As a country kid who was only able to attend university through someone’s generous donation of a scholarship, I wanted to make sure that such an opportunity didn’t go to waste. Every student on a scholarship feels the same way.
If this in itself isn’t enough to convince you of the extraordinary opportunities that come out of receiving a scholarship as a rural and regional student, then allow me to share with you some of the things I have been able to do over the course of my degree, thanks to various scholarship programs I’ve been a part of.
Settling In and Getting Involved
The first weeks of university, as I’m sure you can imagine, are intense. You’re trying to settle into your new home, navigate your way to the million and one lectures and tutorials you have every week, all the while wanting to get involved with all the clubs, groups and societies on campus that you’ve never heard of before.
I was very quick to land a job as a trolley boy at a Bunnings Warehouse in Canberra. It was a casual job with a decent wage and relatively flexible hours. Throughout high school, I worked upwards of 25 hours a week, mostly on weekends, to save up enough money to support myself through university.
But with a scholarship, the first thing I noticed was the pressure to a) not have to start work right away, and b) not be tied to weekends where I’d once been reliant upon the good casual rates. To most, these details might not seem important, but as a wide-eyed first year, it took a huge weight off my shoulders.
It meant I could play hockey for university on the weekends, and that I could wait until about week three or four of university – once I’d settled in – before I had to start working. My scholarship gave me the freedom to find my feet and take up things that I was interested in early on.These things ultimately helped me develop my confidence, interests, and helped me get a better sense for what I wanted to do after university.
An Investment in Experience
At the beginning of my second year, I was beginning to feel the pressure of finding relevant work experience. It quickly dawned on me that it’s one thing to be working at a bar, café or in retail throughout university, but it makes it hard to go for graduate jobs unless you have relevant experience in the field.
For many students, this takes on the form of clerkships, associate researchers, or internships. Mostly unpaid. When the only way to gain experience is by ‘already having experience’, unpaid internships seem like a good place to start.
I was fortunate to land a position in the Office of the Chief Scientist researching international science education. I loved it. Looking back on my time there, I realise that it provided me with solid foundational experience that launched me onto bigger and better things.
But, and there is a but, I spent a lot of time in that office. Six months, in fact. When I decided to do the maths one day, I realised that if I had gone and worked in my paid job for every hour I’d spent in that unpaid internship, I would have made $10,000.
$10,000 -just think. That’s the opportunity cost I had to pay to gain that needed experience before I was able to find paid internships. The reality is, most students can’t afford it. But I was lucky in that I was still able to pay the bill, pay my rent, buy food and get by, all because I had a scholarship supporting me financially.
Coming off the back of an internship with the Office of the Chief Scientist it seemed the world was my oyster. Indeed, the internship had made me competitive for tonnes of other opportunities out there, which snowballed into even bigger, better, and cooler opportunities – eventually taking me overseas.
But if you’re a student, doing a course or program overseas – your visa obviously prevents you from working. That loss of income was really made apparent to me when I spent the summer of 2016/17 in Thailand for a leadership course, June-July 2017 at Oxford, and January-June 2018 on exchange at King’s College, London.
When you’re unable to work, and don’t have any income streams coming in for months at a time, it’s hard. You just hope that you’ve saved up enough beforehand. The reality is however, that most self-funded university students don’t take up these opportunities because they simply can’t afford it.
Again – if it wasn’t for the assistance of a scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to travel the world and broaden my horizons like I have throughout my degree.
When I reflect upon these experiences throughout my degree, I realise that I’m pretty lucky. The person who gave me my scholarship at the end of Year 12 would have had no idea what kind of ripple effect it would have upon my university experience. Whether it was allowing me to settle in to university, get involved in the university lifestyle, or gain professional and international experience, the opportunities that come from even a single scholarship never end.
Brody Hannan is from Cowra, NSW, and has recently graduated from the Australian National University with a science degree.