I’ve been at university for almost three-and-a-half years now. In that time I’ve transferred universities once and changed my program three times. Yes, you read that correctly, three times.
When I first applied for university I wanted to be an exercise physiologist working for the AFL. Upon researching the Bachelor of Exercise Science/Master of Exercise Physiology on the university website, it seemed like a perfect fit for my intended career. However, nobody tells an overexcited first-year student that reality is far different to what is on the website, the university course guides, and what you’re told during course information sessions once you commence your classes. I’m not saying that these guides and information sessions are completely useless — they are there to lay the basic foundations to help you decide which course is right for you, but it can still leave a lot for the imagination to fill.
First semester sailed along smoothly, largely due to my first-year naivety and the fact I began my semester with Health Sciences core classes (think Biosciences, Determinants of Health and Nutrition) during which I learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed learning about.
However, this naivety seemed to have wavered somewhat by the beginning of second semester when I commenced a compulsory Exercise Movement class. About two weeks into the class I realised maybe this degree wasn’t for me. I struggled to participate in some parts of the class due to my cerebral palsy and it created a sense of self-doubt of how good I would really be at this. I’d sit in the class every week learning different exercises for potential clients, growing increasingly frustrated when I was struggling to mirror what we were to demonstrate and prescribe. I’d leave the classes feeling embarrassed, constantly questioning my ability.
The fact that I was even questioning all this this made me realise that maybe my heart just didn’t lie with becoming an exercise physiologist, and maybe I should just stick to something I had experience in. So, after a chat with the program co-ordinator I transferred from the Bachelor of Exercise Science/Master of Exercise Physiology to the Bachelor of Information Technology. I was confident that I had made the right decision. I had always enjoyed and performed well in VET IT at school and completed a school-based apprenticeship giving me a Certificate III in Information Technology with my high school’s IT department, where I worked for two-and-a-half years.
So, the first semester in my new course began. At first, I was content with the course change. Even though I knew I was going to struggle with Mathematics for IT, I was confident that it was something that I could receive tutoring for and hopefully pass the subject. However, about five weeks into the semester I was struggling both physically and mentally with the course. I was trying so hard to achieve a pass in the weekly tasks we were given; by that time I was burnt out and would walk out of my classes in tears because I was losing my passion for something that had been an interest of mine for so long.
In a last-bid attempt to try and salvage the course, I went the program co-ordinator for help, hoping there was something I could do to keep me in the course, despite my math blunders. He told me that due to my issues with the course, maybe a Bachelor’s degree in IT wasn’t for me, and perhaps I should consider leaving university and complete a Diploma instead.
Hearing this completely shattered any self-confidence I had left. I slowly shuffled to my car, not knowing where to turn next. I just remember feeling like I had failed myself, as well as knowing that my family was going to be so disappointed that I wanted out of this course too. Upon the return home, I again found myself browsing the university handbook desperately trying to find something else of interest that I could undertake. In that moment, I had a flashback to writing an ‘About Me’ section in primary school. It asked, “What occupation do you wish to have when you leave school?” and I wrote, “I would like to be a journalist and travel the world.” It was a lightbulb moment.
However, upon researching my options available at the university I was attending, I was disheartened at the limited options in Journalism/Writing available to me if I wanted to continue studying there.
After some contemplation, the next day I decided the best course of action was to withdraw from the course and take a leave of absence from university until I could be sure of what I wanted. You might think I would have found some form of solace by doing so, but I felt even worse at the prospect of technically not even being enrolled in a program anymore. I felt like I had just disregarded all my hard work to earn an offer at a university in the first place.
About three weeks later, I decided to relocate to a different university, no longer feeling that my current university wanted to help me consider my options and keep me there. I’d always heard good things about Federation University and had initially received an offer to study there. Further research lead me to discover that they offered solid writing majors through the Bachelor of Arts, and it just seemed to be a no brainer as I had more of a support system located in Ballarat and I was sold on the colder climate!
I applied direct to the university and received an offer within two days. So I found a place to live, packed up my things, and made the move from Bendigo to Ballarat. I can honestly say it was the best decision I’ve ever made. The support made available to first-years who commence a degree at Federation University is second to none. At my previous university, there was no mentor program and no Kickstart or book bursaries to assist first year students to afford textbooks and other necessities. My faculty have also been very supportive in assisting me to choose the right subjects to undertake so that I can be prepared to gain employment as a sports journalist.
My only regret that I have with changing courses so much is that I wish someone had drilled the census date into my head more and made sure I completely understood it. Because this wasn’t the case at my previous university, I’ve racked up an extra bit of HECS debt trying to persist with subjects that I now need pay for. I really feel like when you want to and try persist with a subject/s, the timeframe in which you should decide this and still have enough time to enrol in another subject, without having to stress about catching up on the assessment due, isn’t enough. In contrast, it’s a difficult situation to address, because if the time was extended, you wouldn’t have enough time to enrol in another subject or program if you end up deciding that it really isn’t for you, plus the disruption it may cause to the class and the amount of work that would need to be caught up.
As a closing statement, let me tell you this: despite popular opinion, you are not hardwired to automatically know straight off the bat what you want to do at university. Some individuals have a passion for something that carries on into their tertiary education, and that’s fine! But just because they look like they have it all figured out, it doesn’t mean they do or that you should have it all mapped out too. What I wanted to pursue as a career at eighteen isn’t what I wanted to pursue at twenty-one. Sometimes a few more years of maturity and growth can provide more clarity in these areas. A lot of my friends that gave me grief over changing courses dropped out of their degrees in their final year to study something else, or dropped out of university entirely.
I always said that I would rather figure it all out whilst I’m young and already enrolled at university than finish a degree I had no intention of working in just to either conform with what everyone else was doing, or what other people wanted you to do, and then try and regain entry into university ten years down the track. I’m glad despite what everyone told me, I trusted myself to know what I was doing.
Just remember that at the end of the day it’s all your time, effort, and money required to obtain a degree, so make sure it’s what YOU want, because that piece of paper and those career opportunities are your reward at the end of the road. It’s a journey of self-discovery, and I can promise even at times when you’re unsure about the destination, you’ll find your way.
by Dakota Richards