My heart pounded as I logged on to the UAC website that morning to find out my score. I slowly scrolled down the page to where it was recorded. But when I read the words “Your Universities Admission Index (UAI)”, I stopped. I was so afraid to keep reading, thinking that the UAI rank that followed those words would determine my future.
I held my breath and braced for impact. I had received a UAI of 47.45. To ensure there was no confusion, my UAI was also written out as “*FOUR*SEVEN***FOUR*FIVE*”. If I am honest, I thought I was being modest when I had estimated a score of 55, so when I realised I had scored in the 40s, I felt like throwing up.
As I processed these results, the fight or flight response kicked in and I began to panic. “My parents are going to kill me,” I thought. I couldn’t bear to tell them the news over the phone so I waited until they came home. I will never forget the look of disappointment on their faces when I told them my score. My mother said she thought I could have done better. My father didn’t utter a single word.
I was just as embarrassed of my UAI as my parents were. When my UAI letter arrived in the mail, I buried it in a storage container and piled the rest of my school belongings on top, hoping that action would bury the shame I felt that day too.
I didn’t get into university straight away. I enrolled instead into a short course at a college, which provided an alternative pathway for me to go to university. Once at university, I was able to complete a bachelor of midwifery – a degree that today requires double the UAI that I had received.
I had my three children while studying, which my lecturers strongly advised against because they believed it would stop me from finishing my degree. Because I proved them wrong, I wanted to frame my degree as evidence that I could achieve anything. But as I rummaged through my belongings to see if I could find a spare frame, I happened to stumble upon my UAI letter.
Tears rolled down my face as memories of that day I received my HSC results came flooding back. I wish I could have owned my UAI score and celebrated the fact that I had completed 13 years of schooling, instead of feeling sorry for myself. It is my hope that every HSC student this year – regardless of their ATAR – does the same and takes pride in making it to the end of what has been a year filled with many trials and tests. That is an achievement in itself.
Today, my UAI letter sits framed on my desk as a reminder that no test result, person or circumstance can control your life. The only person who can change your life is you.
Danielle Mahe is a Sydney midwife and writer.