MAYA Jakovljevic wasn't fazed when COVID-19 cast uncertainty over her Higher School Certificate preparation and university plans.
"My mum had it more rough than I did," Maya said, at the start of the University of Newcastle's Orientation Week activities on Callaghan campus.
"She came from Croatia and has just finished four years of nursing.
"If she can do that while raising two kids and as a single parent, I knew I'd be fine. Even she told me if I get a bad ATAR there are so many other pathways."
Sydney raised Maya, 18, ended up gaining entry to the degree she has been wanting to study since she was in year nine: psychological science.
She met new friends Jackson Jarrett and Ella Geyer, who are studying the same degree, on Tuesday.
"I'm interested in humans and their behaviour, why people do what they do - and I hate maths," Maya said were her reasons for choosing the degree.
"I want to work in kids' health, to stop things before they become big problems." She said a relative works in psychology in Newcastle.
Fellow Sydneysider Jackson, 19, had been planning to take a gap year in 2020 and travel, but instead ended up working and preparing for the degree that he's been aiming for since year seven.
"There's a bit of disbelief I'm finally here," he said.
Jackson has Asperger syndrome, which he said some people found confusing or intriguing.
"I want to get into clinical psychology and help people with mental health difficulties," he said. "I know friends who struggled or still struggle with that, I struggled, so I want to do something that will help."
He said he chose UON because a friend lives here, he'd heard good things about the campus and it was close to Sydney.
He said university would make him more independent.
Ella, 18, grew up in rural NSW and said she spent 2020 not sure if restrictions would lift and she would be able to move away to Newcastle.
"I grew up 30 minutes from Dubbo and mental health is a big thing in regional areas," she said.
"I wanted to study that and see what I can do."
She received an Auscott Scholarship, for resources and basic living expenses.
"It's very exciting," Ella said.
"It was nerve wracking moving so far away, I came here not knowing anyone, but it's really exciting - I'm ready for the next part of life."
Maya has already joined the anime club, Jackson is interested in the medieval and rowing clubs and Ella is considering the skits and gardening clubs.
All are intrigued by a club in which members drink and review cheap wine.
Jackson and Ella said they felt "relieved" their classes will be face to face, but Maya said she was "super introverted" and didn't mind learning online.
All said they had considered UON may have to pivot back to solely online delivery if there were local cases.
"I'd be okay with it but would not want to move back home, I'd rather stay here," Ella said.
Maya said she was "good at self scheduling" and it would be "great".
Jackson said he would cope, but it would be a "bit sad". "I love to go out and be social," he said.
"It would take away from the uni experience. We have all these facilities and clubs, it would be a shame to miss out."