Taking the road less travelled after school

Kathleen Ferguson meets three young people who have followed their dreams without relying on a university entrance score.

23 September 2021
A young man playing guitar
Image: Passion project: Rodney Coote has already had three careers since leaving high school.

While all roads may lead to Rome, when it comes to focusing on a post-school career there are certainly many paths.

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is an important number for many students, but countless successful people have achieved their goals without following a path to tertiary education.

Here are just a few examples of people who followed the road a little less travelled to their dreams.

The musician

Former Manilla Central School student Rodney Coote’s journey to his job has been anything but linear. The Newcastle-based musician was inspired by his teachers, and thought he would one day work as an educator.

“I liked the idea that high school teachers would choose a few subjects that they were truly passionate about and that they would focus on honing their craft,” he said.

Rodney’s ambition to teach was complicated by a passion for music, and an admiration for and interest in his great uncle’s service to Australia during WWI and his grandfather’s experiences during the Korean War.

Naturally, Rodney decided he better try all three.

He took up singing lessons and applied for a gap year program with the Australian Defence Force and a university position.

Rodney received his university offer four weeks into his Royal Australian Airforce program and decided to defer university for a year.

“Over those 12 months, I met some amazing people, like-minded people, travelled across different parts of Australia, developed so many life skills, and just learned what life was after school was all about,” Rodney said.

He was given the choice to continue working full-time in that role with the ADF, or to transfer to the reserves, which he decided to do so that he could start his teaching degree at university.

Rodney’s involvement in the campus performing arts scene opened even more doors into his other passion; music.

“I started writing and releasing my own original music that would later get played on Triple J, Triple J Unearthed, ABC Radio National, community radios across Australia, and in more than 100 countries across the globe,” he said.

Now a teacher at Whitebridge High School in Newcastle, Rodney can still draw on recent memory when he offers advice for current year 12 students.

“I tell students in my classes that persistence and consistency have both been the two things that have helped me moving forward, but in the circumstance that you do fall short of that mark you wanted to achieve, there are now so many different pathways.

“No two journeys will ever be the same and they should never be compared.”

A young teacher in a classroom with Chinese students.
Image: A ticket to travel: Alex spent time in Zhengzhou in early 2020 volunteering as a kindergarten teacher.

The primary teacher

Alex Cox never thought she would attend university. While attending high school Alex worked as a special-effects makeup artist on the side, and imagining that would be her post-school career never applied for an ATAR.

But with limited opportunities in Australia because of its relatively small film industry, Alex decided she wanted more skills to work in a sector with good job prospects.

Alex is now finishing up her masters of primary teaching at university; a path she never expected to take and one that’s taken her all the way to China.

Alex spent time in Zhengzhou in early 2020 volunteering as a kindergarten teacher.

“It [teaching] was always something I wanted to do in the back of my mind and luckily the certificates from my vocational college scored myself a ticket into a Bachelor of Arts, Pathways into Teaching Primary,” she said.

Alex hopes year 12 students don’t get too stressed about finding their way into the course they want, whether through vocational training or university.

“You shouldn’t get overly stressed about it, as university has so many pathways now.”

A male and female standing together looking straight at the camera.
Image: Fashionable approach: Cameron McCormick has launched his own sustainable clothing line.

The fashion designer

Cameron McCormick went to a small rural high school in the New England region of the state, but always had big dreams to become a fashion designer.

Cameron didn’t need an ATAR to get into his Bachelor Degree with a private design college, but that didn’t mean getting accepted into his course was easy.

“They look at your creativity and eagerness to learn,” Cameron said.

It was through on-the-job experience in small and big fashion companies that Cameron received the knowledge he needed to take the next step in his career – creating his own brand.

“I wanted to start my own brand but I needed to learn the business from the inside which is something you don't learn at fashion school,” he said.

“I decided to go out on my own and create my own boutique clothing label, Cameron Robert McCormick, which focuses on design and sustainability,” he said.

Cameron said getting an ATAR could be a gateway to studying or learning something that aligned with values and passion, but it wasn’t the only way.

“Your life after your ATAR is a journey, and everyone's path is different.”

  • Latest news
Return to top of page Back to top