How Students Become Empowered by Finding Direction

Part Three on The Secret of Finding Direction Going Into University – The Finale

Part III of Elli Miller’s case studies on the theme of ‘Directions’

Earlier this year I wrote a juggernaut of a piece for the Directions Edition, titled “Why It’s Okay Not to Have Direction (Going into University)”, which was followed by its sequel “How students Become Empowered by Finding Direction”. The entire trilogy was dreamt up in mind of young people, who were expected to go to university, but had no or little idea of what they wanted to do. It’s a dilemma faced each year by school and university students alike, and a dilemma that I believe warrants exploration. Which is why I set out to interview six friends of mine, asking them how they found direction going into university. And six months later I can finally present my last two friends; Em and Paris


Em has a medical condition which has put the entire prospect of university up to debate and raised the question: what career could accommodate her needs? After discussing the prospect of an Arts degree with her parents, they expressed that they weren’t too happy with the idea and told her to combine it with an Education degree. 

While Em enjoyed the Arts experience for its focus on reading and writing, the Education degree gave her some concern. 

“I know I could teach people certain things, but I was feeling apprehensive about teaching full time and I still feel that way.” 

Since then, Em has moved campuses, and now feels more supported to finish her degree, mainly because she has greater and easier access to placements which are a lot closer to home and university. Recently, however, a new work opportunity has arisen which is tempting Em to put her studies on hold for a while. 

In 2018, Em was a residential advisor, and her work there proved that she could do more than just teach. She could also support and guide people – something that she would be able to do in this new job.

“I found that it’s a bit of a struggle with my medical condition and university to do full time work, and this job is accommodating for when I can’t walk and a lot of other stuff.”

But Em doesn’t want to abandon her studies completely. She recognises that in life there may be better opportunities which she might want to take advantage of. She also has a very strong will to finish the things she’s started. 

Em’s advice to incoming first years would be: 

“Don’t make the rash decision to drop out and defer, your degree can get you a job at the end of the day, so persevere and if you need to take a break you can take a break, but you can get back into it.” 

“Uni’s really cool and I think it’s a good way to break off into adult life. You’re young and in need of guidance but you also have enough freedom to make your own mistakes and figure out what you want to do.”

“Uni’s really cool and I think it’s a good way to break off into adult life. You’re young and in need of guidance but you also have enough freedom to make your own mistakes and figure out what you want to do.”


In her final year of schooling, Zoë was under immense pressure to do well. For her, applying to universities was consequential to her primary goal of getting through Year 12 and doing well. 

When choosing her preferences, Zoë says that her scores in Legal Studies in Year 11 influenced her decision to consider Law. 

“I think I was pretty driven to do well in school and I wanted a course to challenge me and push me, and the competitive edge of VCE got me in the mix with everyone else to get in a highly competitive degree.”

Zoë also included health-oriented subjects in her preferencing. She was interested in health outside of school, but what drove her decision in choosing her top preferences were the subjects which were more academically demanding. 

Zoë did very well in VCE, and got accepted into a double degree of Arts Law. But rather than immediately jump into university, she took a gap year, and found it to be formative in both positive and negative ways. 

When Zoë finished her gap year, she found that she was quite excited to return to her studies. She very much enjoyed her Arts degree, especially philosophy and human rights, but like Paris from our first interview, she found that she didn’t resonate in the same way with Law. 

“I can’t really remember being attached to Law, but obviously it took one semester to realise it’s not what I wanted to be doing.”

Zoë realised that she was stuck in the mindset of where was Law going to take her rather into the future, rather than focusing on what she wanted in the present. 

“Law didn’t engage in my personal interests for now, I wanted something I was more passionate about and let that take the lead.” 

 “In any course you do, there’s elements you don’t love, but I wasn’t committed in a personal sense to justify my studying there.” 

I asked Zoë where and how she found her direction in university and she said that it ironically came from a lot of indecision. She examined herself under a microscope and shuffled how she perceived herself, deciding how she wanted to put her interests into practice. She started volunteering in her passions and has since learnt what she enjoys. 

“Instead of thinking about getting the best grades or about an ATAR, I’m in a field which has allowed me to figure out what I want to do. And now I know I want to work in mental health. Doing the Arts degree doesn’t lead onto that, and I’m going to need to do a longer pathway, but I’m more willing to stick it out. But being indecisive and making changes has allowed me to gain direction.” For context, Zoë has changed her major thrice.

Zoë believes that at year 12, it’s hard to know what you want, and you haven’t had the opportunity to realise what’s important to you. A lot of development takes place in your late teens and early twenties which adds onto one’s life experiences. Schools place an emphasis to succeed from the get go, but not enough on figuring out what you like and what you enjoy, because that takes time. 

“Take the time to sit back and reflect on why it is you’re doing what you’re doing, and if it makes you feel good inside and outside your course.” 

Zoë emphasises that life outside of university, the sources of your happiness in your day-to-day life, the forces driving you, all impact your direction. But having said all that, it’s important to relieve yourself of the pressure of knowing every minute of every day what you want to do, and allowing yourself to explore that, no matter if you change your mind, once, twice, or three times. 

Zoë generally is is very eloquent in how she expresses herself so I’ll let her speak directly to the incoming university students of ’19, and even ‘20:

“Your ATAR doesn’t seal your fate. The obsession with my ATAR pushed me away from what I cared about. You don’t learn to care about something because you’re doing well. You can’t love something if you force yourself to get good grades. It really is not the deciding factor. Here I am about to go into a grad diploma which is entirely distinct from the two majors I’ve finished. Since then I’ve just taken the time to enjoy myself, using the last three years to both study and do extra-curricular and professional things. All that has taught me who I am and what I love and where I want to go next.”

Lessons learned 

So we’ve learnt a few things from our series. We had a bunch of teens who went to university because, for the most part, it was expected of them. They had some gist of what they wanted, but only really figured out their calling with time. 

Nir found that out by doing the research, thinking about where his interests lay, and deciding based on all the evidence and circumstance where his direction lay. 

Ana for the most part is still unsure what she truly wants to do. She knows she’s going to get there in the end, but she knows only time will tell, time and experience. She’s also learnt to take the time if you need the time. 

Zoë has learnt that for direction, you need to be more in tune with yourself. Like everyone in this series of interviews, that has involved time, making mistakes, and realising where your values lie.

“But if there’s one truth which lies underneath them all, it’s that ‘time will tell.”

But if there’s one truth which lies underneath them all, it’s that ‘time will tell.’

Time will inform us about who we are, what we like, what we want to do with ourselves, and where our values lie. It can be scary not to know what you want to do with yourself, and scary for your family and friends around you. But it’s going to be okay. As long as you get the experience and follow your intuition, you’ll be fine. Maybe your intuition is wrong, and maybe you’ll feel that you made the wrong choice, but that’s learning and that’s life. How can you be expected to know what you want to do with yourself at the age of 18 for a working life set to last 40 years? 

You’ll figure out what you want because this is the time when you’re learning the most about yourself. And no matter what you’re doing you’ll be learning about yourself.

Tl;dr – It’s okay not to have direction going into university. 

Elli is currently studying Medicine at Monash University after completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Science

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