The big day is here, hundreds of Ballarat's VCE students received their ATAR, or Australian Tertiary Admission Rank this morning, the culmination months of hard work. The Courier caught up with some of the city's highest achievers to find out how they are feeling and what they hope to do in the future. ZAKARIAH ALANSARI ATAR: 99.95 Subjects: applied computing: data analytics, physics, specialist mathematics, mathematical methods, English language Ballarat Clarendon College's dux scored two perfect scores and achieved an ATAR of 99.95. Zakariah Alansari was one of thousands to wake up to his VCE ATAR scores on Monday morning. Mr Alansari got a perfect score in applied computing: data analytics in 2022 and received another perfect score, 50, this year for physics. He has also studied specialist maths, mathematical methods and English language. Mr Alansari returned to Iran before results were released. The other two top achievers from the college were Srijan Mann, who scored 99.85, and Simran Agarwal, who scored 99.9. Ms Mann said she was woken up by her family to check her results. "I was planning on sleeping in a bit more," she said. Ms Mann said she felt really happy when she saw those numbers. "We were standing in the kitchen and I felt really relieved," she said. "I felt like all my hard work paid off." Ms Mann studies chemistry, biology, English, specialist mathematics, mathematical methods and further mathematics. She said the best part of her year was her friend group and was surprised she enjoyed studying English. "My teachers were so great and supportive," Ms Mann said. "I really did enjoy English this year because I felt like I improved massively and my teacher was a godsend." Ms Mann said she got through the year by just trying to "stay the course". "I went to Mum and Dad for help, and overall I have really great friends and teachers," she said. "When you have ups and down in year 12, it's OK. In the end, it went OK." Ms Mann wants to study medicine at Monash University next year, but for now she's going to celebrate her achievement. Ms Agarwal spent a long night unable to sleep, only to find out she had achieved a 99.9 ATAR on Monday morning. "I'd been up the whole night panicking," she said. "My mum was next to me but I wouldn't let her see the scores. Then I saw some pretty good scores and started crying, Mum started crying when she saw the score." Ms Agarwal said they called her grandparents in India to let them know even though it was 2am there. "There was a lot of excitement after a whole lot of anticipation," she said. Ms Agarwal wants to study medicine or engineering at Monash University. Her year 12 load included further maths and physics which she studied last year, biology, chemistry, mathematical methods, specialist mathematics and English language. Ms Agarwal said while COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 meant a lighter workload, she was glad to be back to face-to-face learning for her final year of secondary education. "It was an adjustment to get back to that workload," she said. Ms Agarwal said time management was important to balancing school work. "I tried to get my homework done before a certain time each night so I wasn't freaking out at 11pm at all the work I had to do," she said. But for now, to celebrate, Ms Agarwal said she wanted to get some sleep. GRACE COLLA SUBJECTS: biology, general mathematics, English, business management, psychology, Christian living. Waking up on Monday morning with her family by her side, Grace Colla received her ATAR. The result? She was "pretty stoked". Ms Colla is Ballarat Christian College's highest achiever in 2023 and she was proud of herself after a tough year. "(I'm) relieved that my results reflected the hard work that I put in," she said. Ms Colla said there were a few things that helped her through. "Having a schedule is pretty important," Ms Colla said. "... Definitely having some good support to lean on and if I'm feeling too pressured, never pushing myself too far - but also staying on track." She was aiming to study oral health at the University of Melbourne, one day becoming an oral health health therapist or a dental hygienist. "I actually didn't really know my passion. But then I focused on it this year and I've just narrowed it down to this - I'm going to give it my best shot." SARA ABU ASBEH SMALLEY ATAR: 97.30 SUBJECTS: English, mathematical methods, general mathematics, French, religion and society. Damascus College dux Sara Abu Asbeh Smalley says the strong women in her life, such as her mother, inspired her during her VCE journey. With an ATAR result of 97.30, Ms Abu Asbeh Smalley is looking to make a change in the world - whether through a degree international politics, law, or economics. She is undecided at the moment, but is well poised to study either of the courses, having previously been the recipient of a Melbourne University Kwong Lee Dow scholarship for regional high achievers. Like many of her 2023 cohort, Ms Abu Asbeh Smalley woke at 6.30am to get her ATAR results as soon as possible. While they were meant to be released at 7am, she got an email half-an-hour earlier confirming her impressive score. "It was meant to come out at 7am but it came out early, so I thought it was fake. I didn't expect those scores," she said. "I thought they had got it wrong, then I woke my mum up and she started crying. I didn't believe it until the ATAR website came