Having been out of education for 15 years I made the decision to go back to university at the age of 35 for a variety of reasons. Having had my son Elijah and becoming a single parent when he was six months old, I was thrown into the benefit system for the first time in my life. I had previously worked in Veterinary Medicine, and great as it would be to have gone back into it, the clinical/surgical hours are not suited to bringing up a child alone.
I have little or no family help, so figured I would retrain to teach so that I could work an academic year around my son and have the holidays with him in the absence of child care. University was the logical choice and the best decision I have ever made.
When it came to applying to university, my choices were location based - Sheffield, Hull, Huddersfield and Leeds (both the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett). Having applied for all of the above I was accepted by each of them, except the University of Leeds as my A-level qualifications were 'too old'.
The reason I chose Leeds Beckett was based on one simple phone call I had with the admissions office. Having spoken to the others beforehand ( I didn’t do this in order of preference) I had become well versed in the answers to the very straightforward / impersonal questions they asked immediately. I felt a little bit like I was a tick box exercise to every admin office apart from Beckett.
As I called and was about to launch into my “ I haven't been in education for 15 years, but I have A levels and a Veterinary degree” speech (which at this point I had become quite defensive in my tone) the lady at the other end of the line simply said: “What’s your name?”. Having introduced myself, she said “ Kate, what a brilliant decision you’ve made to come back to education. We will do EVERYTHING we can to help you achieve your goals” And that was it, decision made.
I can honestly say this level of support, positivity and empathy for my situation has only grown more with the amazing faculty members I meet. Before I came, I had the inevitable worries. Will I be the oldest on the course? Would the social aspect be a problem with my age? What happens if something (and it inevitably HAS happened) happens in my personal life that interferes with university?
The first day put all of my fears to rest. Leeds Beckett is an entirely inclusive establishment. My course has an age range from 18-69 (the 69 year old gentleman in question has become one of my best friends). I have fellow single parents on the course who now EXACTLY what I’m going through. The thing that I have found, which I could never have fully understood until I got here was the sense of camaraderie that we have as fellow students. We all have the same deadlines, we all sometimes struggle with our work and that is a great bonding element between any people regardless of age. We have all decided to invest time in something we’re passionate about and that is an amazing springboard for friendships that transcend age.
As a mature student, I can honestly say the challenges are no different than my peers. I have actually found that my life experiences allow me to organise my time better, I prioritise things well, and my work is something that I hold in high regard.
It is something that I'm doing PURELY for me, and that is a big driving force. As an adult with responsibilities in the big bad world it is rare that you allow yourself to focus on something that is solely for your own personal growth, and it’s a fantastic feeling. At University I am no longer someone’s mum, I am my own person (if only for my contact hours!) and it has given me back a sense of self.
I have faced MANY challenge in the two years I have been here, Including court for custody hearings, moving house, my child being hospitalised (believe me your life does not have to be in some sort of order for you to attend uni!) and all the way through my academic adviser (a cross between a mentor, councillor and friend) has been instrumental in my studies being completed. This has not been in a stern “pull yourself together you NEED to get this done” kind of way, but in a really supportive way. It has been a case of hearing my problems and then doing everything in their power (which is considerable) to make sure that university acknowledges the situation and creates plans that enables me to complete work within a realistic environment and time frame.
My lectures have been recorded and uploaded onto the student intranet, so that if inevitable childcare issues happen, I do not miss out on content. I have had mitigation for deadlines that have enabled me to focus on my life outside of my studies. The key to succeeding at Leeds Beckett is keeping open communication, and with the absolutely fantastic academic staff this is not a difficult task. I’ve absolutely loved my studies here, so much so I will be applying to study for a masters and then a PhD.
I think the most important thing to remember is that as an older person, your wealth of experience will absolutely be crucial in your success. The structure of the courses are designed to help you succeed, and if there is an element of the course you are struggling with or would like to see amended ( they hold regular meetings to discuss feedback from students) then this is something that can be overcome.
I cannot recommend Leeds Beckett enough, not only for the exciting and vibrant courses they offer, but for the sheer scale of support, motivation and guidance that is offered by every single level in the University. I have become a student rep ambassador to enable me to speak to potential mature students and reassure them that all the anxieties they may have about rejoining higher education are completely unfounded.