Don’t panic! Confusion is perfectly natural

UNSW Engineering Rural Scholarship recipient Brody Smith relives the bewildering array of decisions he faced in his last few years of high school. This is how the country kid hit the big city! 

If you’re feeling worried, anxious or confused about life after high school; if your brain goes fuzzy and your stomach turns at the thought of it all — relax, that’s natural! The one sentiment everyone at this stage of life shares is confusion.

Originally from God’s Country, aka the NSW – Victoria border town of Albury, I’m now a fourth year Mechatronic/Biomedical Engineering student at UNSW; but my journey from country high school to big city university was far from standard.

My early adolescent self was a stark contrast to the guy that’s writing to you now. I was suspended in year 9 and couldn’t wait to leave school at the end of year 10 to get an apprenticeship and start making real money. But as that time approached, it became apparent that 15-year-old Brody was in no way ready for the working world. So I stayed on to do my HSC.

Toward the end of year 11, I realised that hard work really does translate to success. The more I tried in school, the more rewarding I found it and, suddenly, I was coming first in many of my classes. That was when I started considering university education.

Looking into degree options a year before I was set to graduate compacted my confusion into a neat 12-month package. Which degree should I study? Which university should I go to? Could I get the youth allowance? Where would I live? Would anyone give me a scholarship? Could I even afford to move to the city? Would my fellow uni students all be geniuses? Would I be able to keep up? Is a degree even worth all this anxiety?

Brody’s recipe for successful decision-making

It’s a lot to figure out but I’ve learned that research is the best antidote to confusion. Don’t just skim a few undergraduate guides and think, "oh yeah, that sounds cool”. Do real research on:

  • Yourself. Think about what you truly enjoy doing and what you don’t. Identify your strengths and discover why your weaknesses are your weaknesses. Don’t rely on the opinions of teachers, parents and peers. Do this research independently because, ultimately, no one knows yourself like you do.
  • Careers. Make sure that you understand exactly what is entailed in the day-to-day roles of professionals from each engineering specialisation. Choose a degree accordingly.
  • Scholarships and cadetships. Universities offer a huge range of financial incentives to students. Find out what programs you may be eligible for to make your transition to uni as stress-free as possible.

Weighing your options against your personal aptitudes should help to clear your mental fog, leaving room to make a well-calculated decision.

It was this process that led me to UNSW Engineering where I have been lucky enough to receive an engineering rural scholarship, live on-campus at Basser College, meet life-long friends, explore the beauty of Sydney’s beaches AND study the things I actually want to study. It also allowed me to study abroad – in fact I am writing this post from the University of California, Santa Barbara library.

I want to reiterate the importance of taking the time to sit down and absorb all the information out there. While you may be feeling overwhelmed now, setting priorities and collating the facts will clarify your situation. Ride that wave knowing that you’ll pop out the other side equipped with the determination and knowledge to get you anywhere.

Stay tuned for more from me and good luck with your next chapter. Thanks for reading!

-     Brody Smith, 4th year UNSW Mechatronic/Biomedical Engineering student

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