live at seven o'clock, so that confirmed it." Ms Abu Asbeh Smalley first came to Australia in 2011 from Dubai, and became an Australian citizen in 2015. She is passionate about making change in the world, a characteristic she said was inspired by her mother and other strong female role models, such as Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong. "I just like strong women in politics, they are my role models. There have been so many. My mum was my French teacher and she can speak seven languages," she said. "I think it is important to be heard. You put on the news and you watch all of these inequalities and you feel useless. "You just watch injustices and it makes me passionate, you want to fight for these people, you want to get involved. If I could study something that helps that, why wouldn't I?" Preparation for her VCE exams consisted of additional revision classes every day of the week, and Saturday sessions at school completing practice exams. She said mastering the fundamental skills underpinning a subject was key to achieving high results when it came to exam time. "I think the most helpful thing is actually writing. You can do your cue cards, you can learn the content, but it is more skill-based than I think people realise," she said. "Even if you do a content-based subject, I feel like it is more based on skill. If you don't practice the skill I don't think you will improve." Damascus College principal Steven Mifsud said he saw a bright future ahead for Ms Abu Asbeh Smalley, potentially as a member of parliament. "We are really excited to see Sara's journey grow. I hope she does become Ballarat's first female prime minister, or a politician," he said. "There are a number of Mercy schools that have produced both Victorian parliamentarians. There is a great legacy there we can build on." GUSTAV FREDERIK ATAR: 99.85 SUBJECTS: English, chemistry, general mathematics, literature and biology. Gustav Frederik has climbed impressive heights on his way to a near-perfect ATAR score as part of the class of 2023. From having to take reading recovery classes in prep to returning a 50 study score for his English subject, the 17-year-old achieved an ATAR of 99.85. While having strong results for all of his classes, Mr Frederik said he enjoyed literature the most - particularly the weekly food activity run by the class where students would bring in food relating to the text they were studying at that point in the year. "We had a rotation, people would potentially make food, sometimes it was just from Woolworths, or other times it was something someone baked. We had a massive tower of brownies. It was fun," he said. As part of the 2023 year 12 cohort Mr Frederik and his fellow students faced a series of hardships through the course of their studies, not least the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw remote learning come to classrooms across the state. Errors were also found in some of the 2023 VCE exams, which thankfully did not affect Mr Frederick's ultimate study score. "My pre-exam was mainly doing practice exam questions for chemistry and general maths," he said. "For literature and English I didn't do a ton of practice exams, it was mainly reading and re-reading, thinking about the text, I feel like that is the most valuable thing you can do with that." The 2023 dux hopes to get into medicine at Monash University, an application which also required him to sit the University Clinical Aptitude Test and have an interview. He said his experience studying biology in year 11 and work experience at a cancer research laboratory confirmed his passion for medicine. Mr Frederik's advice to young students starting their VCE journey was to explore a variety of subjects and see what they truly enjoyed. "The first thing I would say is don't do things you don't enjoy because you want to be more tactical, because at least in my experience I chose subjects I enjoy and didn't really stray from that, and I did well," he said. "Don't listen to people who try and tell you that you are a certain type of subject. Some people say you are a maths person or an English person. "I think people hear too much that they are only good for one thing and start selecting around that. They shouldn't do that, they should just work to make themselves better. If you fall down, get back up." Ballarat Grammar Headmaster Adam Heath congratulated Gustav on his impressive performance and said he exemplified the best qualities of a good student. "He is an exceptional young man first and foremost. That such a good young man could be able to achieve so highly is just the icing on the cake," Mr Heath said. "He is a really good character. Obviously a really bright but also a diligent student who has worked hard to get the result he deserves." SARAH FELLOWS ATAR 96.75 SUBJECTS: English, mathematical methods, further mathematics, Japanese, biology, art (making and exhibiting). Trying to decide what path to follow after leaving school was difficult for Sarah Fellows. So, she decided to study a broad range of subjects and see where that might take her. Ms Fellows was "over the moon" to learn she had topped a strong cohort for Ballarat High School, just by pursuing a range of subjects he enjoyed. Part-way through year 12, Ms Fellows found a university course she wanted to pursue in Federation University's veterinary and wildlife sciences. An early offer all but locked in her place - all