There’s more than one way to make it into university. Nine current students share their experiences and reveal how the road less travelled can sometimes be the most rewarding.
The alternative entry student
Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan. For biomedical science student Rory Hocknell that’s exactly what happened in 2014.
He explains: “Year 12 finished and ATARs came out and, naturally, I wasn’t the happiest.”
Though Hocknell had been offered a position at another university, he says, “It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. One of the things I had been thinking to myself was maybe uni isn’t for me; maybe I should just do another course, like hotel management.”
Then a friend mentioned an ad for the Faculty of Science’s aptitude assessment. After a quick look on Google, Hocknell registered for the free assessment and sat it. “From memory, it was just basic statistics, maths and comprehension,” recalls Hocknell. “It was more to see what I was like as a person and the skills I have, rather than what my ATAR said I was.
“A few days later I received an email to say I was accepted into UTS Science, and it was the happiest day of my life! It was a second chance and it meant the world to me.”
From day one, Hocknell, who was just 17-years-old at the time, threw himself into his studies. He signed up to clubs, volunteered and became a Peer Networker, “one of the orange shirt people”, and scored part-time jobs with UTS Careers, the UTS IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Centre and the Faculty of Science itself.
They’re all activities Hocknell has combined with his degree to secure an internship at Ogilvy CommonHealth and a graduate job coordinating clinical trials when he finishes studying later this year.
Hocknell says, “You need to know there’s always another way.” And while for him, ‘the other way’ was an aptitude assessment, UTS also offers other options, like diplomas at UTS:INSEARCH, the Schools Recommendation Scheme, the Elite Athletes and Performers Special Admissions scheme and for Indigenous students the Jumbunna Pathways Program, to name just a few.
The Sydney high school student
Third-year engineering student Adam Issa is no stranger to difficulty. He grew up in western Sydney, in an area he says, “attracted a lot of drug addicts and alcoholics. There were a lot of kids who had drug issues, family issues and I had to charge through that because I wanted to just focus on my work and get into university.
“Coming here was a huge change for me,” admits Issa. “When I used to go to school, I hated it. Every day I’d not look forward to it. Actually I would skip a lot of days. But in my first year of university I don’t think I skipped a single day!”
One year in though, Issa, who originally enrolled in a combined business and engineering degree, decided business just wasn’t right for him. Anchor“I could see the contrast between the two degrees, and I thought why should I only enjoy half of my time at university?
“So in my second year I switched over to engineering and now I’m fully enjoying university, not just half the classes. I love all the classes I go to. I enjoy all the assignments I do.”
The non-school leaver
From living on a property owned by farmer Brown (seriously) to being nominated for outstanding midwifery student of the year, Teonie Brunell has experienced it all.
The single mother and full-time midwifery student balances raising her 10-year-old daughter, with attending clinical placements for her degree and working part-time in hospitality to “pay the bills”.
But moving out of her comfort zone and into a new city wasn’t easy. Brunell grew up in Forster on the NSW Mid North Coast. She always wanted to study midwifery at UTS but after she failed to secure an offer after high school, Brunell decided to apply to a university closer to home, then reapply to UTS after she completed her first year.
After, this time, being accepted into UTS, Brunell packed up her life and moved to Sydney. “I cried for most of the drive,” she admits. “I was scared of the unknown and Sydney seemed like the biggest place in the world to me. Forster has only installed traffic lights in the last couple of years, so it has been a big adjustment for me.
“Juggling study, work and parenting alone has been tricky; I’m still trying to get the balance right. But I have established amazing friendships at uni and we all rely on each other emotionally,” Brunell adds.
Last May, Brunell was named a finalist in the Australian College of Midwives Outstanding Midwifery Student of the Year Awards. She was nominated by Lecturer Allison Cummins. “I felt extremely humbled and even a little undeserving,” admits Brunell. “I initially thought there may have been a typo, but quickly remembered how unique my name is! Sometimes it’s not until someone points out your success that you start to realise it.”
The part-time student
Mikayla Matheson’s studies began like many others’ – moving straight from high school to university. But just a couple weeks in to her degree, the Bachelor of Communication (Digital and Social Media) student had to drop down to a part-time study load.
“I was suffering from an ongoing chronic illness, so I was struggling with the workload and recovering from the symptoms,” explains Matheson.
While she admits, “The flexibility can be scary, since everything is up to you, it’s also really exciting!”
So too is her degree. “I just love how different it is,” enthuses Matheson. “The content we look at is so current and relatable.
“The industry is rapidly changing and I really feel UTS is already equipping us with the necessary skills to adapt and prepare us for any kind of environment.”
Matheson hopes that eventually the degree will give her opportunities to work on digital communication platforms with travel companies.
“I was so unsure when choosing to do this degree because I didn't know anyone who had completed it. But I’m so glad I chose it. It's interesting, fun, different and so current.”
