A lot of what I do entails helping students achieve the best ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, sort of like the SAT) they possibly can. For students aged between 16-18 years old, a lot rests on the 4 digit score they receive at the end of 2 gruelling years of study. This 4 digit score is the primary criterion for entry into most universities in Australia. However, there’s this insidious idea that’s built up - if you don’t get your desired school or program, then that’s it for you. You’re a loser. You’re not smart enough. You’re not designed for this course. So, safe to say that there’s mounting pressure on students to ensure they achieve their very best so they can enter their #1 university preference.
However, for these students who experience so much pressure, this is what we say on the other side: “if you don’t get into your preferred university course, don’t worry - it’s not the end of the world”. We’re not as loud as those who insist on the ATAR, but we exist. And I’ll be the first person to put my hand up and say that if you don’t get into your university preference - don’t sweat it. Actually, you’ve got a very exciting path ahead.
1) If you really want it, then you will eventually find your way there.
I know it might seem that your path has been severed by a big giant axe, but rather than only seeing one possible path, know that there are many avenues that have opened up. Just because you didn’t get the required ATAR, it doesn’t mean you can’t work your way towards that dream course. I have a friend who failed to get into Bachelor of Pharmacy, so she applied for Bachelor of Science and 3 years later, there she was on our Pharmacy campus. I have another friend who wanted to be a Veterinarian. She didn’t get into her desired course so she took up Bachelor of Science and Arts. Arts was just a bonus for her, something she could try since she had always liked humanities. And it was her best decision to date. When she discovered Journalism through Arts, she realised that the dream of being a Vet was one constructed by her parents. She truly believed it was her goal too until she just happened to stumble upon Journalism.
This goes to show that for those who are absolutely keen on a pathway, they will make their way there. It may take some extra time, but motivation and determination are very powerful in making things happen. It also shows that in life, we don’t always get we want straight away. Instead, “failures” lead to even better pathways we would’ve never come across if everything went according to plan.
2) It’s not a waste of time.
I know that right now, completing 2 or 3 extra years of University as an alternate pathway (say from Bachelor of Science to Bachelor of Pharmacy) might seem like a lifetime. It’s been scientifically proven that as you get older, each consecutive year of your life seems to go by faster and faster. That’s because when you’re 5, 1 year of your life is 1/5 of your existence. When you’re 25, 1 year of your life is only 1/25. Before you know it, those 2 or 3 extra years of University will fly by.
It took me 6 years to realise what I really wanted to do in life. That’s a primary school kid’s entire career from Prep to Grade 6. That’s an adolescent’s entire journey from embarrassing voice-breaks in Year 7 to taking their girlfriend out to the formal in Year 12. I studied Bachelor of Pharmacy/Commerce. Pharmacy is 4 years of study, plus a year of internship (I dropped the Commerce component eventually - it wasn’t the right pathway for me!). And even though I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to continue Pharmacy (I was disillusioned quite early on during the Bachelors), I worked for a year as a Pharmacist until I finally called it quits. 2.5 years later, I’m so happy being my own boss and running a company I can proudly call mine.
But when I look back, do I see those 6 years as a waste of time? Absolutely not. In fact, I have no regrets whatsoever. Why?
Sure, I could’ve started my business when I was 19, and potentially be happier, more successful, further in life, travelled earlier, discovered Korean food sooner (wait, what?! Yum KBBQ come at me). But the Pharmacy journey has shaped me in so many different ways.
The best takeaways from a path I’d ultimately pivot from:
- I made a whole new group of friends I never would otherwise. Some of my best friends came from Pharmacy.
- I learnt incredible communication skills as a Pharmacist which I now apply when speaking with my staff, colleagues, and customers.
- I have awesome Pharmaceutical knowledge that means I can perform first aid on friends, recommend them medication for acne, colds, or gastric reflux (*cough* Asian flush).
- I have a Bachelor’s degree under my belt.
- I learnt what exactly I did and didn’t want. Without Pharmacy, I wouldn’t have known what I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy waking up at 8:43 am just to rush my way to work (and eat breakfast in the car, yeah gross I’m sorry) and clock in on time at 8:59 am. I didn’t enjoy a profession where the learning curb plateaued soon after internship. I didn’t enjoy coming home after a shit day of work and taking it out on my family. I didn’t enjoy the fact that I had to think to myself, “just get through this day, because tonight I get to hang out with friends!”. It was through all these experiences that drove me to realise what I did want. And without it, I would not be as appreciative as I am to be in my current position.
Just because you didn’t get into Medicine, doesn’t mean Biomed will be a waste of time. Just because you didn’t get into Law studies, doesn’t mean that Arts is an extra hurdle. Just because you are successful in getting into your dream course, doesn’t always quite work out the way you think it will either (I am case study #1).
You will be surprised. Like the example of my now-Journalist-friend-who-initially-wanted-to-be-a-Vet, the path you take will prove to you whether or not you really want it or, open your eyes to something new. I know too many students who didn’t get into their first preference University course, and eventually, they didn’t pursue it because they discovered something even better.
So don’t stress if you don’t get into the ‘right’ course. What is ‘right’ will eventually come. Don’t see these deviations as a hurdle or a barrier. It’s so cliche, but what is supposed to happen, will happen.