she needed was good marks. "I just love animals so much - it's my passion," Ms Fellows said. "The best advice I can give to next year's year 12s is to keep on top of your homework and take it one day at a time." Ms Fellows also said playing violin in a student orchestra helped give her an interest outside studies - and the orchestra wrapped up at the end of term three, allowing time to focus entirely on exams. Ms Fellows was grateful to her parents and her teachers who "got [her] through" the year. "The teachers here are brilliant," Ms Fellows said. "Even if they're not your class teacher, they're happy to help you out when you need." JESSICA SHEEHAN ATAR: 99.4 SUBJECTS: English language, physics, physical education, specialist maths, global politics After months of hard work and years at Loreto College, the class of 2023 celebrated getting results on December 11, including dux Jessica Sheehan. Ms Sheehan was surprised when she saw her score on Monday morning. "My sister came in just as I found out," she said. The best part of year 12 for Ms Sheehan was following Loreto traditions like having lunch in the front gardens. Ms Sheehan wants to further her love of sports through a double degree in psychology and sports science at Australian Catholic University. "Then I can go into sports psychology or exercise rehab," she said. Throughout the year, Ms Sheehan continued to play sports outside of school, particularly soccer. Thanks to the support of her parents, who'd drive her to where she needed, Ms Sheehan would do her school work during the drive. "We travelled a bit for sport and I would study in the car," she said. Ms Sheehan said it was time management that helped her navigate the year. "I couldn't really procrastinate," she said. "I had to get on with it - my family would drive so I could study." Ms Sheehan's advice for next year's students was to pick subjects you enjoy. "Pick ones you don't dread doing and it's easier to do all the work for them," she said. Loreto principal Michelle Brodrick said Ms Sheehan set a high standard in both her academic and sporting endeavours. "Along with being Dux of the College, Jess was also awarded the Dorothy Irene Ellis-Thomas Scholarship in recognition of her hard work in all areas of school life and the Aspiring Dream Award, which will support Jess in achieving her ambitions," she said. "We are very proud of the achievements of the Class of 2023. They have done exceptionally well in leading the College and have shown incredible resilience, particularly following some challenging years." KOBE-LI QUACH ATAR: 95.15 SUBJECTS: English, mathematical methods, specialist mathematics, physics, Japanese. It's a good thing that Mount Clear Secondary College's highest achiever Kobe-Li Quach pushed through a lack of motivation all year to finish his VCE. Because if he hadn't, and dropped out like he thought of doing earlier in the year, he wouldn't have received an ATAR of 95.15. Even so, Mr Quach said the result wasn't what he was expecting. "It's higher than I was expecting, to be honest," he said. "I was expecting (an ATAR of) 80." Despite his fantastic achievement, Mr Quach said studying straight away wasn't a priority for him. "I'm not too sure what I want to study yet," he said. "I was thinking of taking a gap year and working it out a bit later. "I'm thinking a bit about doing science." Mr Quach said his study subjects tended to tie in with a potential future in the science field. "I'll take a bit of time to think about it," he said. But for now, he said he's looking forward to taking a break and potentially travelling. CHARLIE RIGG SUBJECTS: health and human development, psychology, legal studies, foundation mathematics, English, global politics units. Emergency services are in the blood of Charlie Rigg's family, and she's hoping to join the tradition now she has finished high school. Ms Rigg is this year's Mount Rowan Secondary College 2023 dux and is looking at a career in nursing before eventually moving into paramedicine. She is hoping to study at Australian Catholic University in Ballarat or Monash University in Melbourne. "My family is a real emergency services family, we've got cops, we've got fireys but we haven't got a paramedic yet," she said. Ms Rigg is looking forward to the next chapter in her life. She said her mum and dad were "very proud" of her achievements. "It's a little bit scary but it's good to see that finally the 13 years of hard work paid off. You sort of get to move on to something that you aspire to be." Ms Rigg said it was important for others - who did not receive the result they were expecting or wanted - to remember there were always other alternatives to landing in their desired field. "There's so many more options than just having to look at your ATAR and thinking that determines the rest of your life. You have so many more opportunities and capabilities," she said. KAYLA BRIDGES ATAR: 88.95 SUBJECTS: history, media, psychology, general maths, biology and English. The creative talents of Phoenix P-12 Community College's 2023 dux will be on the big screen for all to see in coming months, as the student is set to debut a mockumentary short film. The 18-year-old said she was fairly calm on the day results were released despite a somewhat stressful exam period. Ms Bridges slept until 10am, three hours after ATAR scores were released, and woke to find herself among Ballarat's brightest. "I