Sarah Harrington's first year of university isn't quite what she was expecting, but neither was year 12 with its months of remote learning.
The Loreto College dux, who this week was awarded a prestigious Premier's Top All-Round VCE High Achievers award, is studying medicine at Monash University and, like her final year of secondary school, much of her first year of university so far has been in front of a screen.
She's looking forward to more face to face learning this semester, but admits the whole COVID experience has probably made her more prepared for university than she would otherwise have been.
"COVID last year helped me in a way to be more prepared for independent and online learning," she said.
"I'm more prepared for the first semester being online. You need to do your own work and there's no one there to tell you off ... but at the same time I'm missing the face-to-face experience and you do lose motivation."
Although Sarah has connected with fellow first year medicine students, she admits she's missing many of the social activities that university is known for.
She has been catching up with classmates in the library and finds it easy to make friends as they all have a common goal.
"It's good to meet people from a range of different backgrounds who all share a similar passion for medicine," she said. "It's hard work to get in to medicine, but they also have a passion for helping."
Sarah had a tough decision to make after recording an ATAR of 99.95 - one of just six girls and 32 boys across Victoria to record the top ATAR. She recorded study scores of 50 in English Language, Chemistry and Biology which she completed in year 11.
The 99.95 ATAR saw her offered a chancellor's scholarship to the University of Melbourne, but she instead opted for the Monash course because it was a direct entry in to medicine rather than having to complete an undergraduate degree before studying medicine at Melbourne Uni.
Now she is living in residence at Monash University's Clayton campus and enjoying the independence.
Although interested in specialising in gastroenterology, Sarah is keeping an open mind about which direction to head with her medical career but she would definitely like to practice in a regional or rural area to help ease some of the medical workforce shortage outside of the city.
I found it helpful to focus on what you can do and what you can change, not what you can't.Sarah Harrington
"For me I'm very much a country person. I love the country lifestyle and sense of community not being in busy city so moving back to a regional area is something that really interests me. At the moment I'll see where life takes me and if I get a job that's only available in the city I'd stay, but living and moving back to a regional area with the shortage of doctors in rural areas as well is another drawcard."
Having excelled despite the challenges faced during her year 12 studies, Sarah has some advice for this year's senior students also bearing the brunt of lockdowns and remote learning.
"I found it helpful to focus on what you can do and what you can change, not what you can't," she said.
"It's obviously difficult with lots of things cancelled and the year isn't running the way you wanted, but some things you can't change so I just put in my best effort and hoped."
IN OTHER NEWS
Speaking to The Courier when ATAR scores were released, Sarah said she had found it hard to keep up motivation during the lockdowns but having an ultimate goal in mind helped her keep working.
She also tried to keep up with sport and exercise - including lots of walking, yoga and pilates - to maintain some balance and look after her mental health.
Sarah said she was honoured to be one of 23 students across Victoria given Top All-Round VCE High Achiever Awards in the Premier's VCE Awards.
A total of 297 Victorian students, including nine from Ballarat, received 323 awards across 90 subjects, including 297 Study Awards, the 23 Top All-Round VCE High Achiever Awards and three Top International Student Awards.
- Look out for more of Ballarat's award-winning VCE students at thecourier.com.au this week
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