Life & Style

Considering an Undergraduate Degree?

For year 12 high school students, the revealing of your ATAR is likely to be one of the biggest moments you will have experienced, particularly if university was one of your post-high school ambitions.

So what happens when your ATAR doesn’t hit the mark, what do you do then? For Jess Thomas that was the exact predicament she faced.

university of newcastle
“I didn’t get the ATAR I was needing, and I was pretty gutted. All my friends were going to university and I was left trying to work out what to do next.”

“As an 18-year-old who had just been rejected from all the uni’s, that’s how it felt anyway, I decided it wasn’t for me and I signed myself up for a 6 month Summer Camp in America, which turned out to be the best decision I could have made.”

In addition to having a whole lot of fun it was at the Pennsylvania summer camp Jess was introduced to the idea of studying movement and exercise physiology,

“Following the summer camp and some traveling around the US I returned home and I knew I wanted to go to uni but I didn’t know where to start. That’s when I came across Open Foundation, which allowed me direct entry into an Undergraduate Degree. Following my year of study I was given the choice of three different degrees, and one of those was a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science.”

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What made you choose to study a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science?

I’ve always been a very sporty person and I knew I wanted to help people, but I wasn’t sure in what context, so this degree seemed like the best path for me.

I studied at the University of Newcastle's Ourimbah campus on the Central Coast and I completed the three-year Undergrad degree in 2020, then went straight on to do a Masters in Exercise Physiology, and I am going into my second and final year of study.

Can you explain what Exercise Physiology is?

Essentially it prescribes exercise to populations who have chronic conditions, such as back pain, asthma, as well as people with cardiac conditions and those undergoing cancer treatment. The slogan of exercise and sports science is ‘exercise is medicine'.

What made you want to do your Masters in Exercise Physiology?

The Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science takes a broad approach to the subject, you cover a variety of topics including elite sports, the general population, to improving mobility in older people. The Masters in Exercise Physiology is more specialised and that’s where I am at the moment, trying to work out where I would like to specialise.

university of newcastle undergraduate degree

Do you have any ideas on what you would like to specialise in at this stage?

When I completed my Undergrad degree I was really lucky with my first job which was in an Exercise Physiology clinic as an Exercise Physiology Assistant. It was at a rehab hospital so we would deal with the rehab of knee replacements and strokes. I didn’t know what it was until I started, but it was during my time in the clinic that I fell in love with it.

I was also offered the job here at Belle Movement Pilates Studio which I just love, it’s such a great community and it is a different experience. The clients here are quite healthy, but everyone has a sore something, so I go through that process of assessing clients to help them work through their pain complaints.  

Would you say the placements have been an invaluable part of your degree?

Absolutely, through the placements, I have been able to realise that I have a passion for rehab.

One of the clients I worked with during my first placement left a really lasting impression on me, she was this lovely lady who was only 55, and she had had a stroke and wasn’t able to walk or talk.

Following 5 – 6 weeks of treatment she was starting to talk and verbalise things and was able to walk again. It was quite a confronting situation initially, but so rewarding to see her progress, it was a very fulfilling experience.

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Was the Physiology clinic the only placement you’ve had?

No, I’ve been really fortunate with my placements. In February 2020 I went to the Maldives for a three-week placement, and it was the most incredible opportunity ever. Our group worked on a number of programs with the local populations, which was majority Muslim.

Many of the locals aren’t able to swim so one of the programs we were involved in was to provide swimming sessions each morning. Following this we would have our group meeting and then in the afternoon we would teach kids between 5 – 15 strength and conditioning with netball, athletics, or whichever sport they were interested in.

We were also involved in sessions for the older female population, teaching them different strengthening exercises in the gym. I also had the opportunity to run a first aid course with the local lifeguards.

It was such a great experience both the skills we were able to learn and the cultural experience.

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Do you have plans post your Master's Degree at this stage?

I am about to start a placement within the Uni’s student run exercise physiology clinic at the Ourimbah gym, and following this I am hoping to undertake a placement in Darwin, or somewhere rural.

One of the subjects we covered was working in rural regions and as a part of this we sat in on an interview with a lady who worked fly-in-fly-out of Arnhem Land, and some of the surrounding islands. Her role was to undergo checkups and general assessments of the locals.

We casually mentioned to the University lecturer how good it would be to take on a rural placement and they said no worries they’ll organise it which is really exciting. I really want to get that rural experience, I feel it would be a really effective way of using my knowledge.

If you're considering an undergraduate degree at the University of Newcastle and would like more information visit