I came to university at the age of 24 – a good 6 years after most of the other freshers I was surrounded by. But, I had a number of reasons for not having to come to university sooner and I want to share them with you.
One of the biggest factors at play was that from the age of 9 I had been home educated, no school, no teachers, no exams. So up until this point, university hadn’t seemed like the natural progression to me because I wasn’t part of the traditional education system.
I also suffered some ill health throughout my teenage years when I could have been completing my GCSEs and A Levels privately, I was spending a lot of time in hospital. I was more concerned with the present and getting better than the future, so education took a backseat.
After I began to recover, I didn’t immediately look to education, instead turning to employment. I worked for several years before university, starting a part-time retail job like many people do. But, without education or anything else taking up my time significantly, I gradually progressed and was promoted – first to assistant manager and eventually to the manager of my own store in South London. Once I began working it was hard to imagine stopping and going into education, especially since I hadn’t been there formally since the age of 9.
As well as this, at 18 (or 19, or 20) I had absolutely no idea what it was I wanted to do with my life. I would like to tell you that I had had a great epiphany and worked out what my life calling was, but that hasn’t been the case!
While working I learned about the Open University and the fact they allowed you to pick and choose a variety of courses (which were free at the time!) and I felt this would enable me to find what I am good at and what I enjoyed. I studied a huge variety of courses from sociology to design, from environmental studies to management. This experience of higher education proved invaluable as it was the only evidence I could give that I was capable of studying at that level, lacking the A Levels that most applicants have.
My parents took the decision to move away from London to Lincolnshire, and after some quick sums it turns out a store manager’s salary doesn’t stretch very far in Lincoln! At that moment I decided it was now or never for university, and even though I wasn’t completely sure what it was I wanted to do for the rest of my life (although I was sure it didn’t involve retail!) I felt the experience would be valuable. The money I had managed to save while working also proved invaluable to me in helping to pay for books and supplies and the kind of things you have to have before that first student finance payment.
I chose to come to Lincoln to study Journalism and Public Relations as what I found mostly through my experiences was that I loved to write. Now, it has been one of the best experiences of my life and both the university and my peers made me feel at home and like I belonged from day one.
I hope you found my story interesting and have found out that there are so many routes to uni, not just the conventional ones.