In 2015 Callum Ellis was up early on the day the ATAR scores were released.

Young man standing in front of a tree.
Not getting the ATAR he wanted hasn’t stopped Callum Ellis from achieving his dreams.

He was brimming with excitement, certain he was about to reach his dreams of doing a Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) at RMIT University which had an ATAR entry score of 94 at the time.

In an endeavour to achieve his best possible score he had quit his job and the football team, and cut down on his socialising to focus solely on his studies.

It was going to be the moment of truth and he’d find out if his efforts had been worth it.

For Callum, it wasn’t.

He achieved an ATAR score of 56.75 — 38 points below the score he needed to get into his dream course.

Not surprisingly, he was devastated and felt that he’d failed.

‘‘It was silly, I had my hopes pinned onto the idea that I was going to get into this course and this was going to be my future, my pathway. But it was a very unrealistic expectation in the end,’’ Callum said.

After recovering from the disappointment, he decided he might as well play to what he thought were his strengths and study something that was related to his strongest subject in VCE — physics.

Callum started an Associate Degree in Engineering Technology and hated every minute of it.

‘‘It was a lot of electrical engineering that I already knew about and didn’t want to relearn — and I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on stuff that I already knew,’’ Callum said.

He quit the course within a month and decided that a year working would be a better idea while he again reassessed what he wanted to do.

Callum got a job at the Seymour BP petrol station and worked there on the weekends.

Seeking to challenge himself and to work on what he felt what his worst aspect — his memory — Callum decided to do a Diploma of Languages at RMIT.

His language of choice was Chinese, one of the hardest languages to learn, and he decided to do it in intensive mode which meant that students only had one year to complete their studies.

‘‘The course had a drop-out rate of about 80 per cent, 75 per cent. I think we started off with about 15 students in this course and finished up with four by the end of the year — and one of those failed at the end. I ended up topping the class,’’ Callum said.

‘‘I was really determined; I was really determined to prove to prove myself because I’d had people joking around and mucking around because I’d got the bad ATAR. But I was very determined to prove to myself that I was actually able to do something.’’

However, the best news was yet to come.

Because of his high grades in the diploma, he was eligible to apply for the Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) and he was overjoyed when he found out that he had been accepted.

Callum said in hindsight his decision to cut so much out of his personal life and prioritise school was a mistake because in the end it had the opposite effect of what it was supposed to.

‘‘I quit everything and decided to try and focus on studies — but I got so burnt out that I couldn’t be bothered with my studies any more. I was like, ‘I’m too tired to do this, I’ll study later’. It was really, really boring and horrible,’’ he said.

‘‘Looking back on it, it was such a bad decision. You can’t expect a normal functioning human to be able to simply study then sleep. You want to enjoy yourself and not have a bad time or be bored. It’s just natural instinct. So to just simply study and then sleep, it can really burn you out. And I learned that pretty quickly.’’

This was the message Callum gave to this year’s senior students at Seymour College when he spoke at an assembly on Thursday last week.

He spoke about his disappointment at not achieving the ATAR score he wanted and believing he would never get into the degree he wanted.

However his experience has taught him there are many pathways to get where you want to go, and that ATAR scores aren’t the be-all and end-all.

Callum finished his talk by saying he hoped others would realise that it was never too late to chase your dreams.

‘‘I’m hoping that you can take something out of my story and realise that if you don’t achieve exactly what you were hoping for and you’re devastated, it’s never too late.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 6 2019.