Lifelong Learning Centre

From community volunteer to university student

Posted on Thursday, 30 May 2019 at 1pm
by Lifelong Learning Centre Staff.
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This is a guest post from Michelle Corns, a mature student now coming to the end of her second year studying full-time on the BA Professional Studies degree at Leeds.

I was a volunteer at New Wortley Community Centre, doing my stint on reception, when we received a visitor. It was Olivia from the Lifelong Learning Centre (LLC), who had come to speak to us about opportunities for adult learners to progress into higher education.

It’s too expensive, I’m not intelligent enough, I won’t cope with the workload, I don’t have maths, I’m too old, I won’t fit in with all the young students, I’ll be in debt, I’m too sick… these were all the reasons that I had come up with for not applying to university. What I hadn’t done is thought of many reasons why I should…

  • Learning is good for you; it keeps your brain active
  • It leads to better career prospects
  • It inspires others in your family (in my case my 14-year-old niece who is now considering university herself)
  • It can create a better future for your children
  • It expands your mind
  • There are lots of ‘extracurricular’ opportunities, such as the many university societies and clubs, the chance to study abroad, the graduate jobs fairs with representatives from prestigious employers etc.
  • You can take discovery modules allowing you to study anything from Creative Writing to gin making (I’m not kidding!)

A group of us took a minibus to the University campus, where we had a taster session and heard from the Learning Champions – mature students from similar backgrounds who had already taken the plunge! Inspired by them I applied for the part-time Preparation for Higher Education (PHE) course. They consider voluntary work and other experience (such as looking after a family) on your application. They were impressed with the fact that I was working in the local community, so my voluntary work at NWCC really helped with this. Within six weeks I was enrolled on the course and sitting my Maths and English entry exams. They were the equivalent of Key Stage 4, not quite GCSE-level (with no trigonometry, thank goodness!). I found it easy to revise with the BBC Bitesize online study programmes.

Fast forward and I’m now coming towards the end of my second year studying full-time on the University’s Professional Studies BA, a degree designed specifically for mature students. I took extra modules in Creative Writing and I’m thinking about what to do for my dissertation next year. I really enjoyed the PHE course – so much so that I became a Learning Champion myself, also fulfilling my ambition of public speaking. In fact, I was a keynote speaker at the University’s Sustainability Conference last year!

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: finances. Well, I’m actually better off on my student allowance than I was when I was working 30 hours a week. I have the full student loan of about £9900, plus the University offers additional financial support (which is means-tested and non-repayable) of up to £2500. All of this is tax-free and you don’t start paying anything back until you start earning over £25,000 a year. I also received extra help as a disabled student – I got a new laptop, software such as Dragon dictation and taxis to and from the University (I just need to pay the equivalent of a day ticket on First Buses Leeds).

I won’t sugar coat the workload – we work hard and have conflicting deadlines, but the University is very flexible and offers extensions of up to two weeks (and in some cases longer). The assignments aren’t just essays, they’re quite varied – I’ve just done a Powerpoint presentation about a local theatre group and last year I wrote a script for a play.

PHE did what it says on the tin: it prepared me for full-time study. It taught me about academic writing and gave examples of and allowed me to practice the types of assignments I would be given once I started my degree ‘proper’. I’ve learnt a lot: not just about the world, but about myself. It is a journey of self-discovery. I’ve grown in confidence in myself and my abilities. Staff at the LLC are so supportive and understanding – they know that life, illness and family sometimes get in the way and will do everything they can to help.

I’ve also made some good friends and one of the things I love is when we meet up in one of the many bars and cafés on campus and discuss what we just learnt in a lecture.

If you’ve ever considered higher education but have any doubts, remember that if I can do it then so can you.

Categories: Academic Support, Achievements, Admissions, Blogging, Creative Writing, Fees, Foundation Years, Interdisciplinary Studies, Learning and Teaching, Mature Students, Part-Time Students, Professional Studies, Student Experience, Student Voices, Supporting Students, Widening Participation