People ask Nellie Vance why she moved from high school to TAFE, and she can’t really put her finger on it.

She wasn’t bullied – high school simply didn’t feel quite right for her.

“It just wasn’t working for me,” she says. “I left high school in year 11 because my mental health wasn’t really coping with it. Mum had looked into TAFE for my older brother, so she knew it was an option and that’s how I ended up at Chisholm.”

Nellie decided to do her Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) at Chisholm and loved the learning experience.

“It was a lot more independent and I liked that a lot more,” she says. “When you’re in high school you have all those people who don’t really care and don’t want to be there. At TAFE, everyone has made the decision to be there and wants to be there.”

Nellie says she found the teachers at TAFE to be super helpful and supportive.

“I owe so much to my year 12 teachers,” she says. “I was getting stressed about an English exam, for example, and my teacher sat with me for hours going through essays point by point. I remember I frantically emailed one of my teachers one day because I was super stressed about something and within 10 minutes she sent me a Zoom link and I was on a call with her.”

Two things that really worked well for Nellie were the independent learning environment and ability to have greater flexibility with her timetable.

Whereas at school she would spend six hours a day there, five days a week, at Chisholm she could condense her study and free up time for other activities, like part-time work and her musical pursuits (she’s a keen singer and pianist).

Nellie did exceptionally well at Chisholm, achieving an ATAR of 93.3.

It allowed her to enrol in her preferred university course, a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University, majoring in psychology and criminology.

Nellie was also nominated as Secondary Student of the Year at the Chisholm Education Awards.

She says there are a lot of misconceptions about TAFE.

“A lot of people think TAFE is a trade school and you go there if you’re not smart, but that’s a stereotype and it’s nonsense,” she says. “With VCE, the study designs are all the same, you sit the exams at the exact same time everyone else does, it’s just not at high school. There’s not all of the extra pressure that you get from being in high school and if you want to do well, then the teachers will absolutely help you.”

Nellie’s advice to others who are struggling with mainstream high school is to explore TAFE as an option.

“Not everyone copes with high school, but there are other things you can do,” she says. “TAFE gives you that element of independence, which is obviously important at university. Now that I’m at university, I know how to work on my own and figure stuff out for myself.”