This week I received some good news. I passed my first year of university! It’s been full of ups and downs. Well, mostly downs if I’m honest. I’m just glad that the first year is over. I’m not allowed to share my exact mark but I was one point away from getting a distinction. Maybe next year I’ll get one.
I enrolled with the Open University last June for numerous reasons. Firstly, I wanted to learn. That’s a pretty good place to start, right? Secondly, I wanted to meet new people and I certainly have. I’m not sure I’ve formed any meaningful connections but studying has definitely thrown me into the path of people I would not otherwise have encountered.
I have to admit, this course wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to study at City of Glasgow College. There was an HNC in Professional Writing Skills that I fancied but I didn’t even get to the interview stage. My application was rejected on the basis that the course was full, even though I applied as soon as applications opened. But, I had no SQA Highers so I think that affected my chances. That’s a real shame since I actually hold two paralegal diplomas that have the same SCQF rating as an honours degree and a few years ago, I was planning on heading down the law degree path, but they weren’t really interested in that. They wanted Highers. Nothing more, nothing less and my life experience and other qualifications didn’t cut it. So, I was feeling dejected about that and on a whim, I applied for a place on the BA Arts & Humanities course, fully intending to study both creative writing and religions, but I’ve become more flexible about that intended path.
University level study has not been the impossible-to-scale mountain I thought it would be. It’s actually been alright. I have plenty of support and my tutor has been amazing. So, I wanted to put together a short list of pointers for other mature students, a kind of “How To Survive Your First Year As A Mature Student” list. Here goes.
- Believe you deserve to be there. One thing I suffer from on a massive scale is Impostor Syndrome. No matter how well I do at anything, how high my IQ might be, how hard I’ve worked or how old I get, I still look in the mirror and see the 16 year old whose application to do an NC in hairdressing got rejected back in 1996, on the grounds that she just wasn’t right for the course. Do you know anyone else who has ever been rejected for hairdressing? It could only happen to me. You deserve the chance to prove yourself, to make your life better and to learn. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, especially your own negative self-talk.
- Remember why you’re doing it. Always think about your “why” when things get tough. That’s not to say that they will get tough, but we all have bad days and there are more of them for us mature students. There will be times when you’re too tired to study. There will be times when adult life gets in the way. There will be times when you get distracted. Just remember your “why” whatever that might be.
- Don’t be put off by the know-it-alls. You’ll encounter other students, young and old, who act like they’re too smart to even be there and should be lecturing rather than learning. Screw ’em. No other advice for dealing with those types. Plus, they’re probably not getting better grades than anyone else on the course. It’s the quiet ones at the back who just listen and observe who are probably doing best.
- Don’t be afraid to be teacher’s pet. Ask all the questions you can, bug your tutor. My tutor gave me her mobile number and email address at the start of the year and told me not to be afraid to use it, but I didn’t until three months in and I wish I had just connected with her sooner. She’s a human being with a life of her own, so she understands how hard it is to find focus and fit it all in. Plus, he/she’s being paid a shit-load of money to educate you and guide you. Take their hand, follow their advice and let them teach. One of my proudest moments in the last year was the email my tutor sent me at the end of the module to tell me how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve come. She was proud and I was proud. It was just a lovely moment all round.
- Keep perspective. It’s just academia. You can still make a difference in the world without it. Yes, there are some jobs that require a particular certificate. There are far more that don’t.
If you’ve ever been a mature student, what advice would you give to anyone just starting out in their studies as an adult?