His anxiety was so extreme he barely left the house.
But Guildford resident Ben Jones, 24, has emerged with new confidence and a science-career plan after completing his HSC last year at Granville TAFE.
Badly bullied, he dropped out of high school at 16 with severe anxiety and agoraphobia.
"I wouldn't come out of my room unless only my family were home," he said. "If new people I didn't know were there I'd have to talk to my mum through the bedroom door."
That time seemed a world away on Monday when he collected the Board of Studies' Brother John Taylor memorial prize, presented each year to two NSW students who overcome hardship to achieve academic excellence in the HSC.
It was the fear of ending up with a "boring desk job" that galvanised Mr Jones to attend TAFE, where he completed his HSC in only six months and gained an ATAR of 95.35.
"A doctor hooked me up with a good psychologist, then the cracks in the wall of anxiety began to appear and I could pick away at them," he said.
"I'd gained confidence and decided to go in to classes. I remember throwing up outside TAFE before orientation. I was ridiculously nervous but I gradually got used to it."
Mr Jones is now enrolled in a medical science degree at the University of NSW.
It is a two-hour commute to Kensington where he attends classes five days a week but his time at TAFE prepared him for the schedule.
"It's pretty hectic but I really love it," he said. "I have such an interest in science and biochemistry and the way the human body works."
About 4000 NSW students completed their HSC through TAFE last year.
Ben Jones is concerned the state government’s $800 million funding cuts will bring an end to the course option at local colleges including Granville.
‘‘It’s really important to advocate for funding to keep the TAFE HSC courses running,’’ he said.
‘‘It really is a tool for social justice because it gives people who can’t afford to spend $20,000 to do a foundation year at one of the colleges associated with a university a chance.
‘‘We often hear about students who fall between the cracks and TAFE is where the ones who want to still want to make something of themselves end up.
‘‘Without the vital funding that is being cut from TAFE needs the disadvantaged students of Sydney will have nowhere to turn to. ''