University isn’t for everyone: University Census confirms

Last week Tom Earls was able to sit down with one of Sydney Film School’s ex-uni converts, our own Part One Diploma student, Jenny Tran, who made the switch from studying Medical Science, and later Psychology at UNSW, before deciding to join Sydney Film School this year.


Hi Jenny, how are you?
Pretty good.

How was your experience at UNSW?
It was really interesting. It was really good. I really liked anatomy and I enjoyed psychology a lot as well. But in terms of whether I wanted to go ahead with that for the rest of my life is kind of a different story.

The obvious question is why did you leave?
I always wanted to do something creative. Ever since I was young, I wanted to act, and then from that I discovered dancing and then writing, and then filmmaking, but my parents were always really against that. If you go to Uni and you want to be a lawyer, there’s a set pathway that you take. It’s like, you do this and this and then you get your job. But then, when you’re in a creative field, you have to make your own path, which is, I think, what most people fear.

How are you finding the work here at SFS in comparison to UNSW?
It’s definitely very different because when you’re at Uni and you want to study or you want to learn something, you open a textbook and you sit there for hours every single day. It feels like it’s forced and you have to do it anyway, whether you want to or not. Here it’s more like, I’m here because I want to be. Rather than “oh my god, I’ve gotta come in”.

Above: Jenny on set in the camera crew for one of the semester’s productions

In terms of the people that you’re studying with – are they that different?
Definitely, I don’t know whether it’s just a smaller space or smaller group. But you get to notice the dynamics – people’s personalities. I feel like people here kind of embrace their own individualism. They feel free to do that – it’s a choice that they make, whereas at Uni there’s a lot of conformity going on. They say that once you get out of high school, you go into Uni and everyone’s their own person but then again, it’s not really.

How are the class sizes in comparison?
Lectures had hundreds of people, but tutorials were kind of similar to the number of people here.

And the teachers?
They’re a lot more accessible here. The lecturers at Uni have so much to do; so many students, so you have to rely on your friends or your tutors, which may or may not be good.

Did you pick up any skills at Uni that have served you well here?
I feel like coming to this school has made me realize more who I am, whereas when I was at Uni, my personality kind of changed according to who I was hanging out with. Now it’s kind of more solid I suppose.

So is the school what you thought it would be when you left uni to come here?
I didn’t really know what it was going to be like, but it’s really chill here and I didn’t know it was going to be like that. Uni is really intense. But it’s self-inflicted pressure to do well here.


Jenny’s transition from university to another form of full-time study isn’t a unique one. SFS has several students who left university because it wasn’t everything they wanted, and they have all adjusted seamlessly to the SFS vocational method of learning.

A month ago, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article by reporter Heath Gilmore on what he referred to as “the great university purge.” The article coincided with the university census date, and revealed that nearly one in five Australian Uni students are likely to abandon their studies by the end of their first year.

The SMH article also quoted Universities Australia deputy chief executive, Greg Evans, who said: “Universities are unique places. They are neither the directed-learning environment of school nor offer the financial incentives and supervision of a workplace.”

There are many reasons for such a high departure rate – the article cites financial and academic factors to name a couple – but the fact remains that University can be an extremely intense affair and isn’t suited to everybody.

Gilmore’s article also profiled another former UNSW student who had decided that a Uni degree wasn’t for her. Olivia Stock left UNSW after one semester to study at the Billy Blue College of Design.

“I needed to leave Uni for the sake of my wellbeing… a Uni degree isn’t the be all and end all,” Stock said.

The Sydney Film School community offers a more vocational and nurturing, learning environment that provides a nice counterpoint to the more theory-oriented environment of University. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference.

So before you embark on a university career because you think you have to, make sure you check out all your options for study. Look for a course that is going to take you where to want to go – to the movies!


The Sydney Film School Open Day is Saturday May 10 at 2pm.

Come along to our Open Day to get an insider’s perspective of Sydney Film School, with Directors, teachers, current students and graduates of our Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media courses on hand to share their experiences at one of the top film schools

For more information including the Schedule of Events and how to RSVP can be found at


You can read Heath Gilmore’s article here. (Hyperlink:

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