definitely was surprised. I wasn't expecting it. It is nice to know that the effort you put in when you work towards something, and you get rewarded for it," she said. For her VCE media class Ms Bridges directed and starred in a short mockumentary style film about a vampire who goes to high school with her human counterparts. "The idea is that everyone is oblivious that they are a vampire somehow despite the fact that they have fangs. It is a sillier type of film," Ms Bridges said. The short film was such a hit it gained the attention of Next Gen 2023 - a program by the Art Gallery of Ballarat which showcases the work of VCE students from across the region. Ms Bridge's film will premiere to the public in February 2024 as part of next year's exhibition. Preparing for exams, Ms Bridges said it was important to "stay on top" of her subjects, and to maintain constant dialogue with her teachers and mentors. "The game plan was to keep doing it everyday... Not falling behind in anything, trying to do an even amount of each subject. Obviously I had my favourite subjects and ones that I got frustrated with," Ms Bridges said. "Getting feedback from teachers a lot, I think that was one of the things that helped the most. Then I knew what I could focus on." As a top preference Ms Bridges picked film writing at RMIT University. She was the recipient of a scholarship to pay for her accommodation at the university, and said she was excited to step into the next chapter of her life in Melbourne. "It is a little overwhelming, being away from home, doing something completely different and meeting new people. I guess that is why it is also exciting," Ms Bridges said. "You get to meet lots of different people and I get out of my Ballarat bubble finally." Studying film writing, Ms Bridges hopes to be able to share her vision with the audience. "It is cool to be able to create something and share it with people and they feel connected to it too. I have always really loved watching shows and movies too," Ms Bridges said. Phoenix P-12 Community College assistant principal Nick Healey said Ms Bridges was well known among the school's staff for her diligence. "We are stoked for Kayla, her result and her effort for the entire year," he said. "This morning when we were speaking to staff, and they were talking about our students, they didn't know Kayla was the dux yet, but her name was mentioned as someone who just worked diligently and they were excited to get her result. "We are super proud of her." DAMIAN IRVIN ATAR 95.15 SUBJECTS: further mathematics, mathematical methods, specialist mathematics, Japanese, physics and English language. Field umpire Damian Irvin might be used to reading the play in Aussie Rules, but this was one result harder to gauge how it would pan out. Mr Irvin's year 12 efforts have topped St Patrick's College class of 2023. "I'm feeling pretty good - it's good to be done and have a weight off your shoulders." He enjoyed a chance to return to school for an informal morning tea with teachers and peers before they all went their separate ways. For Mr Irvin, this was likely to be in studying science at the University of Melbourne to give him more potential career options. He said year 12 had been a lot of study and the best advice he could give future year 12s was to break up all the work with something you enjoyed doing. Mr Irvin remained heavily involved in his sports such as volleyball, cricket and umpiring football at weekends. What Mr Irvin loved most about being at St Pat's since year seven has been the culture. "It's very inclusive. I also feel like there is a good relationship with teachers - if you're struggling or need help with anything, they're always ready to help." YAWOVI ASSIMADI ATAR: 93.45 Subjects: data analytics, English, business management, legal studies, psychology The Woodmans Hill Secondary College principal can't hide his pride over the 2023 results. School dux Yawovi Assimadi received an ATAR of 93.45 and his peers who completed VCE averaged a score of 30 for their subjects. Principal Stephan Fields said this showed excellence could be achieved even at regional state schools. "We're incredibly proud of both our VCE and vocational major students," he said. "The bar keeps getting raised by our students but it's not just in academic outcomes. It's in the impact that that often occurs within the community, within the school and the wider community." Mr Assimadi said he was "ecstatic" when he got his results Monday morning, with his parents by his side. "It felt great to know that all my hard work has paid off," he said. "My mum gave me a hug." Mr Assimadi studied English, business management, legal studies and psychology, but his favourite was data analytics. "I like working with computers," he said "I'm looking at undertaking a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne." Mr Assimadi, still only 17, said being at a smaller school meant he knew everyone and what was going on with each other. "We were able to check in on each other; we had a sense of community," he said. "It definitely helped with the stress." Mr Assimadi said despite concerns about having some school years during lockdown, his cohort was able to bounce back. "Not having face-to-face interaction was the main big disadvantage," he said. "I definitely appreciate being able to talk to teachers and having greater access when asking questions or just having a regular chat."