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The period between finishing your VCE exams and waiting for your ATAR can feel like forever. After all your hard work, you’re so close to discovering what’s next after high school—but what if you don’t get the ATAR you were hoping for?
First off, regardless of your ATAR score, you should be incredibly proud of what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come! And secondly, no matter what those four digits reveal, there are many different pathways to get to where you want to be.
We spoke with six VCE graduates about their experience after receiving their ATAR, and their journey after high school towards a career they love.
Joanne and Tran understand what it’s like to deal with the pressure from parents of multicultural backgrounds to do well in VCE and get a good ATAR.
‘Where my parents are from, education is very, very important. Without an education, you can’t get a job. It’s pretty much impossible to get a high-paying job without an education in the Philippines,’ Joanne explains.
Joanne originally wanted a career in aviation, and had the full support from her family because of the potential financial gain involved with working as a pilot. However, when Joanne realised aviation wasn’t for her, she pursued her passion in film and television—but her family weren’t exactly on board.
‘When I initially said I wanted to be a pilot, they were very supportive of that. I felt because it’s a high paying job it’s very successful in the eyes of my family.
'They’ve come around, but initially there was a lot of hesitation from members in my family. “Why are you changing your course? Why are you doing this with your life? You were already on such a good path, why would you shift away from that?"'
Bachelor of Film, Television and Animation - Deakin University
For Joanne it came down to following her dream, rather than ticking boxes and chasing a career that she wasn’t enjoying.
‘I just kept pushing that I’m not passionate about aviation the same way that I am about animation and about film. It was just my own determination from within that I did not want to spend another year and a half doing something that I didn’t love,’ Joanne says.
Tran experienced similar parental pressure when going through Year 12. Tran says her parents often compared her to other students due to their culture, which increased the pressure she felt not to disappoint them.
‘Coming from a refugee background there was pressure for me to do really well because my parents had sacrificed a lot to get us to Australia,’ Tran explains.
But since finishing high school, graduating from university, and forging a career in the professional workforce, Tran has a new outlook on expectations from family.
‘If you are experiencing a lot of pressures from parents or family, just know that it’s their perspective and not yours. And you shouldn’t be defined what others think about you or where you should go,’ Tran says.
‘You’ve got a new chapter to write, and it’s going to be amazing.’
After receiving a lower-than-expected ATAR, Mackeely assumed the worst and worried about what it meant for her future.
‘I tried to blank it out because I didn’t get the best ATAR. I literally couldn’t get into any of my preferred courses,’ Mackeely says.
But Mackeely wants people to know there are pathways available to you even if you don’t get the ATAR score you expected or needed to get into your preferred course.
'It’s okay if you don’t get the ATAR you want, there’s so many pathways. I feel like high school students are ingrained to think that if you don’t get a good ATAR you won’t be able to do anything, but that is not the case.'
Bachelor of Arts - Deakin University
Mackeely recommends exploring every opportunity available to you, and not to let anyone tell you won’t succeed if you receive a low ATAR.
‘I would definitely say to just explore your opportunities. Even if it’s not within your direct pathway, you might enjoy it and it might open another door. For me, saying yes to new opportunities that weren’t on my original pathway has definitely helped me.’
When it comes to taking on your VCE exams in your final year of high school, Shubham believes it is important to live in the moment rather than become consumed by how to prepare the perfect ATAR notes, or knowing exactly what your next step will be.
‘It’s okay if you don’t know where you want to go and how you’re getting there, it’s important to focus on enjoying the moments. Don’t worry too much about the future, it will work out in the end,’ Shubham says.
Since receiving his ATAR, Shubham has embarked on a whole new path he never expected to pursue. After completed a Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Information Systems , Shubham thought long and hard about what his next step was before eventually settling on a Master of Social Work .
‘I don’t think you’ll ever know exactly where you are going in the future. When I finished school, I would never have expected to be doing a master’s degree in a completely different field of practise to what I thought I was going to pursue,’ Shubham says.
‘But right from the very first class I did social work, I fell in love with what I was doing. It felt more like part of me, and I feel like I’d grow into it more.’
Shubham’s advice for his younger self is something he now tells himself often.
‘I have a saying, “It’s good to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable”. You’ll never know where you’re going and it’s okay to be in the unknown.
When Patrick received his ATAR, his school made him feel like he’d failed.
‘I went and saw the career team and they were like “We’re going to call you because you were one of our lower ones”. I was already feeling defeated after receiving a lower score than I expected so this didn’t help. They weren’t supportive or helpful at all,’ Patrick says.
He was given minimal assurance from his school and was told he couldn’t get into any of the courses he wanted to study.
‘They started looking at options on the other side of the city and making enquiries there, but that just wasn’t for me,’ Patrick says.
Patrick credits his father for pushing him to call Deakin—Patrick’s first preference—to find out what he had to do to get into his ultimate course, and he left that conversation feeling much more confident about his options and future.
‘I spoke to Deakin on the same day and the lady I spoke to went through all of my options and pathways,’ Patrick explains.
‘The best advice I can give is if you know what you want to do, call the people that are part of what you want to do and ask them how you can get there.
Stefan describes Year 12 as a time where there is a lot of pressure, particularly from external sources. While it can be helpful to take advice from others, or use tools like an ATAR calculator to estimate your score in advance, it’s important to not to obsess over it.
‘You put a lot of pressure on yourself to get a certain mark and you feel like if you don’t get that mark it’s a reflection of who you are. For me it was all about maintaining the workload but keeping a balance. It was really hard for me to keep that balance,’ Stefan says.
Throughout Year 12, Stefan says he felt as though he was going to be defined by the four-digit number he received.
'It’s ingrained into you as a student that your ATAR is the pivotal moment in your life. Year 12 is the be-all and end-all of your academic journey. That could not be further from the truth. I felt like it was going to define me, but you learn very quickly after that it doesn’t at all.'
Bachelor of Psychological Science - Deakin University
‘I reckon I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve spoken about my ATAR, and it’s really just been things like how I found Year 12. And for me, it was so hard compared to how I’ve found university.’
Instead, Stefan encourages Year 12s who are studying for their VCE exams and feeling pressure to achieve a perfect ATAR to take a step back and focus on their mental health.
‘You need to put your mental health first. For me it was hard to work out a balance between work life with academic life combined with social life. It’s a difficult balance but the main thing is that you must focus on your mental health,’ Stefan explains.
‘If you can get that mental health aspect right, you are winning. And I feel like building up that sense of self-confidence and self-esteem and thinking, “You know what, it is just a score. It is just a ranking that makes me get into a university”, and not letting it define you.
‘I feel like that is definitely the main message here. Life goes on, and you will find your way.’
A four letter word that contains four digits does not define you.
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