Pursuing a career in childhood education was always at the back of Michaela Barnett's mind.
But since being offered a place in a new early childhood education course at UOW College, the 18-year-old Towradgi student thinks she might have found her calling.
Ms Barnett is in the first intake of students for the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care, who begin their studies on Monday.
As well as on-campus study during the 12-month course, students are required to complete 240 hours of practical placement at Big Fat Smile childcare centres across the region.
Ms Barnett was especially looking forward to the practical component.
"I know I learn better practically and I develop skills practically," she said.
"I hope I get a better awareness of how children's minds actually form and develop, and the skills that they need to go into kindergarten."
UOW College general manager Julie Renwick said students would benefit from getting hands-on experience early in their studies.
"You can sit in the classroom and learn all the theory and do things by textbook or computer screen, but at the end of the day it's about being in the classroom and having real experiences with children."
Ms Renwick said the course had been introduced to meet the growing demand for qualified early childhood educators in the Illawarra.
"We're thrilled we're offering something to students where there's job opportunities at the end, and a pathway into the University of Wollongong."