Students in their final year of school sacrificed all sorts of experiences in 2020 for the sake of public safety; there were fewer parties, group study sessions, weekends away, music festivals and, for a while there, formals were on shaky ground.
But as graduates look to the year ahead, it’s a lack of work experience making it difficult to decide what to study next, and when.
Narrabundah College student Freyja Cianchi put her head down at college, studying the International Baccalaureate and excelling in the core discipline of Experimental Science – biology, chemistry and environmental systems.
“I really want to be a heart surgeon,” she said.
Until coronavirus made her plan impossible, she dreamt of travelling to Nepal to participate in a work experience program for teenagers considering a career in medicine.
This would have allowed her to observe doctors and nurses at work, ask questions, experience another culture, and gain practical knowledge about the demands of the medical industry before heading down a notoriously difficult academic path.
“My family knows I really want to do medicine.
“But they’ve all asked ‘Freyja, why aren’t you doing ecology?’ Because I’ve always had a really strong relationship with ecology and environmental sciences.”
While Ms Cianchi agreed it was a good back-up plan, she decided to trust her gut.
“I think I’d rather try medicine first, see where that takes me and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll probably go to environmental sciences.”
It was a similar story amongst her friends.
“A lot of them wanted to do work experience to concretely decide what they wanted to do, and COVID restrictions meant they couldn’t.”
“So they’ve applied for a few different things.”
Two of her friends who were interested in engineering and computer science declined offers to study the degrees they had initially applied for.
“They lost interest over the lockdown periods during COVID.
“COVID really disrupted that whole process of finding what you want to do.”
After the stress of finishing year 12 during a pandemic, Ms Cianchi planned to get as much rest as possible before continuing her studies.
“I think I will need at least six months to recover and just relax.
“And find my place in the world.”
Gap year a circuit breaker for some
A gifted sportsman, Hawker College student Ben Jones was tossing up between studying exercise science or humanities at university.
He was set to gain work experience in both fields, first at the National Museum then in an exercise science setting, until COVID-19 cancelled those plans.
Over the course of the year, he struggled to make up his mind, and with the help of a careers adviser, he settled on a plan to study humanities.
So, when a last-minute opportunity to do a week-long sports rehabilitation placement came up, he jumped at the chance to double-check his choice.
“Exercise science isn’t necessarily a career that I’m looking at pursuing.”
“But I’d still love to just be like, ‘Well, what if I did it? What would it be like?’”
Mr Jones received an offer to study a Bachelor of Arts with a major in global studies at ANU, imagining a career in journalism or foreign diplomacy.
“I guess the analogy is like, I know which forest I want to be in. But not which tree I want to climb.
“I know what I do want – but not exactly where I want to take that.”
Deciding a gap year was a good circuit breaker, Mr Jones deferred and said he was considering free vocational courses at CIT to broaden his scope.
“There’s a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now, like learning a language or just running a marathon, all that kind of stuff.
“But given the workload of college, I haven’t been able to do so.
“I don’t plan on it being a ‘nap year’ as some people say!”
Ms Cianchi said she thought the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 would leave her generation well prepared for uncertainties later in life.
“It’s really forced us to deal with uncertainty, so I think we’re better off.”
This story is part of the Canberra Weekly Class of 2020 series, sharing stories from inspiring young Canberrans throughout the summer.