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Three top students tackle course selection and university experiences

Jen Huang

‘So, what’s next?’

This is the big question well-meaning relatives and careers counsellors confront you with; one you ask yourself when you realise the end of your high school career is looming, and so is a chance to have a firm say in the next chapter of your life.

For some of you, the answer to it is straightforward. But for most, deciding on which course to put as the first preference in a VTAC application is more daunting than even the most intense SAC.

So we asked a diverse group of awesome Connecties to share their wisdom about how and why they chose their paths after VCE. Though the reflections they share in this two part series are highly specific to each young person, we hope that their words can still strike a chord with you.

Nick: why Arts can be a science-lover's calling  

A 2014 McKinnon graduate with a perfect 99.95 ATAR, a Premier's VCE Award for Physical Education and a Top All-Round VCE High Achiever Award under his belt, Nick is back at Melbourne University studying a Bachelor of Arts after a year in Spain on exchange. For him, deciding what to take on after VCE was extremely tough.

In Year 12, I found myself sucked into a vortex of sciences. I took Chemistry, Biology, Physical Education, Methods, and lost myself in the annals of molecular formulae and differentiation. Really, I never had the chance to experiment with the arts during high school beyond my final two subjects, French and English.

When I got my ATAR, I was counselled by peers and teachers alike to follow this science-oriented route and study a degree like Medicine or Biomedicine. However, in defiance of everyone’s expectations, I eventually settled on the Bachelor of Arts degree at Melbourne. 

Though this was a tough decision to make (so tough that it caused me to miss the application deadline entirely), I certainly don’t regret my choice. Firstly, medicine and science felt restrictive. While I love the sciences, I can’t imagine spending my days working indoors in a lab or clinic. I also felt that I could always study science as breadth at Melbourne to see if it was really what I wanted to pursue.

Secondly, the broad nature of Arts has given a chance to try different things. I’ve explored literature, creative writing, linguistics, philosophy, psychoanalysis, economics, biology, music, education, French and even some cinema studies. And that’s not even to mention my majors, politics, Spanish and Arabic. This breadth has opened many doors for me, one of which living in Spain for a year, which I doubt I would have done had I studied Medicine.

And finally, I want to study teaching once I graduate, and hope to teach EAL and languages. Consequently, Arts was simply the most logical undergraduate course to pursue from a career standpoint. 

Of course, there are many stereotypes about lazy Arts students and low contact hours. However, they simply don’t ring true with my experience at Melbourne: my friends and I are constantly challenged, forced to think analytically and communicate succinctly. Arts has ensured that I approach issues from a global and multidisciplinary perspective, and these are qualities that today’s employers seek out actively.

If I were to go back in time, I would tell my younger self to stress less, that there is no wrong path, and that I have lots of time to decide what I want out of university. Ultimately, I’ll give you all the same advice. It's important to make the most of your options and constantly remind yourself that you have the opportunity to change things if you so desire.

Indigo: balancing creativity and pragmatism in a degree 

Indigo graduated from Northcote High School in 2016, with an ATAR of 96.45 and a Premier’s VCE Award in Product Design and Technology. Her decision to study Industrial Design at RMIT satisfied both her creative and practical needs.

During VCE, I spent most lunchtimes bent over my folios for Studio Arts and Product Design and Technology. Based on this passion for anything folio-related, I was sure I wanted to pursue studies in a creative industry. But while I loved the idea of making art all day, I was worried that it might not have as much practical application in the 'real world' as I would like. With this in mind, I ultimately chose Industrial Design at RMIT, which seemed to offer a perfect mix of technical and creative stimulation. 

To be honest, I didn't enjoy the first year of my course, to the point that I wanted to drop out. In retrospect, I’m so glad I didn’t. After a tough semester, I realised that the thought processes I learned during those seemingly pointless assignments were actually essential tools for reaching my goal: solving real-world problems in a creative way. 

I've also had my share of fun and challenges. So far, I’ve been to Germany for a study tour making a furniture range for a pop-up store, and am working on a range of different projects for my other classes. To name a few, these include a lighting design investigation and a project looking at better and beautiful ways to create things, while reducing industrial waste streams.

Ultimately, what I love most about Industrial Design is its versatility. With the skills you acquire during this course, you can choose to expand in anything from automotive design, to furniture, to service design and so much in between. I’ve done countless hands-on projects, learned to prototype and communicate ideas visually, and have researched issues from a social, consumer or scientific viewpoint. I like to describe industrial design as 'problem solving'; by the end of the course you will be equipped a range of skills to fully understand and find a solution in the best way possible.

My advice to anyone deliberating about uni is to not be scared of following your creative interests, but also keep in mind what course will give you the skills to go where you want to go. Like a lot of things in life, you really get out what you put into your tertiary studies. So choose something you’re going to be happy to work hard on while keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Daniel: choosing, being challenged by and loving Medicine 

After graduating from Huntingtower School in 2015 with an ATAR of 99.35, Daniel is now pursuing medicine at Monash University. While he's enjoying it now, this wasn’t always his end game.

I have always adored science. If you rifle through the boxes in my garage, you can find hand-drawn posters I made about the human body when I was six, or a hand-written ‘encyclopedia’ on the planets of the solar system. Given this, I believed that I’d pursue a career as a biologist throughout most of high school. 

When Year 10 work experience rolled around, I decided to spend my time in a laboratory at CSIRO, anticipating that it would be a taste of my wildest career dreams. To my dismay, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The work seemed to get repetitive quickly – it wasn’t as dynamic and rewarding to me as I had hoped.

What I eventually realised is that a big part of what I love about science is being able to use my knowledge, to share it with others and apply it in a meaningful, direct way. Research work was a bit too theoretical, whilst I felt that something like nursing wasn’t theoretical enough. That’s why I decided to pursue Medicine; for me, it was the perfect balance.

Deciding where I wanted to study was a much more pragmatic process. To me, Monash University seemed to be the best option because they offered a direct-entry course. However, regardless of where you decide to study Medicine, be prepared to make sacrifices. I, like many of my peers, have given up hobbies and free time just to keep my head above the water. For that reason, it’s important that you really, truly enjoy the coursework – there’s nothing wrong with viewing job and financial security as a bonus, but if it’s the main reason you want to be a doctor, you will probably find it a hard pill to swallow.

With that said, there are few (if any) other careers that offer such a wealth of personal, professional and emotional growth, and if that’s the sort of thing you relish then it’s a small price to pay. Medicine is a pathway and lifestyle that is as challenging as it is rewarding, and right now, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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