Students are being urged to apply for university for 2022 even if their grades aren't up to scratch.
The last exams - in social studies, music and Spanish - ended on Tuesday afternoon, with NCEA results to be released online on January 20.
And while some students will already know they don't have the grades they need to get into their desired course, that doesn't have to be the end, according to one principal.
Universities say they're looking at applicants on a case-by-case basis and some students may be accepted even if they don't meet course prerequisites, especially if they can argue they've been hurt by the latest Covid lockdown.
• University agrees to admit some students without UE due to 2020 lockdown
• Online exams a 'technical nightmare', Auckland University law students say
• The different approaches tertiary providers are taking to vaccine mandates
• Study highlights setbacks for Māori students in tertiary education
Secondary Principals' Association president Vaughan Couillault said most universities were taking a compassionate approach to applicants who would normally achieve a good grade but had been hurt by the pandemic.
He knew of "seven or eight" Year 13 students at his school, Papatoetoe High, who might fall just short of the requirements for their desired course of study for reasons outside their control - such as the school removing the ability to sit some credits due to the lockdown.
Universities could decide on their own to give that student compassionate entry, or the school principal could recommend discretionary entrance - even if they didn't get University Entrance.
This year NZQA also lowered University Entrance requirements and made students in Auckland, Northland and parts of Waikato eligible for Unexpected Event Grades, which meant they were not forced to sit exams if they could receive a better mark through evidence collected by their teacher throughout the year.
The Qualifications Authority also introduced bonus "learning recognition credits" for students who had been badly impacted by lockdowns. While those credits help students achieve their NCEA credentials, they aren't provided to universities and don't count towards minimum "rank score" requirements.
Rank scores are used by some universities to screen prospective applicants for highly-sought after courses and scholarships. That score is calculated by adding up a student's 80 best credits across five university-approved subjects, with 4 points for each excellence credit, 3 for merit and 2 for achieved. The maximum rank score is 320.
But those universities that use rank scores are generally taking a flexible approach for 2022, while one - Victoria University of Wellington - has decided to get rid of them altogether.
Couillault said there had always been different entry requirements across different institutions - with the University of Auckland previously applying the highest rank scores for entry as it was under pressure from high numbers of international students.
But the world had changed. "No international students are here so they're likely to be a little bit more compassionate because they still want people to go to university."
His message to those students was clear: Don't sit at home despairingly looking at outdated criteria on a university's website, feeling that the world is ending if you don't get a particular score. Instead, contact your school careers adviser and the university's enrolment team.
"Get someone to help you. Someone will have a way to help you to get what you need to do. There's always a way."
Tertiary institutions are "as equally keen to have you as you are to be there", Couillault said. "One of the silver linings of Covid is more locals have qualified and been able to go to uni. If that's a poor outcome - then I want more of that."
What the universities are doing to help Covid-hit students
The Herald asked New Zealand universities what steps they were taking to support students who have struggled due to Covid this year, and whether rank scores were being applied.
All had strong support programmes for first year students, with some aimed specifically at Māori and Pacific students. Bridging or foundation programmes and alternative pathways to get into chosen courses were also common.
Scholarship applications were also taking Covid into account, with some academic scholarships placing a higher emphasis on Year 12 grades, as well as other factors like hardship and leadership qualities.
AUCKLAND UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
Only one programme - the Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) - has a minimum rank score as part of the entry requirement. Applicants whose score has been hurt by Covid will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
AUT also offers alternative entry paths to high school students who might not get UE to help them get to undergraduate level.
The existing Uniprep programme will help prepare students for success in 2022. More information on AUT student study support for next year is available here.
UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND
Rank scores still apply to undergraduate programmes, with minimum scoresranging from 150 for an arts degree up to 280 for entry to a biomedical science degree.
But this year thousands of Year 13 students have been given "fast track" offers based on Year 12 marks, which will be honoured even if their Year 13 grades don't meet rank score requirements (as long as they still get UE and other course requirements).
Other students may also be considered on a case-by-case basis, while principals can recommend students for discretionary entrance if they believe the student is capable.
Support services include summer programmes like Summer Start, Unibound and Toia ki Waipapa.
UNIVERSITY OF WAIKATO
Waikato doesn't use rank scores to screen prospective students but UE is generally required and some programmes have prerequisites.
All first years are assigned a study advisor, and there are dedicated support programmes for Māori and Pacific students and specialist support for disabled students.
Special admission students would be offered a study programme that would help them transition to university study, with a one-on-one advisor for their first year.
Massey says its open entry programmes don't use a rank score - it just requires the student to achieve UE. However, some programmes are selected entry and require higher results - this is still the case during the pandemic.
Massey runs a number of transition and orientation events for new students. This focuses on getting new students ready to start the academic year effectively and includes helping to transition into new ways of learning. Massey also has systems in place to monitor student engagement in the first weeks of study to help those who need extra support to stay on track.
TE HERENGA WAKA - VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON
Victoria removed rank scores temporarily last year in light of the pandemic, and has now stopped using them permanently.
"Admission to our undergraduate degrees is now granted based on students gaining University Entrance, although there are a small number of programmes, such as the Bachelor of Midwifery, which have additional requirements," a spokesperson said.
For those who haven't got UE, alternative pathways are available including
- provisional admission, with an initially restricted programme of study aiming at entry to their degree of choice
- The Diploma in Māoritanga
- The Diploma in University Studies (Pasifika Pathways)
From 2022 every student will have a "success adviser" to help connect them to support.
UNIVERSITY OF CANTERBURY
Canterbury doesn't use rank scores - entry is based on UE and certain courses also have prerequisites.
"We try to identify a suitable pathway for every student whether this is UE, discretionary entrance, summer catch-up credits, or via a Certificate in University Preparation," deputy vice-chancellor Professor Catherine Moran said.
In addition to its other support programmes, Canterbury has brought in 10 academic advisors for 2022. They would provide "holistic support" for all first-years, using data like NCEA performance to see who needs the most help.
Canterbury has also been working with high schools across New Zealand, mentoring students and making sure they have the information they need around NCEA study to get into their preferred course.
Programmes to help students with entry included the six-week Takere summer programme, which helps Māori and Pacific students with the transition to uni.
UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO
The University of Otago doesn't use rank scores at all for undergraduate admission, deputy vice-chancellor Professor Pat Cragg said.
"We are acutely aware that some students who would normally have gained UE may struggle to do so, especially those from areas such as Auckland, Northland and the Waikato that have endured the worst Covid disruption.
"It's hard to predict how much of an issue this will be given the adjustments being made by NCEA, but we are sure it will be an issue for some."
Discretionary entry would be used where necessary and every student would be considered individually, Cragg said.
Otago had been liaising with schools and students individually and adjusting how they do things for those in the areas worst-hit by Covid. University teaching staff have also been attending sessions on the disruption Year 13s have faced and what that might mean for their academic preparedness in 2022.
*LINCOLN UNIVERSITY did not respond to a request for comment.