Somehow, in-between the school runs, football, swimming, horse riding, dog walking, washing, cooking, cleaning and everything else, I’ve found the time to undertake an English Degree at University. Here’s why I became a ‘mature’ student and why you can too.
At the tender age of 16, I had completed my GCSE’s leaving school with 10 A-C grade qualifications, go me! What next though? Well, I’d heard ‘horror’ stories about people spending all those years at University and all that money (albeit through Student Loans) to come out the other end and carry on working in their ‘summer job’ at ASDA. That wasn’t going to be me, I thought. I had worked from the age of 13, first I had a paper round and then at 15 I became a waitress at my local golf club. Quite pleased with earning a regular income, no idea what it cost to live in the real world and a defiant decision made not to waste my time and money going to Uni, I managed to enroll on a Modern Apprenticeship working at a local car garage as a Service Advisor.
This was great, I completed my NVQ’s quickly and was earning a regular monthly salary which kept me in mobile phone credit and gym membership. Until, at 19, I dropped the ‘P’ bomb. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was (and I still am, by the way) in a happy relationship with the father and that all would be dandy but suddenly, my Modern Apprenticeship salary wasn’t enough to support my new family and everything we needed but with a new baby to look after, University couldn’t have been further from my mind.
So shortly after he was born, I started working in a call centre. The wage was better, the hours were great and before I knew it, I had managed to secure a nice little job in an office there, no longer dealing with inbound calls about handset faults, phew! For a while, I plodded along in blissful career ignorance, I was sure that I had a good job that I ‘enjoyed’, I got a decent salary and there were ‘prospects’. One day though, not long after returning to work from maternity leave having recently had my second child, it hit me fast and hard. I – NEEDED – MORE. This wasn’t a ‘career’, at least not for me. I didn’t want to be chained to a desk dealing with insignificant problems like “how did my husband manage to rack up a £4000 phone bill texting adult chat services”, when there were bigger issues that needed addressing; world peace for example. Sound familiar? I guess after having my two children, I realised there was more to life. I wanted to be a Mum they could be proud of. I wanted to inspire and encourage them and I wanted to say with confidence and experience, “there’s no such thing as can’t”. I had one problem though, quite a big one to be honest, about £600 a month big. Yep, my mortgage and all the other grown up bills I’d accumulated along the way and as I had decided I wanted to teach, I couldn’t imagine how I could do this. So after a lot of online research, resulting in confusion and headaches, I decided the best thing for me to do was to enroll on an online course to become a Teaching Assistant.
I dropped one day a week at work and took up a placement at a primary school near me. Great, I was on the right track. Except, something just didn’t feel right. I eventually decided to bite the bullet and contacted my local college for some careers advice. The advisor was wonderfully helpful and encouraging and seemed to know what I wanted even though I wasn’t sure myself and this was when I realised that even with all my commitments, I could go to University. So I enrolled on an Access Course and here I am, 3 years later, in my second year on an English Studies Degree at Teesside University, WOW.
Going to University and studying for my degree has been one of the best decisions I’ve made and I think importantly for me, the timing was right. I wouldn’t have had the same experience at 18 as I am having now at 29. I am embracing my studies because I have been in the world of work for so long and for someone with little training and few qualifications, it can be dull. I can’t lie though, it’s tough. Both of my children are in full time education themselves now but despite all the ‘free time’ I’d gained through this, I still need to work and importantly, I want to be a good Mum. I want to do the school run, I want the boys to go to sports clubs after school, to do their homework, to cook their tea and to put them to bed each night. I also have to remember that I have a husband too and that I would like to finish Uni divorce free! Somehow though, I need to attend all lectures and seminars (which admittedly only account for around 6 hours a week), read all the material for each one, meet assignment deadlines and maintain relationships with peers along the way, fitting in the odd social event. I’m stressed just thinking about it. You – Can – Do – It, though. Honestly.
There is ample support in so many forms and just being honest and talking things over with staff and peers if you find you are losing your way, will see you through no end. There are a wider variety of people on my course, than I have encountered anywhere else at any one time and you will find a place to fit. A place you will call home for the next 3 years, maybe longer and this place, those people, will be the strength you need to make it through.
However, I have come across people that have felt the need to doubt my decision. They have concerns about my ability to get a better paid job at the end of it, there is an unemployment crisis after all, and think that I will have accrued more debt than is worthwhile. Well, I say, thanks for your thoughts BUT, regardless of career prospects at the end of it, I am acquiring skills and experience that I wouldn’t have got staying put. I am learning to critically analyse texts of all varieties, write professionally, self evaluate, gaining time management skills and so much more, as it turns out, I have a flare for creative writing. Who KNEW?! And the debt, isn’t worth worrying about. Without getting too political, the government have made it impossible for people like me to go through Uni without getting into considerable debt but I don’t actually start to pay it off until I’m earning more than I was before I went to Uni. Therefore, if I don’t get a better job, I won’t pay it back and the debt isn’t like credit or finance so it doesn’t affect your ability to get a mortgage or credit card, for example.
I hope you’re inspired to make some changes, a great place to suss out different career options is:
They have information on hundreds of job types including advice on what qualifications you may need and different entry routes. Also, make contact with colleges near you. Most of them offer free careers advice and can give you information including financial support too. If I could offer you any advice if you are thinking of becoming a mature student, it would be to do it.
Don’t pressure yourself to meet unrealistic targets. Use the feedback to improve, don’t see it as criticism.
The balance between work, family and uni will come. It may tip one way or the other at times and this IS FINE, communicate throughout and you will get through.