks to get into law and it seemed like a good thing to do.''
Her advice to high-achieving school leavers is ''let that achievement free you rather than trap you''.