I was 24 when I started my degree, so I was officially considered to be a mature student – though I’m not sure I felt particularly mature! After years of working in the same job, I realised something: I was only ever going to be qualified to keep doing the same job, just in different uniforms. It was such a disheartening feeling. I was angry at myself; why didn’t I go to uni when I was younger? I had so many dreams, but they felt just that little bit more out of reach. And so I made one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I applied to study BA History at the University of Northampton. Of course I expected to learn about history, but what I didn’t expect was how much I would learn about myself in the process.
I’m actually pretty good at learning
I had just kind of resigned myself to not being a good learner. My confidence was probably knocked in secondary education, as it is for many people, and it became one of my own learned rules that ‘Education’ and ‘Sophie’ do not mix. I know now that my 18-year-old self was not ready for University, but with a good few years of life experience behind me I’ve learned lots of valuable life lessons that have supported me in my education. Honestly, I feel like it’s unfair asking teenagers to choose their life paths so early and to commit to such an intense workload. If I hadn’t been a mature student I’m not sure I’d have achieved the results I have so far.
It is okay not to be the best
Oh man, my first B. I actually cried, can you believe that? It’s only now I enter third year that I realise that a B on your very first University-level assignment is actually a pretty big achievement. I’ve had to really learn to be realistic with my expectations, and accept that being ‘good enough’ isn’t settling for less.
I have worked in supervisory positions for years, and despite my social anxiety have always worked on putting myself into the character of somebody who could take charge. I’ve always known my job roles inside out, and I’ve been firm and confident as a supervisor – to the extent that many people were shocked when I shared that I was undergoing treatment for anxiety. University was such a different kettle of fish. I wasn’t the oldest there, but I wasn’t like the majority of the students. Sometimes I knew the answers to questions but I would sit awkwardly waiting for somebody else to answer because I was scared of speaking out or getting things wrong. At times it has taken lecturers outright asking me for an answer before I’ve been able to give one. I’ve really worked on pushing myself into speaking when I have something to say.
Being wrong is part of learning
It sounds crazy, right? In first year I was terrified of giving the wrong answer, to the extent that part of my CBT became pushing myself into deliberately offering up wrong answers just to test the reactions. Nobody laughs at you. Nobody actually cares if you’re wrong. Sometimes it’s better to speak up with a wrong answer to promote discussion within your seminar. Trust me, there’s nothing more awkward than a silent seminar.
It’s not like high school
I knew that being a mature student meant that there would be few, if any, other students on my course in my age group. Being at University is different than school, though. There aren’t necessarily the same cliques, and the prettiest people are not automatically the most popular. I feel able to chat to almost anybody on my course. Of course there are close groups of friends, because that is the nature of life. But unlike in secondary school, you don’t feel intimidated by people or placed on a social hierarchy.
I would recommend University to anybody and everybody
I was never that big on University before. It felt like a waste of time for many people, and I’d always joke about people getting a degree and using it to ask ‘would you like fries with that’? But I honestly feel like even if you never get a job in the same field as your degree, it is an experience you can’t measure. It’s an opportunity to learn so much about yourself and grow in so many ways that I honestly feel like if you’re in two minds about it I would always say just go for it.
University is a personal choice, and we’re so lucky to live in a country where it is literally a realistic life choice for every single person. The workload is damn hard. I’ve got two kids, two jobs and a full-time degree, so believe me when I say there is a hell of a lot of pressure for me during term time. But I’m honestly so sad that I graduate next year and it will all be over. University can be like home to so many people who love to learn, so I would encourage anybody to just go ahead and give it a try – who knows what you might learn about yourself?!