Disappointing ATAR an opportunity, not a failure

When year 12 results are released each year we collectively laud the most successful students. The stories of hard work and sacrifice are repeated, as are those describing students who have overcome disadvantage and adversity (and 2020 gave us that in spades) to achieve the highest of honours.

To the students who have achieved the “perfect” ATAR, I say congratulations. To those who have achieved results they have worked hard for and of which they are suitably proud, I say congratulations. Your results are the product of application, determination and resilience, all qualities that will serve you well into the future.

VCE students endured a year like no other in 2020. Credit:Jason South

I’m not, however, writing this for those students.

Every year, there will be a significant number of students who haven’t achieved what they set out to do. Despite their efforts, there will be many who are disappointed.

There will be feelings of inadequacy, failure, despair, and the impression they have let themselves and their family down. They may miss out on their first choice of university course, or not be eligible for the course they had hoped to enrol in. For some, the stress brought by a disappointing result is often worse than the stress and pressure of the exams. It is to those students I wish to speak.

I am a medical doctor in Melbourne and currently training to be an anaesthetist, however I was not one of the high achievers at school. I didn’t study medicine straight out of high school. With my year 12 marks I didn’t think it would ever be possible.

I was an average high school student and finished year 12 with a UAI (the old ATAR) of 74.9. I wasn’t thrilled with my result, nor was I disappointed.

Following year 12 I studied for a Bachelor of Music. I enjoyed my degree, worked hard and achieved good results. Once I graduated, I worked as a musician, and then spent some time in the ADF, where I had some experiences I will never forget (ANZAC Day in Gallipoli for example).

After a few years, I decided to embark on a career change, and went about applying to study medicine. My main worry was that my results from high school would count against me, but I soon realised they wouldn’t even be considered. Because I had completed a degree, and had a good GPA, I was eligible to apply.

So I applied, not expecting to be considered for a position. Much to my surprise, I was accepted and enrolled in my first year of medical school at the age of 29.

It is my view that your ATAR should not define you, nor does it dictate how successful you can or will be. It is a mark that is given following a set of exams at the beginning of your adult life. An ATAR that doesn’t get you into your chosen course now does not mean you will be excluded from it forever.

To those who are disappointed with your result, I encourage you to see this as an opportunity, not a failure. There are a multitude of ways to pursue your dream career, and what you consider your dream career now may not be so in the future. Work hard and doors will open.

Dr James Warner is a medical doctor in Melbourne.

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