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La Trobe University gives high school volunteers priority access

Year 12 student Taylor Lindsay hopes that her volunteering at the Country Fire Authority will give her priority selection for a nursing degree next year.

High school students who volunteer for six months will get priority access to the course of their choice at one of Victoria's largest universities before they have even sat their exams.

Under a new partnership, young volunteers with the Country Fire Authority, St John Ambulance and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards will be given automatic access to La Trobe University's early admissions program Aspire.

This year, 2,000 students involved in the program will receive an early offer with a discounted Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR).

Rowville Secondary College year 12 student Taylor Lindsay recently signed up to the program and hopes it allows her to study nursing next year.

The 18-year-old has volunteered with the CFA for six years and said the experience helped her connect with the community.

She has learn how to use a hose, how to respond to a car accident and coached a junior CFA running team.

"It has taught me a lot of things. It's important because you learnt about all different sorts of scenarios and different ways of being a leader."

She said signing up to the program had taken some of the heat off her VCE exams.

While many universities in the US and Britain look beyond a student's raw academic score and consider community involvement and extra-curricular activities, the practice is not as common in Australia.

La Trobe University director of schools engagement and student recruitment Shawn Walker said the program attracted socially minded students, who were the "perfect fit" for the university.

The program is now in its second year, but the new partnership will mean volunteering is prioritised over everything else.

Students are also selected for the program based on recommendations from their principals, and there are minimum ATAR requirements for courses.

Students will find out if they have received an early offer in September, before they have sat their VCE exams.

Mr Walker said ATAR scores were not always the best predicator of a student's abilities.

"The ability to interact with humans is really important. You can get students who come in with an ATAR of 99 but if they don't have the human connection and ability to talk to someone they don't necessarily make the best graduate."

It is hoped the new partnership encourages more young people to volunteer.

"This is a milestone opportunity for young Victorians wanting to make a real contribution to their community," CFA chief executive officer Michael Wootten said.

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