Attention Year 12 Students: Your ATAR score does NOT define you

I still remember feeling deflated in late 2000 when I checked my Yr 12 HSC results. There was only dial-up internet back then (for anyone under 30, computers used to make this wild noise before you could go online). After an eternity of clicking and refreshing, I eventually discovered my mediocre marks.

I honestly do not remember what my ATAR was. It was somewhere in the low 70s and I was pretty disappointed. I had not bombed but had not shone. Did this mean I was destined to be an average person my whole life?

Your ATAR does NOT define you and does not determine your future. It says little about your ability and potential and nothing about your character and worth. You are more than a number.

In my personal case, school was too rigid and constrictive and I never felt motivated to give more than a minimal effort. I left school and played guitar in a band for a couple of years. I travelled, I read, and I worked various jobs. At 22, I decided I wanted to become a history teacher.

The atmosphere and culture of a university campus is incomparable to high school (at least the stuffy, private Christian school I attended). I thrived in the university environment and ended up completing a PhD. I am now a published historian and teach at a university. I give my undergraduates the same advice every year: forget about school.

There are so many other examples. Brilliant writer and comedian, Catherine Deveny, scored 51 in her final Yr 12 English exam. In 2014, her story, The Rainbow House, was used as a HSC text. Scores of high school drop outs have gone on to become hugely successful in business, sports, and entertainment. Paul Keating left school at 15 and became one of the most successful federal treasurers in Australian history, and later prime minister.

Paul Keating went from high school drop out to Australian prime minister.

Success in life and success in the HSC are completely different things. I know people who nailed the HSC but struggled terribly at university. I know others who never sat the HSC but thrived in the business world and eventually were paid by their company to complete a degree.

The pressure placed on students to excel at the HSC is completely disproportionate to its importance. If you are committed to a particular university course and you do not get in initially, see that as an opportunity. Take time out to assess your goals. Complete a TAFE diploma. Travel. Work. Experience life as an adult. You will eventually get your shot at university and in my experience, the best students do not come straight from high school anyway.

If your ATAR is high then congratulations. You’ve worked hard and reaped the reward. If it is low, or you did not get one, do not fret. Your story is just beginning and as the years go by, school marks will fade into insignificance. If, like me, your ATAR is mediocre, remember you are anything but!

Find your passion, follow your dreams, watch the brilliant, late Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, and carpe diem baby.

(One last post script for the under 30s: you probably didn’t get the reference but Carpe Diem Baby is a 1997 Metallica song.)