2023 HSC Results in Review

Three days ago tens of thousands of high school graduates were awoken by the dreaded NESA text, as HSC results and ATARs were released across the state. While the outcomes provided some satisfying closure to another cohort, there were also some surprises in the school rankings for 2023.

This year, more than 67,200 students completed the HSC. Just over 55,500 were eligible to receive an ATAR – an increase of 1,215 compared to last year’s figures. A quarter of HSC graduates were awarded Distinguished Achievers’ recognition, which is given for the achievement of the highest possible band in one or more subjects.

Still, HSC data is not adjusted to account for socioeconomic advantage, and of the top 300 schools, 278 comprise students with above-average backgrounds (as measured by ICSEA score).

The 99.95 ‘perfect’ ATAR was awarded to 49 students, who came “from a mix of government and non-government schools and were studying a wide range of courses”.  This year’s median ATAR was 71.05 – slightly lower than last year. Almost 50% of First in Course graduates came from the public system.

North Sydney Boys Unseats James Ruse for Top HSC Ranking Spot

But there was one school that took the proverbial cake when it came to high achievers: North Sydney Boys High School. In a dramatic turn of events, NSB this year broke the 27-year run of James Ruse Agricultural High School to claim the top spot in the state in HSC school rankings.


North Sydney Boys took on the most successful selective school in Australia’s history, and won. #hsc #northsydney #jamesruse

♬ The Champion – Lux-Inspira

The triumph came thanks to notable progress in English Advanced and Extension 1 scores, bolstering consistently strong maths results. SMH analysis shows NSB’s ‘success rate’ improved more than 6 percentage points, compared to a 7 percentage point fall for James Ruse.

NSB principal Brian Ferguson took over at the start of this year after the retirement of Robyn Hughes, who had led the school for 22 years previously. Ferguson said he was “incredibly proud” of his students. “I was already proud of them before any exam was sat.”

Ruse principal Rachel Powell echoed the sentiment in regards to her own cohort, and said she had contacted Ferguson to express her congratulations.

Selective schools continued their dominance of the top 4 spots in the school rankings, but private schools now hold half of the top 10 – the largest share in over a decade. Notable upward jumps were achieved by St Aloysius and Knox Grammar, while Sydney Boys, Sydney Girls and Hornsby Girls have been declining over the past few years.

To their absolute credit, St Andrew’s Cathedral School reported their best ever HSC results, climbing 68 places to rank 84 in the state, despite continuing to mourn the tragic death of staff member Lilie James.

2023 rank2022 rank2021 rank
North Sydney Boys High School (S)122
James Ruse Agricultural High School (S)211
Baulkam Hills High School (S)333
North Sydney Girls High School (S)449
Reddam House (P)556
St Aloysius’ College (S) (P)61527
Sydney Grammar School (S) (P)764
Normanhurst Boys High School (S)8810
SCEGGS Darlinghurst (P)91017
Abbotsleigh (P)10715
The top 10 schools this year, and their respective ranks for the past couple years. Selective schools are marked with (S), private schools with (P). With the exceptions of James Ruse and Baulkam Hills, all top 10 are single-sex.

University Applications Continue to Fall

But while more students received an ATAR this year than in 2022, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) has expressed concern over the falling number of students applying to university.

Applications through UAC are at their lowest level in over ten years, reflecting a falling demand for higher education. While UAC received over 43,000 applications in the 2015-2016 cohort, this year the numbers have fallen to below 39,000. And the latest ABS data shows the number of people studying bachelors’ degrees is at its lowest since 2011.

UAC’s chief strategy and engagement officer, Kim Paino, attributes the trend to increased cost of living, among other factors. Compounding general cost of living pressures, the cost of many degrees can now be more than $45,000, without taking into account inflated indexation. “HECS has been such a feature of our system for such a long time,” Paino told SMH. “But when you’re in an era of high inflation, the cost accumulates more considerably, and also the actual percentage of your course contributions is just much higher than it has been, particularly if you’re studying humanities.”

UAC staff also speculate that the downward trend could impact ATAR cut-offs for courses at some universities, pushing the required marks lower.

Cover image: “Front of NSBHS B block” by Dxwkx is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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