WHILE her former classmates were studying for their Higher School Certificate and anxiously awaiting their results, Sally Dowling was waitressing in cafes, acting in the theatre and working as a bookie's clerk at a racecourse.
Ms Dowling left North Sydney Girls High School at the beginning of year 11 after her marks ''went downhill''. After three years doing odd jobs she took herself off to TAFE to do her HSC. At 43, she is a successful Crown Prosecutor.
''I do advise people not to feel that the die is cast by what they have and haven't achieved when they're 15 and 16 and even 17,'' said Dowling.
''There are many, many second chances.''
For many of the 73,000 students getting their HSC results on Wednesday and Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks on Thursday, it will be a joyful experience.
But it can be a distressing time for those who didn't get the marks they were hoping for, or those who couldn't finish school with their classmates.
While doing your HSC and getting the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank needed for your dream course can be the quickest way to a career, it is not the only way.
At high school, Dr Rosie Ross was told by one teacher, ''You're not very smart, you're not going to get very far in life''.
She also left school in year 11, and only decided to go back and finish high school at 42. She worked hard beside students half her age, and won a place to study medicine at the University of NSW at 45.
Now, at 53, she relishes every day as a doctor.
''I delivered my first baby wearing gumboots and scrubs, because the mum insisted on having her baby under the shower,'' she said proudly.
To students distressed at their results this week, Ross offered encouragement.
''I understand they might feel disappointed at this time, but it's never too late,'' she said.
Dowling doesn't regret leaving school when she did, except for the distress it caused her parents. It was not an easy route, she admits, but she made it work.
''There are these other pathways but they are harder, and they take longer, and not everybody can succeed at them,'' she said. ''Don't give up hope and don't feel that you've lost an opportunity, because there will be another different opportunity around the corner.''
The story Second chances - life lesson more important than HSC first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.