Alternative pathways to university ensure equal opportunity – meaning those who have the will, drive, passion, and skill to excel in higher education, have the chance to do so, even if they didn’t follow a ‘typical’ study path.
Grace Kelly is a bubbly and enthusiastic student in her first year of a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Canberra. She’s passionate about the justice system, and eager to make a difference. If it weren’t for an alternative pathway program, delivered by UC College, Grace might not be studying at university.
When Grace was 14 years old, her world was turned upside down. Her mum was involved in a serious car accident, which left her unable to work. Mounting financial pressures led to them losing their home, and Grace spent a period living with friends before a foster care arrangement was made with extended family.
Her life as she knew it had been disrupted, and she had to adjust to a whole new way of living.
School became a safe environment for Grace, so she focused intently on her studies. She was enrolled in the Big Picture Academy at Melrose High School, a personalised education program, which allows students to immerse themselves in a topic that interests them. She used this opportunity to focus on her passion for dance.
“I actually wanted to be at school – it helped a lot. I had some really good teachers and there was a good student support team,” Grace says.
She moved to Canberra College for Years 11 and 12, where she continued to study dance, but a new passion emerged when she enrolled in a legal studies unit.
“Legal studies played a big part in my decision to come to university later on,” Grace says.
Even though at that point I was pursuing dance, that’s when I realised, I was very passionate about the justice system. When we began learning about the recidivism rate, and treatment of inmates in the system, I realised I wanted to be an advocate for better treatment of incarcerated people.
When challenges arose with Grace’s foster care arrangements, her social worker suggested the possibility of moving out, aided with financial support from Barnardos Australia.
Despite these complexities in her personal circumstances, Grace successfully completed Year 12, and went on to study a Certificate IV at the Dance Development Centre in Canberra. For two years, she was either training in dance, or studying the craft from 11am to 6pm every day.
It was 2022 when she began looking into her options for university.
Having not completed a tertiary package in college, and therefore not receiving a tertiary admissions score (ATAR), she sought out alternative ways to gain entry into university. That’s when she found the diverse range of courses offered by UC College.
“When I came across UC College, they had all these bridging courses, and it seemed like a welcoming environment,” Grace says.
I didn't second guess myself – in the moment I decided – I'm going to uni.
Grace enrolled in UC Prep, a 14-week bridging program that prepares prospective students with the skills they need to excel at university.
She learned about or refreshed her understanding of researching, report and essay writing, oral presentations, time management, and university-level referencing.
Fast forward, and Grace has just completed her first semester of a Bachelor of Laws. She feels that UC Prep provided her with the important skills that she would need for tertiary study and empowered her to make the most of her first semester.
UC Prep has done its job, she knew what to expect from tertiary study – there was just one surprise.
“I guess I just had in my head this stereotype of university lecturers being unwilling to help, and that you’re all on your own,” Grace says.
“But it's been very different! They’re very supportive, which I think is nice. If you reach out, your teachers are willing to help.”
Now, Grace is working as an Aspiration Agent with the UC Equity and Participation team, while she prepares for her second semester. She particularly enjoys conducting school visits, where the Agents work with primary and high school students in regional areas, to show what university life is like.
Grace loves chatting with the students about their hopes for university, and to show them that it can be done, that everyone’s timeline is different, and that there are pathways out there for every person to achieve their goals.
Story by Kelly White, photos by Tyler Cherry.