What is it like to be a mature student at Marjon?

mature student using a laptopHi, I’m Gerri, a mature student in my fifties. I’ve found it a huge change to come back to education but I’m really enjoying it. I’m learning new skills and the ones I’ve previously gained from work, family and other life experiences are often proving useful too.

I’m now running a project to help other mature students at Marjon. If you are thinking of returning to education then please read on as James, Lucy and I share our stories of what it is really like…

James, BEd Primary Education

“After working in retail for many years, I became very good at my job. I was well respected, well looked after and well paid. But no matter what the position I held, something was always missing. It took me years to realise it, but it was a sense of real purpose. Although I made significant contributions that would sometimes yield quite lucrative results, it was a means to an end. Like many corporations, no matter how they sugar coat it, the rationale was always the same: profit.

My wife is a teacher and despite a huge workload there was always a story about how she helped a child achieve something that they wouldn’t have been able to do on their own. She would tell me about how her actions have influenced the children. I would always admire her role in shaping the minds of our future generation, meanwhile I was just making money.

I have two beautiful children; my wife and I have a car each and we have a mortgage. At the time of me deliberating over a career change, my kids were at preschool/nursery age: a very expensive time for any parent.  These were all reasons why I put-off making a career change. How could I possibly afford to retrain? I didn’t have a degree already which meant I would have to do a 3-year course!?

For anyone thinking of retraining to be a teacher I must warn you, financially it was hard. Due to my previous income, I was not eligible for any bursaries or grants. However, I was able to apply for an annual £8k maintenance loan; a far cry from my last salary! My wife and I came up with a plan. Amazingly she agreed to up her hours to full time and we made some changes to our spending habits. This helped, but it was still a struggle. The biggest financial advantage we gained was when the kids started primary school as that reduced our childcare costs.

Marjon is always very supportive of all students; not something that can be said for all universities. No matter how hard you are finding life – in or out of university – there is always an offer of help or an open door.

The change of career was by far the best decision I have ever made in my life (behind marriage and having children obviously).  Working in schools is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. The relationships you build with the children, the progress they make and the idea that YOU are the reason for this, is just an amazing feeling. I live for those breakthrough moments and those moments of realisation; or as one of my lecturer Clare always used to say, “that ah! moment”.

For anyone thinking of making a change in career, do it! But please think carefully about how you will fund it. As a mature student you will bring a world of experience and ‘wisdom’ into an environment that is always looking for different perspectives and new ideas. I often find that I have a different view of things than many of my peers. In many environments this comes as a breath of fresh air. As you well know, ideas from individuals within the same close-knit circles, environments, or businesses will always end up with similar outcomes. To make positive changes, often a new perspective is needed. Because of this, a career changer can bring some huge benefits into a classroom. The children are the benefactors and that person could be you!”.

Gerri Gillies, BSc (Hons) Forensic Investigation

“I left school at 16 with no qualifications. I didn’t feel like university was for me as all I wanted to do was go out and get a job. It wasn’t so common then to go to university.

I secured a job, which turned out to be a great career, I worked my way up to became National Sales Manager at 25. After that, I opened my own business, which I ran for 16 years.

I have three children and when the time came from them to leave school I travelled all over the country with them to see different universities. This opened my eyes. I thought it was absolutely amazing that there was so much on offer. It got me thinking, would it be something that I’d enjoy doing myself?

I made the bold decision to go back to study, so I went to night classes to get my GCSE English and Maths. At first I just wanted to see if I could do it.

It all snowballed from there really. Even though it was really challenging at times, I was enjoying myself, so I decided to go and do an access course at Saltash College, before moving on to Marjon.

I chose Marjon because I felt at home, it’s such a small, inclusive place, which is perfect for me as a mature student. I’m in my fifties and I thought I was going to be too old, and I was worried I wouldn’t fit in. It wasn’t like that at all, it doesn’t matter how old you are. Everyone has been really welcoming.

One of my biggest concerns before starting Marjon was that after I’d graduated, no one would want to hire me because I’ll be 58 when I finish the course. I’m realising now though that it is actually quite the opposite. I’m doing work experience in different places as part of my course and I’ve learned that if anything, my life experience is an asset.

I think I’ll be working well into my seventies, because I just can’t keep still.”

Lucy, BEd Primary Education (Early Years)

“I was 24 when I started university. I had completed an Access course which meant I had to go to uni soon afterwards.  To begin, I struggled with the idea. I was also thinking about moving out with my partner and having a baby. My partner also had a son which put more pressure on settling down as a family in our own home. I felt I had to sacrifice these things to concentrate on the course. I had a hard time with this on and off and feel it is only now in my final year that I can see that I made the right decisions to focus on working out a solid career path which will allow for a more comfortable and stable life for our family in the long run.

We moved into our own place in my second year, which meant we had our own space and home after waiting for so long but now had the new struggles of balancing work, home life, uni work and finances. As everything seems to, with time and effort this has worked out. At times it has been difficult to find the right balance but remembering that each part of your life is important and deserves your time really helps.

Uni work should be balanced with family time and due to financial obligations also has to be balanced with work. As a mature student, now 27, I never really struggled to make friends. In fact, I felt my age and personality allowed for all different types of friendships. I have uni friends who started at 18 straight out of school and others who are 30 and have families and mortgages.

I knew from my life experiences that this course was definitely for me. I had experience as a teaching assistant so I understood the pressures of working in education. As the course progressed I felt more confident and comfortable in my decision to come to uni. If you interact with all different types of people and don’t consider yourself to be from a different group due to your age, you will be fine!”

Find out more on our mature students page, which was created by Gerri to support mature students at Marjon.

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