After getting my HSC Results, I remember bursting out into tears, thinking I was a failure.
Unfortunately for my Mum and Dad, they had to deal with more tears the next day too when ATARs came out.
Being a perfectionist (which was an existing issue by itself), my ATAR got me stuck between a rock and a hard place: with that 0.60 more, I could go to one of Australia’s pre-eminent universities.
I thought I was a failure.
All of our standards are different. While a lot of my students say ‘Woah! I’d kill for that!’, I’m going to be honest with you:
My ATAR put me into a very negative headspace, and already having a mental illness, the next month was horrendous not just for me, but my whole family.
Five years down the line, I’m writing this while at the University of Vienna, Austria, having been sent halfway around the world to continue my studies in my Bachelor of Arts (Politics and International Relations) with Bachelor of Laws, and let me tell you, my ATAR is irrelevant. Here’s why receiving a low ATAR is not the end of the world.
There is life after Year 12.
For some of us, Year 12 is a huge moment in life. It was for me, because so far as I was concerned, 13 years of schooling ultimately came down to what I did in my final exams.
Well, guess what? It didn’t.
After getting my ATAR, I remember thinking, ‘If I can’t get a 99, then I can’t do anything’. Only now, I realise how stupid that kind of thinking is. Getting a good ATAR says very little about who I am apart from knowing how to write answers for HSC Markers.
The last five years of my life have been the most developmental for me as a person. During school, I never really found my passions in life, nor did I ever figure out how to be comfortable with who I am. As a twenty-three-year-old (I know – ancient…), I am still exploring the things that make me who I am, and I can tell you for sure, it’s not my HSC or my ATAR.
But I’m not going to tell you that you haven’t just gone through a huge chapter in your life because you have. Finishing school is a big thing. The world is huge, and though that is overwhelming, you’ve got a lot of time to figure out what you want to do with it.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some amazing Australians who’ve been there, done that.
Your ATAR does not define you.
An ATAR is a number calculated upon a stringent criteria to assess academic performance in a particular set of examinations. It is not an indicator of who you are as a person.
How well you did in your HSC doesn’t indicate how passionate you are about an area. Your subjects are not a reflection of your interests. The HSC is a set of exams and assessments, just like university is. But it’s also an growth of you as a person. Friendships, relationships, struggles, passions – these are what define you. Not a number.
The fact that I haven’t even told you what my ATAR is might say something about how insignificant it now is. I’ve met incredible people in my life – with and without ATARs.
When you look on Hugh Jackman’s Wikipedia page, it doesn’t tell you what his ATAR (UAI? I don’t know what it was when he graduated!) was, nor should it.
What defines Hugh Jackman is the fact that he’s not only the Wolverine, but also the Boy from Oz, and also an active campaigner for the Global Poverty Project. His ATAR? Who cares?
Define who YOU are.
Winston Churchill is one of my favourite people in the world simply because of what people thought of him when he was growing up. In a biography on Churchill, Winston Churchill Reporting, Simon Read summarises a teenaged Churchill pretty well:
“To his own mother, Lord Randolph (his mother) complained that Winston possessed no discernible talent for hard work. The boy seemed to drift through life doing the absolute bare minimum to get by, all the while maintaining a very high opinion of himself. As far as Randolph (his father) could tell, his son was sorely lacking in common sense and intelligence.”
Churchill went onto being one of Britain’s most distinguished Prime Ministers, leading them through to victory in World War II. Like Churchill, you should not define yourself by a bunch of exams you did in high school.
That being said, you don’t have to go onto be Prime Minister either.
There’s always a way to achieve your dream.
Whether it’s through university pathways or some other means, there is always a way to get there. Five years out from school, what I’ve learned is that it’s what you make of it – nothing is going to come if you don’t work for it.
One of my favourite people on YouTube is Mark Fischbach, known more markiplier. As of 15 December 2015, he has 10,759,067 YouTube subscribers and is one of YouTube’s top stars. But he struggled at school, got good enough grades for university but not only lost his Dad to cancer, but was homeless.
But Mark has still ultimately achieved his dream of becoming his own YouTube personality, and starting his own charity initiatives.
If you’ve got time, seriously watch his ‘Draw My Life’ video, because if he can achieve his dream, so can you.
Throughout my schooling life, I had already suffered from severe bouts of depression and anxiety as a result of Bipolar II Disorder, and while I was doing alright before the release of ATARs, when they did come out, I fell into depression again. Even with all the hard work I put in, I still thought that I had failed myself.
The thing is that you don’t need to have a mental illness to feel this way. We live in a world where standards are everything. We live vicariously through how many Instagram likes we receive and how many friends we have on Facebook. The ATAR is just another extension of how much we live by numbers.
From now until when your UAC Offers come out on the 20 January, you will probably feel an exorbitant amount of anxiety, especially if you’re teetering around the ATAR range like I was. That’s why you need to look after yourself.
You’ve been through a hard year of continuous assessments, examinations and a high level of stress. Hopefully it’ll amount to something.
In between now and then, look after yourself, and here are some things you can do to make sure that you are:
- Exercise. There is no point moping around the house after getting your ATAR. The year has been and done, and the only thing you need to do is make sure you’re looking forwards and not backwards. Exercising releases endorphins, and can help to elevate your mood and keep you healthy.
- Socialise. Socialising doesn’t always mean going out to every HSCya later party and drinking your livers broken (which I wouldn’t recommend anyway). Head out to see Star Wars or head to Bondi with some friends. Get out and remember that there are people (i.e. everyone) who don’t care about what ATAR you got.
- Do what you love. I love writing. You can probably tell by how much I write, but this period of time was fundamental in me figuring out what I truly loved to do, and that one thing was writing. Do it for you, not because of anyone else.
But in light of these things, if you are feeling down, depressed, unhappy or anxious for longer than two weeks, you need to make sure that you get help. Asking for help is tough.
I know that because it took me over five years to find a therapist who would finally help me get through the tough times, and I really regret not seeking help when I got my ATAR.
If you are feeling down in the dumps, make sure you get help. Here are some websites and phone numbers you can access if you need a hand.
- Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800 – http://www.kidshelpline.com.au/
- KYDS Youth Development Service – (02) 9416 0900 – http://kyds.org.au/
- ReachOut Australia – au.reachout.com/
- Lifeline – 13 11 14 – https://www.lifeline.org.au/
- headspace Youth National Mental Health Foundation – http://headspace.org.au/
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Elizabeth Goh isn’t a fan of writing about herself in third person, even if she loves writing. Elizabeth decided she didn’t get enough English, History or Legal Studies at Abbotsleigh School for her own HSC in 2010 so she came back to help others survive it with Art of Smart Education. She’s since done a mish-mash of things with her life which includes studying a Bachelor of Arts (Politics and International Relations) with a Bachelor of Laws at Macquarie University, working for NSW Parliament, and coming up with new things for her bio for every article.