School was always a struggle academically for Oatley's Jacqueline Pollock, so she left at the end of Year 11 to become a dental nurse and travel.
"I just couldn't see myself completing my HSC. School just wasn't the right fit for me so I left after year 11 to work at a dental surgery and travel," Ms Pollock said.
After working here and overseas, Jacqueline was living in Canada in 2016 when she got word that her father, Olympic rower Allan Pollock was unwell.
She returned home but her father died of cancer just three weeks later, at the age of 60, leaving her to care for her mother, fellow Olympic rower Karen Pollock (nee Brancourt).
"My mother has been disabled due to brain cancer since I was eight years old and my father cared for her full-time," she said.
"When my father unexpectedly passed away, I took on that role and my career was put on hold while I looked after my mother."
After caring for her mother full-time for a year, Jacqueline decided she wanted to return to her studies, and attended an open day at NSW TAFE Gymea campus.
Ms Pollock recalls she was in tears and wondering what she was doing there before a teacher stepped in.
"I met a teacher who encouraged me to pursue the Certificate IV in Tertiary Preparation (TPC) and finish my HSC," she said.
Ms Pollock elected to do the course in one year, studying biology, chemistry, maths and English.
She said TAFE was a completely different learning environment to school, which allowed her to thrive.
"The teachers treat you like adults and the support you get is amazing," she said.
"It is just different. I was also more mature [and] was able to learn in my own way."
She completed her HSC at the end of 2018, receiving an ATAR-equivalent in the high 90s, winning her entry into University of Technology Sydney where she just completed her first year of a Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
"Through doing the course I discovered that I am quite smart and it built up my confidence to the point where I realised that I could go to uni [and] do anything I want," she said.
One of her TAFE teachers, Jane Maughan-Cheney, was so impressed with Ms Pollock's commitment to learning that she nominated her for a 2019 Australian Federation of Graduate Women NSW award.
The annual award is presented to a female student who has overcome challenges to complete their Certificate IV in Tertiary Preparation (TPC) and successfully engage in a university course.
"When I met Jacqueline she was so incredibly hesitant; she was unsure about whether she could succeed and finish the course at all. She had so many doubts and concerns about how she would be able to do the work," she said.
"Now she's thriving. She aced her TPC and is doing well at university. I've no doubt Jacqueline will achieve anything she sets her mind to."
Ms Pollock, now 25, said she hoped to pursue a career in health so that she could help others, and encouraged anyone who was interested in going back to school to visit TAFE.
"I love that TAFE is there for people who have had a rough start in life," she said.
"I didn't ever think I was smart when I was going through school. I never thought I would complete my HSC, but my teachers were so supportive they made me believe I really could."
To learn more about Tertiary Preparation Study and employability pathways available at TAFE NSW in 2020 phone 131 601 or click here.