The intrastate student
The average person moving from the country to city probably doesn’t anticipate having to move eight times in the first five years. But, thanks to a series of landlord woes and one degree change, that’s exactly what happened to Steffie Yee.
The Branxton-raised animation student says starting university “was a crash course in how to cope with change and trying to figure out what I wanted to do”.
Though Yee originally enrolled in a visual communication degree at UTS, two years in she switched to animation. “I realised I had an interest in animation more than visual communication,” she says.
While the internal transfer itself wasn’t difficult, figuring out how to go about it was. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “I could defer, but if I defer where do I live? Do I stay in Sydney? Do I move back to Branxton?
“Everyone has this romanticised idea of being nomadic, of travelling and always moving around. But really, having one place you can always go back to is really nice.”
Eventually, Yee decided to stick it out in Sydney. And now, in the midst of completing her honours year in animation and living in a share-house in Glebe, she can finally laugh about her early experiences; even the 11-room share house caked in sawdust and filled with noisy jackhammers.
The local student in UTS Housing
Wattle Lane, Ultimo is a far cry from the Blue Mountains. So it’s unsurprising that when Christopher Seymour moved to the city he found the mass of people and noise overwhelming.
The self-described extrovert says the new environment was “really intimidating. It was like I turned into an introvert.
"But slowly,” says Seymour, “I made friends. Now I'm reverting back to my old self, which is good."
Seymour is currently studying a Bachelor of Science in Games Development and hopes to one day gain a project management position at video gaming company Ubisoft or start his own company.
Though Seymour says his decision to move to Sydney and attend UTS was made impulsively, he’s happy with his choice and says other young people living in rural areas shouldn't be afraid to move away from home.
"You're going to make lots of new friends and you're always going to like have your family there to go back to if you need to."
The Aussie-born, internationally raised student
At age three, Australian-born Zehava Heinrich moved to Israel with her family. Seventeen years later, she packed her bags and moved back to Sydney, by herself, turning down an offer to study at chef school to do a law degree at UTS.
Heinrich says, "I moved to Australia to develop myself and become the best version of myself. There was no plan.”
But she admits the transition to life at UTS was "very overwhelming" due both to the English language requirements and a handful of students she first met upon her return.
"I wanted to make friends at law school, but I did not feel like I had anything in common with them.”
After deciding “I need to do something about it", Heinrich joined ActivateUTS and, together with friends, decided to “bring back to life” the Out2Party (O2P) club - a group for queer students at UTS. She says, "It’s one of the best things I did".
"From being zero, literally, when I first came to UTS to being on the Students’ Association and being President of O2P is just amazing."
And it’s had a positive impact on her studies too. Recently, Zehava progressed to the quarter-finals of a UTS Law Students’ Society witness examination competition, an accomplishment she could not have made as a first year "because my English was shit".
“I believe it’s okay to fall as long as you remember to get back up. I see nothing as a failure, but as a path to success.”
The university transfer student
For journalism and Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII) student Jordan Fermanis, “The idea of being an academic guinea pig appealed to me more than being the gazillionth person to finish an arts degree.”
After graduating from a prestigious Sydney high school in 2009 and feeling the pressure to succeed, Fermanis launched straight into an arts degree at another university. But soon, he says, he realised he had “no employable skills”.
That’s why, in 2014, Fermanis transferred to UTS to enroll in the new BCII. “It’s a completely different style of teaching and learning which exercises different skills, like how to re-define a problem or work on projects from different disciplines,” explains Fermanis.
“It’s not just about reading theory from a textbook, it’s about looking at the broader, more meaningful aspects of problems, and finding new ways to solve them.”
Since starting his degree, Fermanis says he “hasn’t looked back”.
“I think BCII will definitely give me a whole new set of opportunities, outside of journalism, that could push my career forward.”
After all, he adds, “You go to university because you love it, whereas you go to school because that’s what the government has said.”
The exchange student
Marusa Moze is a business student on exchange from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
“I came to UTS because it was my lifelong dream to live in Australia. This country has always had a special place in my heart and what better way to experience it than on exchange, surrounded by like-minded people that are eager to explore?”
However, adds Moze, “Moving to Australia was a big change, not just culturally but also the university life is totally different from what we have at home.” One of the biggest differences, she says, is the interaction between the students and teachers.
“Back home I cannot talk on this level with professors, they’re always the authority figures and they are not approachable as they are here. At UTS, the lecturers always make the time to advise you in person or via email.”
Another big change is the diverse student body, something Moze gets to experience first-hand living at the UTS Housing residence, Yura Mudang. “In my flat there are students from Korea, India, Germany, Slovenia, China and we are all really diverse.”
When she first moved to Sydney, Moze says, “I did experience this culture shock which made my mood go up and down. I was trying to be as positive and happy as I could be, but in the back of my mind I didn’t feel like I belonged here.
“In the end, I figured it is best if you are just kind and willing to accept people from different backgrounds because they can show you their true colours and you can see that there is nothing scary about moving and being alone in a place where at first you thought you didn’t belong.”