It’s never too late to stop learning: Returning to study at 33 was the best decision Sharon Jackson ever made
I had talked about it for years but never done anything about it. In 1999 I enrolled on a part-time creative writing course at my local further education college with a tentative view to getting some necessary studying experience, as I had not done anything since my GCEs in 1983. A family trauma in 2000 made me realise that life could be short and so I took the plunge and enrolled on a history degree course at St Martin’s college, Lancaster through the clearing system. I was concerned that I was giving up a part-time job to get into debt with the Student Loan Company, but from the first time I went to St Martin’s I knew it was the right thing to do.
I felt confused in my first lectures as I had not studied history since 1981, but the staff members were very approachable and I soon found my feet. At 33 I was not the oldest student in my year and did not feel out of place with the younger students, who were very friendly. As to the academic side of things, I found that, despite my lack of previous studying, I was getting equal or sometimes higher marks than those who had just completed their
A-levels. Talking to the lecturers it became apparent that older students often do as well if
not better than the younger ones. Whether this is to do with their mature outlook or the fact that they have more to lose and so study harder I am not sure. Exams were my worst problem (they always had been) but again the staff members were helpful and there was plenty of information about exam techniques.
In my case, having two young children, I found balancing my college life and my home life a little easier than when I was working as I could study around their routine to a great extent. The only problem I found was when it came to the school holidays and I needed to study. My family and friends were a great help at these times. Having the summer off was great for all of us as I could spend more time with my family, who had felt a bit neglected during exams.
As a mature student living off campus I did not get very involved in the college social life. However, I know that I could have done if I had wanted to as I never felt out of place when I did go out with the younger students.
There were plenty of societies in which I could have got involved but I felt that my studies should come first. There was even one catering for us “oldies”. My decision to go to college was the best one I could have made. I had a happy three years, gained a 2:1 degree and found a love of history and studying that I did not realise I had — I am continuing with an MA in historical research at Lancaster University and want to work towards a PhD after that. If it is something you want to do, then do it. Grab the opportunity. Do not let fears of debt and studying put you off.
There were difficulties, especially when deadlines were fast approaching and the essay just would not come together, but the benefits and pleasure far outweighed them. I gained not only knowledge but also confidence through my course.
The skills you learn to gain a degree are easily transferred to the workplace (researching, report writing, assimilating information) so choose a subject that you are interested in and go for it!