Why your HSC results don't define you

15 December 2016

No, I'm not here to remind you that 'your ATAR is just a number', writes Simone Armstrong for the Huffington Post Australia.

The HSC sucked. My year 12 was terrible, one of the worst years of my life. I was alone at a new school because things were blowing up in my personal life. On top of all this, the day before my first HSC English exam, I moved out of home by myself for the very first time.

By the time HSC results were out, I didn't even think uni was still an option. But three years later, here I am, achieving so many incredible things. I never thought my path would look like this – let alone that I would have my face on billboards and flyers as part of the University of Sydney's 'Things You Learn Here' campaign, imparting my advice: "Knowledge is better shared".

It would be easy to assume looking at these posters that my road to uni was easy, that I simply belong here.

But that's not the case at all; so let me share my knowledge with you.

Before we begin – this isn't another well-intentioned yet unhelpful advice column for year 12 students about to receive their HSC marks. I don't want to remind you that 'ATAR is just a number'. Young people get pummeled with these kinds of messages every year, but it's impossible to really hear it at the time.

Personally I was really cynical about hearing that during my HSC. I get it – this is your entire world right now. Telling someone that absolutely everything they’re working towards is unimportant or irrelevant is just discouraging.

But my ATAR meant jack in the end. And at the end of the day, just because you didn't get your dream HSC result doesn't mean your passions automatically disappear.

At the end of the day, just because you didn't get your dream HSC result doesn't mean your passions automatically disappear.
Simone Armstrong

I felt really let down by my ATAR, but I think that's what really drove me to get to where I am today at university. I didn't receive a mark that I felt really reflected my full abilities, so I had something to prove.

So what happened? In year 10, I had an epiphany that I wanted to work with animals for a living. By year 11 I was on the path to success – I had incredible marks and was set up for gaining that magical 98 ATAR to study a doctor of veterinary medicine. But circumstances beyond my control meant that by the end of year 12, I was ready to throw it all away, and my marks plummeted.

I was investing so much of myself and my identity into my marks, and when I couldn't sustain that in year 12 it did collateral damage.

Luckily my school and the University of Sydney were really good to me. I spoke to the complete right people at the right time, and gained a lot of support and advice on what my next steps might look like.

Rather than jump headfirst into uni, I took a year out to decompress. And unlike most of my peers, I now have a Cert IV completed within my gap year behind me, and was already a fully qualified veterinary nurse before I even started my degree.

I qualified for the Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience – more than 10 ATAR points below my original 'dream' goal – but with incredibly hard work I have now transferred into that dream course, with no extra coursework or study time required.

So many kids go out and study a course without knowing what they actually like, let alone what they want to do for the next 40 years. The HSC doesn’t facilitate a way for you to explore your true passions in any meaningful way.

I never thought that within one year of the HSC I would be a certified vet nurse. I would have straight up laughed if you'd told me that within two years I'd be visiting the remote Northern Territory fulfilling my passions while gaining experience towards a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. But that's what I've done. In February this year I performed around 70 surgeries in just over a week, working around the clock in rural communities to de-sex stray dogs with the organisation Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC).

I pushed myself really hard after my HSC, partly because I felt discouraged and wanted to build back up the self-esteem I'd lost. I worked two jobs around the clock to support myself and gain practical experience. I missed most of my friend's 18th birthday parties. I missed Schoolies.

I don't suggest you follow my exact lead. There's no perfect way to follow your career calling, and if you take a different path it's not the end of the world – it's your own journey.

Year 12 beat me to a pulp. But my biggest philosophy is to 'Live out your passions, not your predicaments'. There's no point dwelling on the bad stuff – that's not useful to anyone. But I'd love to know that I didn't experience such a hard time for no reason.

If I can make even one student for one second believe in their dreams, develop a passion or just back themselves a bit more, then it's all worth it.

So take this precious window of time in your life to really reflect on what drives you. The opportunities are yours for the taking – you've just got to know where to look. And in my experience, there's no better place to start looking than within.

Simone Armstrong is a second year Bachelor of Veterinary Biology/Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Sydney. This article first appeared in the Huffington Post Australia.