There I sat, 18 years old, UAI estimate in hand (old school ATAR), in the office of my year advisor. I had busted my arse since starting at this very prestigious Canberra private school in year 11, and the piece of paper in my hand was supposed to hold the key to my future. The payoff to my hard work, I needed this to be good so I could get into Uni and do a degree in Public Relations

The year advisor sat opposite me with a concerned and very serious look on her face. We opened up the estimate, and it was 38. She looked at me and she said “we need to discuss your options, because you will only ever be average.

My heart sank, I was numb for the rest of the meeting, and don’t remember anything beyond that grim assessment that she so indelicately delivered to me. I left the office in tears, was found by two of my closest friends, and I sat in the year 12 courtyard crying to them. How was it over already? What was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to tell my parents? I was so embarrassed.

That woman, her words, and that little number left me broken for a while. My final score was 43, which didn’t really give me any options for Uni, but eventually I enrolled to study an Advanced Diploma of Marketing at a local RTO, which I commenced the February after I had graduated year 12.  That one sentence has been etched into my memory ever since, and writing this now fills me with anger, because what type of advice is that!? But I have also been prepared to thank my dear year advisor if our paths ever crossed again, because that one sentence, gave me the fuel I needed to prove her wrong.

Once you’re out in the real world you quickly realise that getting a shit ATAR does not condemn you to a life of being poor and lonely. It is in no way the end. There are so many other options.

Here are some examples:


I have known Bec since primary school and she didn’t finish year 12, but was cluey with computers, so got a job working full time at 17 in a repair centre at Nokia. She then went on to work at several different IT service desks, climbing up from telecommunications rolls to technical roles in both the private and public sector. On the job experience and industry specific training had her managing a team of 20 analysts, and getting a six-figure salary at the age of 24. All while everyone else was at Uni. For Bec, she has never been asked what education she has, or to what level it has been completed. She has hustled, and she has found success.


Local Canberran writer, Influencer, Queen, and Florist extraordinaire LouLou Moxom didn’t finish year 11, yet has gone on to have an amazingly successful career, and has personal character that people of all ages admire. She said “I think the pressure is ridiculous for those of us who aren’t high achievers at 17, I mean, for f**ks sake, who at 17 knows exactly who they are and where they are headed? I’d tell those kids (waiting on Uni scores) to not sweat the small stuff and that Uni isn’t a gauge for success”

The friends that helped me that day

The two friends who sat with me while I cried that fateful afternoon, went on to receive scores of 98 and 95.9. We were three young kids, about to face the world, but starting from opposite ends of the bell curve. Abigail received a score of 98, went on to study Arts, and then Law, and has practiced law ever since (while squeezing in time to have babies) and she interestingly enough has said that she wishes he had focused more on finding who she was as a person, before pursuing something based on potential income and standing. “I went to university because I got the numbers, I got the degree because I have got some brains, but was it the right pathway for me? No, now I am stuck, for at least a while” Had she waited, he would have chosen teaching.

The friend who got 95.9, studied law for a while, ditched the whole thing, travelled the world, found out who she was, went back to Uni, and now works doing stuff that’s so interesting and important that I’m not even going to name her here.

Pathways vary, and careers, like life, have peaks and troughs. We live in an age where we have to go beyond simply praising someone based on the knowledge they have accumulated and been assessed on. The thing that drives success isn’t just the knowledge we have, but the drive, persistence, and the will we have to work for something. Success isn’t only found in an ATAR score, and it’s also not found only in the amount you get paid. Some of my most personally successful moments have been felt when I have accomplished something of which there was no financial incentive.

I went to Uni eventually to study Marketing, at 29, when my UAI was irrelevant anyway. I did well, but I was still unsure of why I was doing it. I had hoped that if I got a degree while being at home with the kids that it would somehow make up for the shortfall the “time off” was creating in my resume. I asked a mentor for advice when the pressure and distain for academics started to take its toll. I told her I wanted to take everything I had learned over the past decade and throw it all into the real estate game. She told me to do what made my heart sing, and said in all caps “YOU DON’T NEED THE F**KING DEGREE! Ditch it, right now” so I did.

I wanted to write this in case there is a 18 year old kid sitting around this week shitting their pants about the future, I (and those who have contributed above) want you to know that it will be ok, if the number isn’t what you need, don’t sweat it, you have options, you are not average. Think outside the box, the bell curve, the standardised testing, and know the things that will bring you success are things like tenacity, courage, and authenticity. 

And to my year advisor, thank you, but I hope you have changed careers.

Written by Bianca Way and Published by The Shaker:


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